Thursday, November 15, 2012

Career Paths and Gender at BYU

         Career plans for women have greatly altered over the last 50 years or so. There is much research to confirm, however, that despite gains in equality for women in the workplace, there are still disproportionate numbers in education and other stereotypically female-dominated areas, whereas men still tend to dominate stereotypically masculine career fields. And men still earn more, even after allowing for extra hours on the job, education, career choice, and the like. Despite these inequalities educated women still strive to accomplish their careers. College students at Brigham Young University also strive for this success. Being instructed from a young age, however, that women are the primary nurturers and men are to provide, their career plans and plans to enter the workforce in the first place may provide insight as to how they plan on dealing with workplace issues even before they enter the workforce.
         Twenty Brigham Young University undergraduate students (10 female, 10 male) were asked about their post-graduation plans, social pressures or expectations that already have, as well as compensation they hope to receive and what role they expect their spouse to have. One woman was married, and one man and one woman were involved in a serious relationship.  Most were juniors and seniors, with two of the men being sophomores. The sample is small and may not be completely representative. It is remarkable, however, to see such universal answers given in response to a number of the questions. 
         It was surprising to find, for example, that without exception, when asked about future career plans each woman mentioned a family. When asked about how they would balance their career with other aspects of life they all stated that they would stay at home with their children, unless circumstances required or permitted that they work while they were at school. They mentioned among expectations for a spouse that he would bring in the majority of the income. Men, on the other hand, mentioned that while their wives could work if they wanted, their main focus would be on the children, with one participant adding, “…I suppose that should be my focus, too.”
         Another interesting finding of the interviews was the fact that nearly across the board men gave much more detailed career trajectories, suggesting back-up plans, number of years in the field before they would seek managerial positions, or why they liked their particular trajectory.  Their compensation expectations were also distinct from that of the women interviewed. While the men, on average, expected to receive a starting salary of $60,000, with ending salaries being much higher, the women either had not thought about it at all or expected around $40,000. Only two women mentioned a starting salary of $60,000, with one of them adding that this was a hopeful estimate and it was expected that there would be no raise for the duration of her career.
         While the women had not thought much about their future salaries, what was more surprising was how little they seemed to have actually thought about a future career, in comparison to how much men had thought about it. Three mentioned that they were only going to school in case something happened to where their husbands could not provide for some reason or another. There is the possibility that women seemed more unsure about their future careers due to the way in which they verbally reported their future plans. They would often use words and phrases like “probably,” and “I don’t know,” whereas the men were much more definite about what they were doing. This could have led to the impression that the women were less certain.  At the conclusion of one interview, however, one woman asserted that “for girls you just have to have a kind of go-with-the-flow plan.”
         While for the most part when asked about social pressures or expectations that they felt had shaped their particular career paths, the women answered that it was just something they wanted to do, there were a couple (incidentally, those expecting higher starting salaries) that indicated that people expect women to be moms and their husbands to be the breadwinners. One of these two respondents noted that if she knew she weren’t going to “get married till …35” she would have gone to medical school. To complement this idea, one man said that there are other things he would rather do, but they would only pay about $40,000 and he couldn’t really do that.
         Two males and one female that participated planned on becoming physical therapists. One male will because he’s interested in it and because it’s a family friendly job, while the other attributes his interest in it to the pressure of “finding a well-paying job.” The female noted that it’s a better option for a woman (mother) than is medical school. Her expected starting salary is between $50,000 and $60,000 (if she’s lucky), with no increase. The men, on the other hand, expect between $60,000 and $90,000 starting, with lots of room to grow. This could of course either be due to the high expectations of the males, or the low expectations of the female.
         This gap in expected pay is interesting. Despite our supposed 21st century egalitarian society, women are still likely to earn less than men. Among never-married, childless 22- to 30-year-old metropolitan-area workers with the same educational credentials, males out-earn females in every category. Women are less likely to ask for a raise, and also less likely to be given one from a male superior. And if the women do have children, the gap between their salaries and men’s widens even further, sometimes because part-time employment is undertaken to accommodate family life, and sometimes for no reason at all.  Meanwhile, among men, fatherhood increases earnings.
         In this particular group of students interviewed, many were involved in majors that are stereotypically male- or female-dominated. According to an article by Dey and Hill, however, the choice of major is not necessarily the “full story.” Even among men and women in the same major, a pay gap is found one year after graduation. In education (a female-dominated major), for example, women earn 95 percent as much as their male colleagues. In biological sciences (a mixed-gender major), women earn only 75 percent as much as men. Mathematics (a male-dominated major) leaves women earning 76 percent as much as men earn.
         What is troublesome about these results is not necessarily that the women interviewed seem to have less direction than the men regarding careers, but that the lack of certainty seems to be based on the assumption that they will one day have a family. Their choices should not necessarily be criticized either. According to “The Hill,” “High-achieving women are forgoing families at rates not observed among high-achieving men.” So while these BYU students may or may not have been socialized to feel that they need to conform their professional pursuits to meet the constraints of motherhood, the reality of the workplace is that working mothers are discriminated against in the form of pay, promotions, and even in being considered for the job in the first place.  This is an important form of gender inequity.
         The presumption of a future lifestyle of which one can never be certain seems to be the guiding light of those interviewed here. While there is nothing wrong with planning for the future, it seemed that many were not taking into account current realities, but rather they were doing things that were seen socially as conducive to raising a family, and this differed a huge amount according to gender. Whether the gender differences were simply based on individual interests, or whether there really were social factors that influenced their choices would have to be studied more extensively.

Dey, Judy Goldberg, and Catherine Hill. "Behind the Pay Gap."  AAUW Educational Foundation. Washington, DC (2007): 2-41.

Budig, Michelle. "Parenthood exacerbates the gender pay gap." The Hill’s Congress Blog. N.p., 30 2012. Web. 12 Nov 2012. <>.

Stephanie Coontz. "The Myth of Male Decline." New York Times Sunday Review [New York City] 29 September 2012, n. pag. Web. 12 Nov. 2012. <>.

“The Family: A proclamation to the world.” The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 23 Sept. 1995. 

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