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Chapter 9
Gender Inequality

Summary by Russ Long
July 25, 2017


"Women perform 60% of work world wide, they earn 10% of income, and own 10% of the land"

Eitzen and Baca-Zinn (2003:243)

I.     Introduction

The United States, like all other societies, places women and men unequally at many different levels of social organization. From the macro level of the societal economy, through the institutions of society, to small groups and the individual, women and men are differently placed and differently rewarded. In other words, social organization is gendered.

II.     The Differentiation and Ranking of Women and Men

A.     Gender Stratification

Once men and women are polarized, they are then ranked. Gender stratification refers to the ranking of the sexes in such a way that women are unequal in power, resources, prestige, or presumed worth. At the same time, both women and men are denied the full range of human and social possibilities. The social inequalities created by gender differentiation have far-reaching consequences for society at large (Eitzen, 2000:247).

B.     Gender

Gender refers to the social identity of men and women. It cannot be understood at the level of individual (Eitzen, 2000:247).

C.     Sex

Sex refers to one's biological identity (Eitzen, 2000:247).

D.     A Feminist Approach (feminism)

"A Feminist Approach is one which supports of women's equality.   Feminism is the study of gender with the goal of changing society to make women and men equal.

E.     Sexism

Sexism is the assertion that one sex is innately superior or inferior to the other.

F.     Sexual harassment

Sexual harassment refers to comments, gestures, or physical contact of a sexual nature that are deliberate, repeated, and unwelcome.

III.     The Biological Basis for Gender Roles

Males and females are different from the moment of conception. Chromosomal and hormonal differences make males and females physically different.

A.     Health Differences

Biological differences, for example, give the female health superiority. At every age, from conception until old age, more males than females get sick and die.

  1. Approximately 120 males are conceived for every 100 females, yet there are only 105 live male births for each 100 female births, meaning that fetuses spontaneously aborted (miscarried) or stillborn are typically males.
  2. Males are more susceptible than females to respiratory, bacterial, and viral infections and hepatitis.

The explanation for females being the healthier sex is that they have twice as many of a group of genes that program the production of immunological agents. Thus, females, compared with males, produce larger amounts of antibodies to combat a number of infectious agents (Eitzen, 2000:247).

B.     Hormonal Differences

Hormonal differences in the sexes are significant. The male hormones (androgens) and female hormones (estrogen) direct the process of sex differentiation from about six weeks after conception throughout life.

  1. Androgens make males taller, heavier, and more muscular. At puberty they trigger the production of secondary sexual characteristics.
  2. In males, the secondary characteristics include body and facial hair, a deeper voice, broader shoulders, and a muscular body. In females puberty brings pubic hair, menstruation, the ability to lactate, prominent breasts, and relatively broad hips (Eitzen, 2000:247).
  3. These hormonal differences may explain in part why males tend to be more active, aggressive, and dominant than are females (Eitzen, 2000:248).

VI.     Gender and Power

A.     Patriarchy

Patriarchy is a form of social organization in which men are dominant.

V.     What Causes Gender Inequality?

To explain gender inequality, sociologists turn to the surrounding systems that affect all human behavior. Most theories highlight the institutional structures that assign women and men different positions, different roles, and consequently different behaviors.

A.     Materialist Theories

The most compelling explanations of gender inequality are materialist theories that use cross-cultural data on the status of women and men. Materialist theories explain gender inequality as an outcome of how women and men are tied to the economic structure of society. Such theories stress control and distribution of valued resources as crucial facts in producing stratification.

They point out that women's roles of mother and wife, although vital to the well-being of society, are devalued and also deny women access to highly valued public resources. They point out that gender stratification is greater where women's work is directed inward to the family and men's work is directed outward to trade and the marketplace (Eitzen, 2000:251).

When women do enter the labor markets, they often are concentrated in lower-paying jobs.  Women also enter the labor market later than men and often have to leave periodically because of child care responsibilities.  Historically, women have had lower levels of education than men, but recently this trend seems to have begun to reverse.

B.     The Division Between Domestic and Public Work

The division between domestic and public spheres of activity is particularly constraining to women and advantageous to men.

  1. The domestic and public spheres of activity are associated with different amounts of property, power, and prestige.
  2. Women's reproductive roles and their responsibilities for domestic labor limit their association with the resources that are highly valued.
  3. Men are freed from domestic responsibilities. Their economic obligations in the public sphere assure them of control of highly valued resources and give rise to male privilege (Eitzen, 2000:251).

