Study finds women entering workforce crucial to economic growth

Thursday, June 8, 2017 - 4:55pm

A new study found women have contributed to substantial economic growth by entering the workforce in larger numbers than the previous generation. The study, conducted by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, examined the relationship between parents and children's occupations and wages.

Primary investigators Frank Stafford, a University professor of economics, and Ping Li of South China Normal University found wages have increased 22 percent for those 30 to 55 years of age, in comparison to their parents.

Stafford explained the average earnings of men have not drastically changed throughout the years. Though some may take this as a sign the economy is stagnant, Stafford argues gender is central to economic growth.

“Well if the whole economy is stagnant why do we all have bigger houses and more cars?” Stafford said. “It's because women have gotten to these better occupations, including science, technology, all the things women weren’t supposed to do back in the day.”

Less than 1 percent of the mothers participating in the study were employed in science, technology, engineering and math fields. However, 4 percent of their daughters now work in STEM-related fields. The number of women in management, medical and legal jobs has also risen.

Rackham student Haley Amemiya, president of the Association for Women in Science at the University, found the study’s results encouraging. Amemiya is studying for an occupation in the STEM field, including communicating new science to others.

“I love that there is an increase in women in science, and it isn't a surprise that an increase in the diversity of minds in science benefits society,” she said. “However, the article also shows while there is that increase, there is still a huge disparity between the representation of men and women in science — especially in leadership roles.”

The major disparity is in a woman’s typical earnings — about 80 percent of that of a man. This does not take into account the women who are homemakers.

The current generation shows about 6.4 percent of the labor force is in STEM-related fields, surpassing the 5.1 percent in production occupations. While one out of seven fathers worked in production, only one out of fifteen sons followed in their footsteps.

Stafford believes the decrease in men remaining loyal to production jobs is due to the principle of self-exclusion. When production jobs are scarce, men would rather take on masculine jobs like routine maintenance work, further depressing the wages in these occupations.

“They say, ‘Well, I can’t get a job making money in production — which still pays pretty well — but I’m not going to work in the support staff in the hospital because that’s a woman's work,’” Stafford explained. “Our interpretation is that they’ve self-excluded themselves from these emerging, fairly well-paying jobs that the men regard as gender-specific”.

The study also examined the likelihood of offsprings’ financial success, based on the socioeconomic status of the parents. For families of low socioeconomic status, it is more difficult to move upwards, occupationally-speaking, due to lack of resources. At the same time, families of high socioeconomic status leave little room for their children to pass their occupational success.

This leaves those in the middle of the socioeconomic status spectrum with the highest likelihood of greater financial success than their parents. Stafford uses a hypothetical example to explain this principle.

“If your mom was Hillary Clinton, it's hard to move up,” Stafford said. “She's at the top of occupations. The daughters aren't going to easily pass her in occupational status and earnings. The daughters whose mothers were working, but in lower-middle range, they tend to move up.”

As for the future, there is emphasis on the importance of education in science, technology, engineering and math to further economic growth. There is also a need for a restructured way of thinking for older generations that encounter the STEM fields.

Engineering junior Ava Jetli, a data science major, noted how education is the key to opening the door to these STEM occupations.

“I remember at work someone was telling me that she grew up studying to be in medicine, she never had access to the specific education the way some of us do,” Jetli said. “Just having accessible education is definitely a way to help women especially get into these kinds of jobs.”