Looking back 110 years from last Friday (March 3, 1913), we would have seen the Woman Suffrage Procession in Washington, D.C.
The thousands of marchers had a larger than expected audience because the Wilson inauguration was the next day. While it took seven more years for women to get the vote, historians believe the march reinvigorated the movement.
Below, you can see the character of a 1913 women’s protest:
Now, still, we can do much more.
The Gender Pay Gap
A first step would be pay.
The size of the 2022 gender pay gap depends on where you look. Yes, at 8 cents it is smaller for women 25 to 34 years old but is 18 cents for all workers:
Pew tells us that education, work experience, and occupational segregation helped to create the gap. Research also has displayed that being a mother can reduce what you earn whereas fatherhood elevates it. But beyond all of that, there is the discimination dimension.
You can see below that many women believe they are treated differently by employers:
The Science Gap
To see the reality of discrimination, we can go to one lab at MIT. Our story starts during the 1970s when molecular biologist Nancy Hopkins was hired by MIT for her pioneering work with cancer-virus genes. That she was offered a position pointed to the progress women had been making. Barhara McClintock, who later won a Nobel prize for her genetics work, had a university job rejection letter that said she could not be hired because she was a woman.
Decades ago, at MIT, the discrimination was daily. Secretaries did the men’s work first, and then, assuming she was a secretary, people asked Dr. Hopkins to sign for packages. Furthermore, the women’s salaries were sometimes 40 percent less than the men’s.
But Dr. Hopkins appears to have been most angered by the size and extent of her facilities. Although she was a top scientist receiving generous grants, still, she was allocated less lab space than her male peers.
Finally, realizing her work suffered, Dr. Hopkins took her gender gap evidence to the university’s administration, became the head of a Committee on Women Faculty, and submitted a report in 1999. Documenting the depth and range of discrimination, the report was supported by MIT’s president. As a result, MIT became a leading advocate for gender equality in higher eduction.
Our Bottom Line: Underutilization
To see discrimination, the World Bank takes us far beyond the U.S. Only 18% of MENA (Middle East, North Africa) women participate in the labor force. The result? Especially in countries like Saudi Arabia and Qatar where female literacy rates are high, we wind up with a severely compromised GDP.
These low MENA scores show where female human capital is underutilized:
Buit also, we can see where progress has occurred:
As economists, we can use production possibilities graphs to illustrate how we all suffer from gender discrimination. They key is underutilization. Whereas our curved line shows an economy’s maximum production potential, the dot indicates underutilization. Whether looking at a contemporary business, an MIT lab, or a MENA country, that dot is there because the female human capital contribution is below where it could be:
If, in any way at all, law and culture constrain women from fully developing their potential, an entire country suffers. Returning to where we began, we saw the 1913 march move our dot to the right, Sadly, in the U.S. and elsewhere, it has moved backwards more recently.
My sources and more: Again today, four reports converged. We had Pew’s updated gender pay gap data. Then, this article about an MIT scientist showed the very personal side while the National Archives had some history. And finally, looking at 190 economies, the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law 2023 has it all.