Women, Men, Race and Economic Inequality

Women have made great strides in the workplace, comprising nearly half of the workforce, and surpassing men in higher education achievement. Yet, women still make less income, have less wealth, and face greater economic instability than men.  

Over the last 50 years, there has been a steady increase in labor participation for women across the largest racial and ethnic categories, and a substantive decrease in labor participation for men in the largest racial and ethnic categories. Since the mid-70s, Black and White men saw an 8% decline in labor participation, and Latino men saw a decline of 4%. Conversely, Black, Latina and White women have all experienced similar increases in labor force participation rates since the mid-70s, increasing about 15%.

Interestingly, labor force participation does not cleanly correspond with economic well-being, particularly when looking at the labor force participation for men and women. For example, both Black men and women are much more economically insecure than Whites, yet Black men have lower labor participation rates than White men, and Black women have higher participation rates than White women. Latinos and Latinas have higher labor participation rates than White men and women, yet Latinos are still economically much more similar to Blacks in terms of income and wealth. Strong labor force participation but weak wages and community asset poverty does little for economic security as seen for Black women and Latino men and women.  

It is also true that gender equality in labor participation is not a sign of economic well-being. While Blacks have the lowest gap between men and women in labor force participation at 6%, they are still the most economically insecure large racial group. Latinos have the largest gender labor participation gap of 21%, but as noted above, have a similar economic standing to Blacks. Asians have the second-highest gender labor participation gap of 17%, followed by Whites at 14%. Though labor participation is not a clear indicator of economic well-being, there is a correspondence between economic well-being and unemployment. 

Unemployment measures the percentage of those in the labor force who are considered to be actively seeking work. Although everyone is feeling the economic pressures of the pandemic, women and people of color are facing higher unemployment rates than White men. In the third quarter of 2020, 8.6% of White women were unemployed, compared to 12.7% of Black women, 12.5% of Hispanic women and 11.6% of Asian women. Comparatively, White men faced a 7.4% rate of unemployment, while the unemployment rate for Black men was 12.8%, 10.2% for Hispanic men and 9.6% for Asian men, making Blacks the only group where men have about the same unemployment rate of women in their racial group. 

Women across the board tend to have higher levels of educational attainment, despite generally having lower socioeconomic indicators. In the academic year of 2015-2016, more women obtained associate’s and bachelor’s degrees than men. Among Whites, women received 60% of associate’s degrees and 56% of bachelor’s degrees. For Black, Hispanic and Native American groups, there is a greater disparity in educational achievement between men and women. In the Black community, 67% of associate’s degrees and 64% of bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women, and within the Hispanic community, 62% of associate degrees and 64% of bachelor’s degrees were awarded to women. Similarly, Native American women earned 65% of associate’s degrees and 61% of bachelor’s degrees. Lastly, Asian Americans saw the least amount of disparity among the major racial and ethnic groups, where 56% of associate’s degrees and 54% of bachelor’s degrees were awarded to Asian women. 

Gendered socioeconomic disparities look different in the context of deep and ongoing racial economic inequality as our Men, Women and the Racial Wealth Divide Snapshot reveals.  For communities with little income or wealth, there is less room for gender inequality within that group, so for racial/ethnic economically disenfranchised groups, there are less economic disparities between men and women. The gender equity found in economically disenfranchised groups does little to advance financial security.   Economic investments and opportunities are needed that can advance economic well-being without replicating the gender inequality historically found in economically more secure communities.

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad is NCRC’s Chief of Race, Wealth and Community.

Sally Sim is Race, Wealth and Community consultant.

Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com on Unsplash

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