Toward Gender Equality: Progress and Bottlenecks (WP-03-13)


Paula England

Is the significance of gender declining in America? That is, are men’s and women’s lives and rewards becoming more similar? To answer this question, England examines trends in market work and unpaid household work, including child care. She considers whether men’s and women’s employment and hours in paid work are converging, and examines trends in occupational sex segregation and the sex gap in pay. She also considers trends in men’s and women’s hours of paid work and household work. The picture that emerges is one of convergence within each of the two areas of paid and unpaid work. Yet progress is not continuous and has stalled recently. Sometimes it continues on one front and stops on another.

Gender change is also asymmetric in two ways: 1) Things have changed in paid work more than in the household, and 2) women have dramatically increased their participation in formerly “male” activities, but men’s inroads into traditionally female occupations or household tasks is very limited by comparison.

England also considers what these trends portend for the future of gender inequality. Jackson (1998) argues that continued progress toward gender inequality is inevitable. England considers his arguments. It is true that many forces push in the direction of treating similarly situated men and women equally in bureaucratic organizations. Nonetheless, she concludes that the two related asymmetries in gender change—the sluggish change in the household and in men taking on traditionally female activities in any sphere—create bottlenecks that can dampen, if not reverse, egalitarian trends.

Paula England, Sociology and Institute for Policy Research, Northwestern University

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