Patriarchy | Wage Gap

Patriarchy | What is it? Paid Employment

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There are three main empirical features of gender relations in employment that feminist writers have addressed.

  1. Why do women typically earn less than men?
  2. Why do women engage in less paid work than men?
  3. Why do women do different jobs from men?

Objectors to claims of structures of Patriarchy often list these features as reasons, but seldom ask why. They are put forward as reasons and not as questions. The reason why the wage gap is presented as one of the first, if not the very first, presentations of the existence of patriarchy, is because it is the easiest and simplest way for everyone to see it. It requires a historical context too, something that will become more and more important to understand when we progress towards post-structural feminists like Judith Butler who speak of repeated performance.

Note that some of the figures in this post will be out of date, the purpose of this post is to demonstrate how we can show Patriarchal structures in paid employment. Please feel free to post updated figures in the following posts. I will add them as this thread progresses.

In 1986 women earned 74% of men’s hourly rates. The gap widens if we consider average gross weekly earnings, when women earn only 66% of men’s pay. This increased gap reflects men’s longer working hours and greater likelihood of shift and overtime premia. The disparity is even greater for part-time women workers, who earned only 76% of full time women’s rates of pay in 1986.

In 1988 women constituted 46% of the paid workforce. That percentage rose steadily since WW2. However, if we go back to the middle of the 19th century, we find that the female activity rate (the percentage of women employed or unemployed as a percentage of the total number of women) was which in 1861 as it was in 1971, at 43%.

Employment trends in Great Britain, 1961-88

Employees in Employment 1961 1966 1971 1976 1981 1986 1988
All male 14,202 14,551 13,424 13,097 12,278 11,643 11,978
All female 7,586 8,236 8,224 8,951 9,108 9,462 10,096
% female 34.8 36.1 38.0 40.6 42.6 44.8 45.7
% full time female 25.3 24.3 24.7 25.2 26.2
Part-time female as % of all female 33.5 40.1 41.9 43.8 42.8

Unemployment rates for both men and women are approximately the same. 1984-6, 10% of women and 11% of men were unemployed which is higher than what was shown in the official government statistics, since the latter includes only unemployed people who are also claiming benefits, this excludes many married women who are only allowed to access benefits via the claim of their husbands.

While male unemployment continues to fall from its high point in 1965, female employment, especially in part time, continues to rise.

Different jobs

Men and women typically do not work in the same occupations or industries.

Socio-economic groups by sex, 1981

SEG Men % Women %
Employers and managers 78 22
Professional 89 11
Ancillary 44 56
Supervisory non-manual 52 48
Junior non-manual 29 71
Personal service workers 13 87
Skilled manual 68 32
Semi-skilled manual 68 32
Unskilled manual 58 42
All employees 61 39

Source: Census of population 1981.

Changes in vertical segregation by sex, Britain 1971-81

SEG Men % Women %
1 41.88 101.98
2 10.08 35.10
3 2.78 22.99
4 6.33 12.59
5 28.21 40.45
6 -22.28 8.17
7 11.49 5.19
8 -0.75 19.85
9 -14.34 -28.58
10 3.63 -10.21
11 -25.87 -0.33
12 16.93 2.51
13 -13.68 -18.19
14 -21.04 -35.23
15 -20.26 -12.59
16 -1.71 50.04
17 98.21 9.46

Horizontal segregation shows an extreme segregation of men and increase in extent of mild horizontal segregation of women.

Ethnicity and of women show significant divergence in both economic activity and unemployment rates.

There are considerable inequalities between men and women in relation to access to paid work and the wages received.


The schools of thought that attempt to explain these inequalities:

  • Functionalist (economic and sociological)
  • Liberalism
  • Marxist and Marxist feminist
  • Dual systems theory
  • A small amount of Radical feminist analysis

Functionalist explanation 

  1. Women get paid less due to less skill and labor market experience relative to men
  2. Women have less ‘human capital’ than men because of their position in the household
  3. The household is the unit of rational choice in decision making

The theory predicts certain outcomes for differential wages for men and women and for the extent of women’s and men’s comparative participation in paid work. Women are the home-makers, so are less likely to earn as much as men, or acquire experience on the market. They are more likely to take jobs with less hours and so certain jobs, such as in the cleaning industry and seen as a ‘woman’s job’.

The main problem is that the theory of human capital rests on the assumption of a perfect labor market in which employers pay employees according to their worth. This assumption has been challenged in a number of ways. It is both technical and social. Unions and powerful workers are more likely to get to get jobs designated as highly skilled despite their actual skills.

Women might be skilled in the technical sense, but in the social sense, they are disadvantaged, as they may not be recognized in the same way a man will be for better paid jobs with longer hours.

This is the simplest way to understand the pay gap/wage gap – over time, we have repeated a performance that sees certain jobs as acceptable for men but not for women, even though they are just as capable.


Liberal approaches focus on small-scale processes which differentiate women’s position in work from those of men. They draw on role analysis, broad cultural differentiation of men and women. They analyse dual roles and the relationship between paid work and the family. Women play the role of mother and paid worker. They expose the conflicting demands of motherhood and their time and labor.

the sexual division of labor becomes its main subject. Women face disadvantages in corporations and they describe the proximate mechanisms through which this takes place. The cultural pressures and organisational features which lead to the less success of women than men in reaching the upper echelons of these institutions. Liberals perceive the management ethic as masculine, job hierarchy is the ideology that determines decisions of available job slots, which are gender specific. Male friendship in workplaces were shown to exclude women for instance.

Marxist and Marxist feminist

True to all Marxist analysis – capitalist relations are the determining factors which explain the pattern of women’s employment. Lower pay and lesser participation are shaped by the capital-labor relation. Women are seen as subordinate and marginal as a category of worker whose greater exploitation benefits employers, although a sub-group of this school sees women’s position in the household, rather than paid labor, as an achievement rather than failure of the working class.

  • There is the progressive ‘de-skilling’ of jobs in contemporary monopoly capitalism and that women take most of these new less-skilled jobs
  • The household tasks shift to the factory, reducing the amount of labor to be done in the home and releasing women for waged labor

De-skilling is supposed to increase profits at the expense of the workforce. The amount of housework has decreased as a result of the household buying from the market goods it would previously have produced itself. This is considered to release women from the household to waged work.

Although this has consequences where men are supposed to become more unemployed and housework was supposed to decline, only the latter came true.

Reserve Army Theory

Women are long term labor reserves which is now being bought into employment by the development of capitalism. The function of a reserve, according to Marx himself was to prevent workers from bargaining up their wages and conditions of employment. Married women suit this idea, as they have somewhere to go when employers no longer need them.

There are other elements to Marxist feminism which we can discuss later in this thread, but for brevity, I will quickly cover the other explanations.

Radical Feminists

Only a small amount exists on their literature on this subject. Their answer is that women are subject to sexual discrimination and harassment on workplaces. This has an adverse effect on women in the workplace.


This combines capitalism and patriarchy and they focus on job segregation by sex. Men have an organisational ability to exclude women from better kinds of paid work and keep them at a disadvantage. Trade unions historically, have excluded women.

In the next thread, I will discuss the more recent new approaches towards paid work.

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