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November 29 2012

Tribute to Blau '66

Professor's research on gender inequities published in book series

Francine Blau '66 In recognition of "pioneering work that has laid the foundation for more equality and equity in the labor market," Francine Blau '66 became the first woman in 2010 to win the prestigious IZA Prize in Labor Economics.

Now, her key research findings have been collected and published in the IZA Prize book series.

"Gender, Inequality, and Wages," released in September by Oxford University Press, looks at the progress made by women in the labor market, and at characteristics and causes of remaining gender inequities.

"Blau's work has profoundly shaped the view of scholars and policymakers on the causes and consequences of gender differences in economic outcomes, and on policies for advancing women’s labor market position and well-being," write editors Anne C. Gielen and Klaus F. Zimmerman in the book's introduction.

Despite a narrowing of the gender pay gap, Blau says, women are still disadvantaged in the labor market. She says there are two sets of explanations, and they're the same as when she began her work in the mid-1970s.  

The first is gender differences in qualifications, "which have been greatly reduced, but still exist. One big issue is gender differences in workforce attachment," she says.

"Women are now much more firmly attached to the labor market than they used to be. But those types of differences have not disappeared entirely, and they can be quite important in high-performance professions and at high levels of management."

She says the need to balance work and family life also plays a role, and may be "the cutting-edge problem facing women in the labor market today."

Lawrence Kahn, ILR's Braunstein Family Professor and Professor of Economics and Labor Relations, and Blau are doing research "that shows most other countries with advanced economies offer workers considerably more parental leave than we do, and it’s frequently paid leave," Blau says. "That facilitates labor force attachment. The United States used to be one of the leaders in female labor force participation, but a number of European countries have now surpassed us."

"On the other hand," she says, "some of our evidence suggests that this raises the danger of mommy-tracking. Women's share of management jobs is much higher in the United States than it is elsewhere."

The second explanation is the possibility of discrimination. "Discrimination has lessened over the years, and has contributed to a narrowing of the gender pay gap," she says. "But, the evidence is pretty strong that it continues to exist, though rather than being overt and conscious, it may be more covert and subtle, and even unconscious."

Why has there been a recent slowdown in wage convergence?

Blau says her research with Kahn suggests that improvements in women's qualifications and declines in discrimination are not occurring as rapidly as they once did. "Gains for women are continuing, but at a slower pace than in the past," she says.

In addition to her work on gender and inequality, Blau has published influential studies on immigration and racial discrimination, which also appear in the book.

"The chapters in this book cover a number of areas related to inequality, and indeed it was in large part my interest in equality that drew me to the economics profession," she writes.