VI.     Socialization Versus Structure:
Two Approaches to Sexism

A.     Gender Roles

Gender roles refer to the rights, responsibilities, expectations, and relationships of men and women.

Gender roles are not uniform throughout the world. Every society has certain expectations for both women and men, as well as elaborate ways of producing people who are much like these expectations. The cross-cultural evidence shows a wide variation of behaviors for the sexes (Eitzen, 2000:249).

B.     The Gender Role Approach

The gender role approach focuses on learning behaviors that are defined as masculine or feminine.  The gender role approach emphasizes characteristics that individuals acquire during the course of socialization, such as independence or dependent behaviors and ways men and women relate to each other (Eitzen, 2000:252).

C.     The Gender Structure Approach

The gender structure approach emphasizes factors that are external to individuals, such as the organization of social institutions, including the concentration of power, the legal system, and organizational barriers that promote sexual inequality. These approaches tend to differ in how they view the sexes, in how they explain the causes and effects of sexism, and in the solutions they suggest for elimination of inequality. Both individual and structural approaches are necessary to a complete understanding of sexism. This chapter places primary emphasis on social structure as the cause of inequality (Eitzen, 2000:252).

VII.     Learning Gender

The most complex, demanding, and all-involving role that a member of society must learn to play is that of male or female.

A.     The Child at Home

From infancy through early childhood and beyond, children learn what is expected of boys and girls, and they learn to behave according to those expectations (Eitzen, 2000:252).

Girls and boys are perceived and treated differently from the moment of birth. Parents describe newborn daughters as tiny, soft, and delicate, and sons as strong and; and they interact differently with newborn daughters and sons (Eitzen, 2000:253).

1.     Socialization By Parents

How parents treat their children may be the most important factor in the creation of sex stereotypes. When one compares the life of the young girl to that of the young boy, a critical difference emerges:

a.     The Role of Fathers

Fathers provided the strongest pressures for gender-specific behavior.

In addition, they used different techniques with daughters and sons: They rewarded their daughters and gave them positive feedback for gendered behavior. With their sons they used more negative feedback and punish them for gender inappropriate behavior (Eitzen, 2000:253).

b.     The Role of Mothers

Mothers were more likely to reinforce behavior of both boys and girls with rewards and positive feedback. Peers, in contrast, were more likely to use punishment on both sexes (Eitzen, 2000:253).

2.     Children's Books

In addition to the parents' active role in reinforcing conformity to society's gender demands, a subtler message is emitted from picture books for preschool children that parents select for their children (Eitzen, 2000:253).

  1. Females are virtually invisible. The ratio of male pictures to female pictures was 11:1. The ratio of male to female animals was 95:1.
  2. The activities of boys and girls varied greatly. Boys were active in outdoor activities, whereas girls were passive and most often found indoors. The activity of the girls typically was that of some service for boys.
  3. Adult men and women (role models) were very different. Men led, women followed. Females were passive and males active. Not one woman in these books had a job or profession; they were always mothers and wives.

Class Project:  Test this theory using children's books in class


Differences can be found even where gender roles are changing and socialization is becoming more flexible or androgynous. Androgyny refers to the integration of traditional feminine and masculine characteristics. The androgynous mothers were self reliant as well as tender, affectionate as well as assertive. Although they encouraged nurturing and independent behavior in their daughters, they did not promote nurturing in their sons. One can thus speculate that in the next generation some females will be androgynous but men will still be socialized in the traditional way (Eitzen, 2000:254).

B.     The Child at Play

Children's play groups stress particular social skills and capabilities for boys and others for girls. Janet Lever's research on fifth-graders found that boys, more than girls,

  1. played outdoors
  2. played in larger groups
  3. played in age-heterogeneous groups
  4. were less likely to play in games dominated by the opposite gender
  5. played more competitive games
  6. played in games that lasted longer

These differences in play by sex reinforce the traditional gender roles: Boys play at competitive games that require aggressiveness and toughness; girls tend to play indoors with dolls and play-acting scenarios of the home. Lever's conclusions suggest that the skills and patterns of relating developed by girls are different from those developed by boys. These gender differences may be most characteristic of white middle-class children. An important study on black adolescent girls has shown that black girls develop in a more independent fashion.

