U.S. optimism about gains by women doubted Working

February 18, 1991|By Carol Kleiman | Carol Kleiman,Chicago Tribune

Nobody minds good news now and then, and the Labo Department is generous in that area when it comes to female workers.

A recent report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics enthusiastically describes the "extraordinary growth in the participation of women in the work force . . . and the growth in the representation of women in a wide variety of managerial occupations . . . "

The optimistic findings continue: "Women now constitute 40 percent of all workers in executive, administrative and managerial occupations, up from 20 percent in 1972 and 30 percent in 1980. While the women in these fields still earn substantially less than men, the relative wage gap between women and men in these fields has narrowed gradually."

Though the government's perspective is uplifting, not everyone agrees with its conclusions. In fact, Barbara F. Reskin, professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says many of the "gains" women have made are "illusory."

"While there has been real progress for women, it's been in occupations men no longer want to do because the jobs were deteriorating, lost status and paid less," said Reskin. She is co-author with Rutgers University sociologist Patricia A. Roos of "Job Queues, Gender Queues: Explaining Women's Inroads into Male Occupations," (Temple University Press, $14.95, paper).

Reskin studied more than 30 occupations, concentrating on those in which the government has reported progress. Instead of the apparent good news, she found that between 1940 and 1981, occupational segregation dropped by only 5 percentage points. She also found men still have better career opportunities than women within the fields that had opened up.

The sociologist compared job advancement in previously male-dominated fields between 1970 and 1980 and translated 1980 salaries into 1970 dollars. The overall declines in pay during the period reflect an erosion in the status of the jobs.

Her findings: In 1970, male public relations specialists made $13,400, and women made $7,900; in 1980, men made $12,600, and women $7,600. Male insurance adjusters made $9,900 in 1970, and women made $5,800. In 1980, men earned $9,400 and women $5,600.

Bartenders' salaries in 1970 were $6,800 for men and $4,100 for women; in 1980, $5,700 for men and $3,800 for women. In 1970, male editors and reporters were paid $12,800, and women $7,100. In 1980, salaries were $10,900 and $7,500, respectively.

Male pharmacists earned $13,500 in 1970, and women $7,900. In 1980, men earned $12,000 and women $8,700.

"Women still have better jobs than before, because it's better to be a bartender than a waitress, or a pharmacist than a drugstore clerk," Reskin acknowledged. Male and female accountants and systems analysts also have relative equality. "But in banking, women tend to do personal loans and men do commercial loans," she noted. "Women drive school buses and men drive metro transit buses."

rTC The Labor Department, she says, "makes it sound as if there's been a big jump in progress for women, but the proportion of gains seems to have tapered off."

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