Roslyn Kunin on a fresh look at the stubborn wage gap between men and women - and the concept of greedy jobs.
The wage gap between men and women stubbornly persists even after adjusting for all the usual factors like education and occupation. Career and Family: Women’s Century-Long Journey Toward Equity, a new book by Harvard professor Claudia Goldin, takes a fresh look at the issue.
Goldin introduces the concept of greedy jobs. These are the jobs where an employee’s time isn’t her own. The demands of the position require working long, often unpredictable hours, including nights and weekends.
Greedy jobs can be independent of occupation and education. Many jobs for physicians are very greedy. People don’t get sick or into accidents Monday to Friday, nine to five. Some jobs for doctors are much more predictable, such as a limited family practice or a position as a pathologist in a hospital.
A similar pattern occurs among lawyers. The hours required to achieve and succeed in a partnership with a major law firm are unlimited. Legal positions in government and private corporations are much less demanding.
Not surprisingly, the greedy jobs are the ones where the pay is highest. Since females who still have the major responsibilities for children and family tend to avoid them, their income is lower even after adjusting for professions.
Traditionalists will ask what we expect. Women choose to work less and thus get paid less.
However, avoiding greedy jobs is no longer just a woman’s issue. People of all genders are increasingly less willing to take work that will dominate all their waking hours and are quitting such jobs in droves.
Data from the United States reflect this pattern. In September, 4.4 million Americans left their jobs. Both the absolute number and rate of departures as a share of employment were at record levels.
Canada is seeing the same trend. An RBC report noted that three times as many people walked out of their jobs in June 2021 as they did in June 2020.
Nor were they all women or people with marginal attachments to the labour force. A survey of bosses – who are still predominantly male in Canada – showed that 51 per cent were thinking of quitting.
Not all those who are leaving their employers will be leaving the labour force. Among the bosses surveyed, some planned on retiring while others were thinking of moving to less demanding positions – a less greedy job.
Others plan to continue working and perhaps keep working hard. They’re taking advantage of a very tight labour market with more than one vacancy for every unemployed person.
Almost all companies, big and small, now have unfilled positions. Any skilled worker may well receive unsolicited offers of new work with better pay and benefits. Even those who are less skilled are seeing wages rising in hospitality and the service sector, where labour shortages also persist.
High turnover rates will continue as workers realize that this is an employee job market and they’re in the driver’s seat.
The pandemic has had a major influence on workers in Canada and elsewhere. There was the existential threat of COVID-19. Many people lost their jobs and hopefully were able to take advantage of government support schemes. Others shifted to working from home or wherever they and their electronic devices could go.
All these changes brought home even to serious workaholics the realization that there’s more to life than work. Family is important. We tend to value them more when we have cause to fear for their safety. Friends add value to our life, as we noted during lockdowns when we couldn’t get together.
Life is finite, so maybe our bucket list should become an action plan.
These factors are weighing against the pay and power that made greedy jobs attractive in the past. Bosses, if they aren’t heading for the exits too, often struggle to attract and retain enough staff to keep their doors open, let alone to grow their firms.
Getting any lawyer, male or female, willing to pull all-nighters in important court cases or any doctor willing to be on call weekend after weekend will move from being a challenge to becoming nearly impossible. Current demographics are heavily weighted with baby boomers who have retirement options adding force to this pattern.
Most people have become more greedy about experiencing the non-work aspects of their lives. They’ve learned in the pandemic that life beyond the job is possible and they want more of it.
Through better planning – figuring out how to attract and keep more staff for fewer hours each – employers will have to find a way to make their greedy jobs less greedy.
That outcome will be attractive to men and women, and we may even see the gender wage gap disappear.
Troy Media columnist Roslyn Kunin is a consulting economist and speaker.