C.     Formal Education

To what degree do the schools contribute to channeling people into narrow roles according to gender?

1.     Curriculum.

Home economics, business education, shop classes, and vocational agriculture have traditionally been rigidly segregated by gender. Reflecting society's expectations, schools taught girls child-rearing, cooking, sewing, and secretarial skills. Boys, on the other hand, were taught mechanics, woodworking, and other vocationally oriented skills. These courses were usually segregated by custom and sometimes by official school policy.

2.     Teacher-student interactions.

Even when girls and boys are in the same classrooms, they are educated differently. Teachers react differently to girls and boys; they have different kinds of contact with them and different expectations for them (Eitzen, 2000:257).

Research suggests that girls and boys have to act differently to get attention from their teachers. Girls who were physically close to their teachers receive more attention than did boys who were physically close; boys who were aggressive received more attention than did girls who were aggressive (Eitzen, 2000:257).

Studying classroom interaction at all levels for more than a decade,

  1. male students receive more attention from teachers and are given more time to talk in class.
  2. Boys are more assertive than girls. They are eight times more likely to call out answers.
  3. Teachers also call on boys more often and give them more positive feedback than girls.
  4. Boys also receive more precise feedback from teachers-praise, criticism, or help-with the answers they give in class.

Most researchers in this and other studies have found that boys get more attention whether the teachers are male or female.

3.     Counseling

A fundamental task of school guidance personnel is to assist students in their choice of a career. This function involves testing students for their occupational preference and aptitude and advising them on course selection and what kind of post-high school training they should get (Eitzen, 2000:259).

High school guidance counselors may channel male and female students into different (i.e., gender stereotyped) fields and activities. There is evidence that gender stereotyping is common among counselors and that they often steer females away from certain college preparatory courses, especially in mathematics and the sciences (Eitzen, 2000:259).

In the past, aptitude tests have themselves been sex-biased, listing occupations as either female or male. Despite changes in testing, counselors may inadvertently channel students into traditional gendered choices (Eitzen, 2000:259).

Example:  Elsa on High School

VIII.     Socialization as Blaming the Victim

Women are created, not born. Thus, socialization appears useful for "explaining" women. However, the socialization perspective on sexism can be misused in such a way that it blames women themselves for inequality. Socialization diverts attention from the oppression imposed by the dynamics of contemporary social structure. Not only is the cause of the problem displaced, so are the solutions.

Rather than directing efforts toward radical social change, the solution seems to be to change women themselves, perhaps through exhortation ("If we want to be liberated, we'll have to act more aggressive"), or, for example, changing children's literature and mothers' child rearing practice.

If the socialization perspective is limited and perhaps biased, what is a better way of analyzing gender inequality?

IX.     The Reinforcement of Male Dominance

Male dominance is both a socializing and structural force. It exists at all levels of society, from the interpersonal interactions of women and men, to the patterning of gender that is found in all cultural forms and social institutions. This section describes the interpersonal and institutional reinforcement of gender inequality (Eitzen, 2000:260).

A.     Language

Language perpetuates male dominance by ignoring, trivializing, and sexualizing women. Use of the pronoun he when the sex of the person is unspecified and of the generic term mankind to refer to humanity in general are obvious examples of how the English language ignores women. Common sayings like

Note:  Other languages are more "gendered" than English.

B.     Interpersonal Behavior

Day-to-day interaction between women and men perpetuates male dominance. Gender differences in conversational patterns reflect differences in power. Women's speech is more polite than men's. Women end statements with tag questions ("don't you agree?" "you know?"). Men are more direct, interrupt more, and talk more, notwithstanding the stereotype that women are more talkative. Males typically initiate interaction with women; they pursue, while females wait to be asked out (Eitzen, 2000:260).

C.     Mass Communication Media

1.     Women's Portrayal in the Media

The mass media (television, newspapers, magazines, and movies) reflect society's assumptions about gender. Thus, since the 1950s women's portrayal in magazines has become less monolithic. With the rise of feminism, many magazines devoted attention to women's achievements. But alongside these magazines for the "new woman" are many "ladies magazines," which continue to define the lives of women in terms of men (Eitzen, 2000:261).

