SPEAKER 1: OK, here we are back again with Frances Perkins. And this is a good time to think about the future. Actually, Frances Perkins was born at a time when women couldn't even vote. And in her lifetime, she was able to rise to become Secretary of Labor of the United States. We've seen in the past 20 to 30 years another important set of significant gains for women. Now I'd like to turn to the idea of where might we be going in the future.
In the interest of full disclosure, I should acknowledge right up front that predicting the future is a tricky business. Nonetheless, let me take my courage in hand and take a stab at gazing into my crystal ball. What will happen to the gender pay gap in the coming years? Of course, it's a difficult question to answer, but perhaps there are a few scenarios I can sketch out here.
It may be that what we saw in the 1990s was a mere pause. Perhaps we were consolidating the really massive changes that had occurred over the preceding 10 to 20 years, not just in the gender pay gap, but also in women's labor force participation and in the occupations in which they work. Perhaps the next 20 years will show similar renewed gains on all these fronts. That could very well be.
Or it may be that we've reached a point that we are going to stay at for quite a while. A big change from the past, but not so much change in the future. Personally, from studying these issues for more years than I'd like to say, I would rule out at least one possibility, and that is that we will go backwards.
I don't expect a substantial widening of the male-female pay gap or in the labor force participation rates of men and women. But how much narrowing we will see in the future is an open question. My best guess is that we are going to have further changes in the direction that we have had before, but probably at a slower pace.
Let me conclude by saying a few words about policy. In terms of anti-discrimination laws and regulations, I believe that we have to stay the course. Personally, I feel we have enough legislation on the books to do the job. We should try to make sure that that legislation continues to be enforced. That's the challenge. We can't be complacent and think that discrimination is a thing of the past.
Obviously, these are my opinions. But I don't see any need, or, I should add, any likelihood of big initiatives in this area.
It's a different story with another cutting edge issue, and that's family friendly policies. Can we do more to make it easier for workers to combine work and family responsibilities so that neither work nor family has to be greatly sacrificed for the other? In my view, expanding such options is extremely important and it should be right up there in the agenda of policymakers and businesses in the coming years.
One reason I feel this way is that I believe that the only way women are going to have complete equality in the labor market is if they also have complete equality in the family. By that, I don't necessarily mean that all women have to adopt male-style careers. However, if you pick an individual at random in the population who's a full-time homemaker, it would have to be equally likely to be a man as it would be to be a woman. If you pick somebody who has devoted themselves to the labor market, it has to be equally likely to be a woman as to be a man.
My own view is that we have been [INAUDIBLE] and we're very likely to continue in the direction of both men and women having what we now think of as male-type careers. It's less likely that we will see men take up full-time homemaking in any large numbers, although I certainly have known individual men who've done that.
The reason I mention this when I talk about family friendly policies is that my utopian vision of the future is that such policies will assist both men and women manage their family responsibilities, not simply assist women to do so. Given current gender roles, family friendly policies are, of course, more important to women than they are to men. But if they are conceived of as policies solely for women, then I think women are going to end up on what some people call a mommy track, a separate track in a labor market that's not going to be equal to the track that men have.
If that's what particular individuals choose to do, that's fine. I'm not for coercing any individual to work in the labor market or not work in the labor market. I'm just saying that totally eliminating gender differences in the labor market is going to require equality in family roles as well.
I hope you've enjoyed our examination of the gender pay gap and I hope it's raised some thoughts in your own mind about the issues behind the gender pay gap. I invite you to share your thoughts and opinions with me and other cyberterror participants on the discussion board in this room. I hope to hear from you soon.
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Francine Blau, the Frances Perkins Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations and Labor Economics at Cornell ILR School, describes trends in the gender pay gap, considers fundamental explanations for the gender pay gap and uses these explanations to understand the trends.
This video is part 8 of 8 in The Gender Pay Gap series.