Gender-Based Occupational Choices And Family Responsibilities: The Gender Wage Gap In Italy Feminist Economics

Feminist Economics

Andrea Cutillo and Marco Centra

Andrea Cutillo and Marco Centra explore the relationship between the gender division of labor, occupational choices, and the gender wage gap in Italy. In Italy, gender roles are generally based on the male breadwinner model, in which childcare is mainly delegated to women. This scenario also plays out in the rest of Europe, although its effects are more evident in Italy, where the unequal gender division of labor is driven by cultural factors and made worse by the low availability of formal childcare services.

Cutillo and Centra’s underlying hypothesis is that there are gender differences in occupational preferences, both due to psychological traits and especially due to constrained choices for women, which affect occupational paths and, in turn, the gender wage gap. In this view, gender-based differences about occupational choices and work–life balance are also driven by the expected unequal treatment in and out of the labor market.

Methodology. Cutillo and Centra employ an empirical strategy that extends the traditional Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition, which is one of the most popular methodologies for estimating the effect of gender discrimination on wages. The particular specification they adopted allows consideration of both the effects of family responsibilities on the wages of women and men and the impact of gender differences in occupational paths. Indeed, their model adds the components of the Oaxaca-Blinder decomposition (productivity differences and discrimination) with two additional components. The third term represents the effects on productivity deriving from family responsibilities that affect women and men in different ways. The fourth term derives from the nonrandom allocation of jobs between genders. This component represents to a certain extent the effects of different occupational preferences and psychological traits. The study uses data from a survey carried out by the Italian National Institute for Workers’ Professional Development (ISFOL) in 2007. The survey was specifically designed to analyze wages from a gender perspective, thus including fundamental questions such as which factors are relevant in work–life decisions, and work–life balance.

Main findings. Cutillo and Centra find that jobs are not randomly allocated to individuals. In particular, job security, employment benefits, and control over time use are more important in women’s decisions, while pay grade is more important in men’s decisions. Such different preferences also derive from the difficulties that women face in achieving a satisfactory work–life balance. Their results are also consistent with wage discrimination against women, which is made worse by employers who penalize women on wages when hiring them in the jobs they desire to achieve a satisfactory work–life balance.

Finally, Cutillo and Centra find that family responsibilities differently impact women’s and men’s effort to devote themselves to market production. Both men and women increase their effort to earn more; however, women’s unpaid domestic work interferes negatively with market productivity, especially during a child’s early years, widening the gender wage gap.

Policy implications. Cutillo and Centra’s results support the need to ensure gender equality in the Italian labor market. Presently, balancing motherhood and employment is difficult in Italy because of structural constraints, such as limited supply of public childcare. Moreover, women’s difficulties in the labor market are made worse by difficulties out of the labor market. Indeed, cultural factors, such as traditional gender roles, stereotypes, and scarce support from male partners, have additional negative effects on the gender division of labor.

In conclusion, an effective reform aimed at ensuring gender equality should promote development of formal childcare and modification of parenting legislation, especially concerning children under 3 years. The additional costs could be compensated by economic advantages for families and the entire community. Indeed, gender equality could favor better matching between labor demand and supply, and thus a better allocation of the available human capital, with positive consequences for labor productivity, women’s employment rate and wages, and, in turn, GDP growth. However, to be effective, these reforms should also be accompanied by deep changes in Italian social norms, such as egalitarian attitudes toward employment, housework, and childcare. 

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