2.     Commercials

Studies have continually demonstrated that stereotypic behavior characterizes both children and adult programming as well as commercials. Male role models are present in greater numbers than are female, with the exception of daytime soap operas, in which men and women are equally represented. The imbalance has also been found with respect to occupations of men and women. Males are represented as occupying a disproportionately high percentage of the work force, a greater diversity of occupations, and higher-status jobs.

See: "Killing Us Softly"

3.     Other Issues

Sex typing of behavior and personal characteristics during prime-time television has also been found in the following areas (Eitzen, 2000:261).

  1. Females tend to be much younger than males and are more likely to be depicted as being married or "about to be married."
  2. Females are more likely to be cast in a leading role when some family or romantic interest is central to the plot.
  3. Males are more likely to be cast in serious roles; females are more likely to be cast in comic or light roles.
  4. Males are more likely to initiate violence; females are most likely to be victims.
  5. Females are less likely to get away with violence when they do demonstrate it.
  6. Females tend to be depicted as more attractive, happier, warmer, more sociable, fairer, more peaceful, and more useful. Males tend to be represented as smarter, more rational, more powerful, more stable, and more tolerant.

Images of women on television have improved in recent years. Working women have enjoyed a positive decade on entertainment television. A report by the National Commission on Working Women has found increasing diversity of characters portraying working women as television's most significant improvement in the past decade.

Potential Class Project:  Have students watch TV and verify some of this.

X.     Structured Gender Inequality

A.     Occupational Distribution

In the past five decades, the proportion of women in the labor force has changed dramatically. In 1940 less than 20 percent of the female population was in the labor force. By 1988, the figure had risen to 54.4 percent. Since 1980 women have taken 80 percent of the new jobs created in the economy (Eitzen, 2003:263).

1.     Pink-Collar Occupations

Women's surge into the labor force has taken place in the so-called pink-collar occupations, those that are predominantly female. The capitalist system's new demand for workers in service and clerical jobs has been met by women. Throughout the 1970s and in the mid 1980s, women were clustered in a relatively small number of occupations defined as female jobs.

Women make up more than 70 percent of retail salespersons and of non-college teachers. The other occupations listed are more than 80 percent female.

2.     Sex-Segregation: A Stable Phenomena

A National Research Council study has concluded that the overall degree of sex segregation is a remarkably stable phenomenon; it has not changed much since 1900. The stability is surprising in light of the enormous changes that have taken place in the structure of the economy: the turnover in occupations as obsolete occupations disappear and new ones develop; the narrowing of educational differentials between women and men; and the increasing similarity in the work patterns of women and men over their lifetimes.

Some characteristics of women's participation remain amazingly resistant to change:

In 1988, only 19.3 percent of lawyers, 20 percent of physicians, and 38.5 percent of university or college teachers were women. Although women have made inroads in the high paying and high prestige professions, they still occupy the least professional specialties and they face barriers to their entry into and advancement through the professions.

B.     Earnings Discrimination

The earnings gap between women and men has been widely documented. Although there was a slight narrowing of the earnings difference during the past ten years, women workers do not approach earnings parity with men even when they work in similar occupations. This income differential has remained at about the same level throughout the past two decades. The earnings gap persists for several reasons: (Eitzen, 2000:272).

  1. Women are concentrated in lower-paying occupations.
  2. Women enter the labor force at different and lower-paying levels than men.
  3. Women as a group have less education and experience than men; therefore, they are paid less than men.
  4. Women tend to work less overtime than men.

These conditions explain only part of the earning gap between women and men. They do not explain why women workers earn substantially less than men workers with the same number of years of education and with the same work histories, skills, and work experience (Eitzen, 2000:272).

C.     Race, Gender, and Workplace Segregation

If women are disadvantaged due simply to their sex, minority women are doubly disadvantaged.

D.     Pay Equity: Comparable Worth

Although considerable evidence suggests that traditionally female jobs pay less because it is women rather than men who do them, the law does not presently view such differences as discrimination. To combat this problem, equal rights activists are striving to close the wage gap between women's jobs and men's jobs by mounting a fight for pay equity. The goal of pay equity is to raise pay levels for occupations in which women and minorities predominate. Raises would be accomplished by subjecting jobs to a rational evaluation that would assess their "worth" in terms of skills and responsibilities of the work itself. Because pay equity calls for jobs of comparable value to be paid the same, it is also called comparable worth (Eitzen, 2000:274).

