Is gender the basis of social and economic inequalities between men and women?

Essay, 2012

6 Pages, Grade: 15


In today's society in Western countries there are still many social and economic differences between

men and women. For instance women suffer from unequal pay and the additional domestic work

they still have to do most of the times. The question that comes up here is the question whether

these inequalities are 'naturally determined' or whether they are based on everyone's social

construction. This paper wants to proof that these differences are results of learning and 'doing'

gender roles.

First of all, it has to be distinguished between sex and gender to evaluate this claim. This is insofar

important as these terms define different points. “The term sex refers to the physical and

anatomical characteristics considered to distinguish male and female bodies from each other.”

(Fulcher and Scott, 2011, p. 151) This means for instance chromosomes and reproductive organs. In

contrast to that “gender refers to differences in the way that men and women in a particular society

are expected to feel, think and behave.” (Fulcher and Scott, 2011, p.151) It seems hard to believe

that these biological differences are to blame for social and economic inequalities between men and

women. That is why this paper wants to focus on gender not on sex.

However, both sexes become socialised in a way that seems appropriate for them in every society.

In Western societies gender roles were clearly defined for a long period of time. Men and especially

husbands played the role of the breadwinner and the wives stayed at home to care about domestic

work and children or as Hochschild points out: “Women were excluded from paid employment, and

it became seen as 'natural' that women, or at least married women, should stay at home and care for

their children.” (2003, p.124) Furthermore mothers and wives who were working were even

“regarded as unnatural, immoral, and negligent home-makers and parents.”

(Hochschild, 2003, p.124). This role model is the basis for today's inequalities between men and


Feminists argue that our society is still a patriarchal system. A term that was originally used to

describe the power of the father as the head of the household but it has also been used within the

post-1960s to refer to the systematic organisation of male supremacy and female subordination. As

Abbott and Wallace point out, “the fact [that society is a patriarchy] is evident at once if one

recalls that the military, industry, technology, universities, science, political office and finance – in

short, every avenue of power within society, including the coercive power of the police, is entirely

in male hands.” (1997, p.54) For feminists another point of patriarchy is also the doing of domestic

work as Stacy points out:” Men benefit from women's provision of domestic services and unpaid

child-rearing within the family...Thus it is men's exploitation of women's reproductive and activities

in the household which is the main form of women's oppression. Patriarchal exploitation is

therefore seen as the common, specific and main oppression of women.” (1993, p.56) However, this

subordination of women is not naturally defined, it is socially constructed and taught as “women

learn to accept their position through social conditioning and role models.” (Stacy, 1993, p.65) This

subordination is learned through various measures, Stacy furthermore explains: “..women learn

their subordination through familial relations, media representations of masculinity and femininity,

or at school through books and praise of punishment for appropriately gendered behaviour by

teachers.” (1993, p.66) This role model has severe impacts on the work opportunities of women.

It is widely assumed, also by husbands and employers that women do the majority of domestic

labour and are the only ones who are responsible for child-caring

(Abbott and Wallace, 1997, p.123) and the gender role is responsible for changes in work during

their lives as Abbott and Wallace bring out:

“Women' labour-market participation is clearly affected by their domestic responsibilities. It is not

so much marriage as having dependent children that conditions participation. Women with young

children tend to withdraw from the labour market, to return to part-time work when the children

reach school age and to full-time work when the children are older.” (1997, p.134)

That means that they cannot have life-long careers and career opportunities because their career is

always interrupted at some point when they receive children. It is biologically determined that the

women receives children but it is not biologically determined that she is also responsible for

caring for the children after their birth. If men would participate more in child-caring and domestic

responsibilities, and if child care would be improved there would be no reason why women should

not return to full-time employment after the birth of their children.

Although recent changes improved the situation of women like the “reduced discrimination...upon

the passing of equal opportunities legislation...; the increase in younger women's human capital as a

result of increased education achievements since the 1970s [and] the declining significance of

domestic activities for some women, especially younger women in top jobs.” (Walby, 1996, p.22)

women still suffer from worse payment and less career opportunities. Abbott and Wallace explain

“The differences in pay between men and women are partly explained by differences in hours

worked; men work longer hours and do more overtime.” (1997, p.136) but this only justifies the

better weekly earnings of men compared to women's. Another reason is the distribution of men and

women in different occupations. Both of them concentrate in gender-typical occupations and hereby

it is spoken of gender segregation. Generally you can find 'women's jobs' in the health service,

education or in social work. However, even in these occupations mostly men hold the leading

positions. Moreover as Giddens examines “Women workers today are concentrated in poorly paid,

routine occupations. Changes in the organisation of employment as well as sex-role stereotyping

have contributed to this.” (1997, p.319) What he basically means is that women are mostly

employed in work that they are expected to do well such as nursing, caring and preparing and

serving food because of their expected social role as housewife and they also benefit from the fact

that nowadays more part-time jobs are offered especially in those occupations. Another point that

contributes to the fact that women are not economically equal is one point that Abbott and Wallace

point out:

“It could, however, be argued that women are disadvantaged because the training and promotion is

based on assumptions about continuous, full-time work, that part-time training is not provided in

many medical specialisms, and that candidates for promotion are expected to have had certain

experiences by a certain age – difficult for a woman who has had a career break or worked part-time

for a period.” (1997, p.144)


Excerpt out of 6 pages


Is gender the basis of social and economic inequalities between men and women?
University of Aberdeen
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ISBN (eBook)
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Gender;, Sex;, Inequality;, Work;, Pay;, Men, Women;, Economic;, Houswork
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Felix Wiebrecht (Author), 2012, Is gender the basis of social and economic inequalities between men and women?, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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