My sister and I took care of our mother during the last months of her life. She developed fast-growing brain tumors and, mercifully, was incapacitated and bedridden for only a few months before she passed away. We quickly became exhausted and unable to physically care for her without professional help as she declined. It was a shock to discover how expensive it is to hire home health support and how little the long-term care insurance, for which she had been paying over decades, would reimburse. None of us had the financial means to pay for much support for very long. She passed quickly, but a family can rapidly become financially drained trying to care for family members. Realistically, women pay the biggest price for both elder care and childcare—as unpaid family caregivers.
Janet Yellen, chair of the Federal Reserve, keeps a close eye on the United States economy. One of the concerns of the Federal Reserve since the Great Recession (officially 2007–2009) has been the sluggish rate of overall economic growth in the United States, which impacts the well-being of all of us. In a recent speech, reported by Binyamin Appelbaum of the New York Times, Chair Yellen said that policies making it easier for women to work could significantly improve the nation’s economic growth. She suggests three policy areas that would make it easier for women to participate in the labor market:
My niece just had a baby and is worried about being paid less than her male peers. She is an engineer with solid work experience on her resume, and she intends to return to work full time. She wants answers from me about how to avoid becoming a victim of the gender wage gap.
Unfortunately, new research reported by Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reinforces that, as a new mother in her late twenties with a college degree and a professional career, she is poised to become a wage gap statistic. I don’t know what to tell her about how to avoid this. Because most companies keep salary data secret, she will probably only be able to suspect unfair treatment but will not be able to prove it. The odds, and statistics, are stacked against her.
Where are the senior women scholars? Universities have been concerned about the underrepresentation of women at senior tenured levels for more than twenty years, especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines. I wrote about several studies seeking to explain this dearth of senior women scholars in a previous article. In response to the underrepresentation of women, many of these institutions implemented gender-neutral family-friendly policies in the 1990s. Justin Wolfers, an economist writing for the New York Times, reports new research on the careers of economists in the United States that shows surprising, unintended consequences of these policies for female economists.
I have written previously about the poor representation and inhospitable climate for women in the technology sector. Only 17 percent of technology positions in the United States are filled by women. In addition to facing unconscious bias that makes it difficult to succeed, the lack of family-friendly policies also discourages women from being attracted to jobs in the technology sector. But suddenly, change is in the air. Claire Cain Miller of the New York Times reports the following:
- Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook recently announced that he will take two months of paternity leave when his daughter is born (his company now provides four months of paid parental leave).