E.     How Workplace Inequality Operates

1.     Split-Labor Market

There has been a widespread view that women's status in the labor force was a result of:

New sociological research has found that the economic system, not individual characteristics, structures the position of women (Eitzen, 2000:275).

The differential placement of women and men stems from forces in American capitalism. The capitalist labor market is divided into two separate segments with different characteristics, different roles, and different rewards.

a.     Primary Sector

The primary segment is characterized by stability, high wages, promotion ladders, opportunities for advancement, good working conditions, and provisions for job security.

b.     Secondary Sector

The secondary market is characterized by low wages, fewer or no promotion ladders, poor working conditions, and little provision for job security (Eitzen, 2000:275).

Women's work tends to fall in the secondary segment. Clerical work, the largest single occupation for women, has many of the characteristics associated with the secondary segment. The office provides a good example of segmentation by gender.

We observe two separate groups of office jobs, divided by sex. Some jobs are clearly "female" (typists, secretaries, key punchers); others are clearly "male" (vice president, product manager, sales manager). Furthermore, groups of jobs are organized into a hierarchy and the "clerical" staff is a largely female hierarchy. Each hierarchy is made up of jobs graded by level representing steps in a career. When a person takes a job she/he occupies not only that particular job, but also a step on a particular career ladder. A person who starts on the clerical career ladder may move up the ranks as she/he gains experience, but she/he rarely is allowed to cross over into a different ladder (Eitzen, 2000:275).

2.     Glass Ceiling

Eitzen (2000:276) describes the glass ceiling as the invisible barriers that limit women's mobility. 

F.     Blocked-Opportunities

The gist of this section is that 1) social structure prevents upward mobility and 2) social structure explains negative behavior and attitudes.

People have long assumed that women's and men's behavior in work settings is different and that women's behavior accounts for their lack of career advancement. Men are thought to be more ambitious, task-oriented, and work-involved; women are considered less motivated, less committed, and more oriented to work relationships than to work itself. Recent research, however, has pointed to the importance of the effect of people's location or placement in work settings and its effect on behavior.

Structural position can account for what appear to be "sex differences" in organizational behavior. Hierarchical structures of opportunity and power shape women's and men's work behavior.

People in low-mobility or blocked situations (regardless of their sex) tend to limit their aspirations, seek satisfactions in activities outside work, dream of escape, and create sociable peer groups in which interpersonal relationships take over other aspects of work.

The jobs held by most women workers tend to be associated with shorter chains of opportunity. What has been considered typical women's behavior can be explained by their structural position.

G.     Sponsor Protégé' Systems and Gender Stratification

Just as hierarchical structures track women and men, other processes contribute to gender stratification. In the professions, for example, sponsor-protégé' systems and informal interactions among colleagues limit women's mobility. Epstein points to the importance of sponsorship in training personnel and ensuring leadership continuity. Furthermore, their sex status limits or excludes their involvement in the buddy system or the old-boy system. These informal interactions create alliances that can further chances for social mobility, but they are systematically blocked for women. Clearly, the work situations of women are different from those of men.

H.     Women and Men in Families

Women and the status of women in the family parallels their status in other social institutions. The men in gender-structured family assigns maintenance work (work with no identifiable product) to women. In the roles of wife and mother a woman earns no money for her household chores of cleaning, ironing, cooking, sewing, and caring for the needs of the household members. Although this work is necessary, it is low in prestige and it is unpaid (Eitzen, 2000:277).

Although many wife-husband relationships are moving toward equality, men continue to exercise greater power within the family. A cycle of power relations connects work and family. The higher the husband's occupational status, the greater his power. Such resources are acquired outside of the family. We have seen that women's opportunities to acquire these resources are much more limited than are those of men.

Sexism also denies men the potential for full human development. Occupational segregation by sex denies employment opportunities to men who wish to enter such fields as nursing, grade school teaching, or secretarial work. Eradication of sexism would benefit such males. It would benefit all males who have been forced into stereotypic male behavioral modes. In learning to be men, boys express their masculinity through physical courage, toughness, competitiveness, and aggression. Expressions typically associated with femininity, such as gentleness, expressiveness, and responsiveness, are seen as undesirable for males.


Eitzen, D. Stanley and Maxine Baca-Zinn

2000  Social Problems. (8th Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

2003  Social Problems. (9th Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

2006  Social Problems. (10th Ed.) Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Kendall, Diana

1998 Social Problems in a Diverse Society. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.