Gender Equality & Discrimination


  • Explore gender gaps in various occupations and fields
  • Determine the requirements for discrimination to exist
  • Propose causes of current gender issues in the United States
  • Make the lecture memorable to increase retention

Relevant Clips:


The gender pay gap is covered in the news on a regular basis and is taken as proof of discrimination in the workplace. The cause of this particular pay gap has been analyzed by economists and public policy researchers extensively. A recent study using data on Uber drivers confirms previous work that most of the gap can be attributed to different preferences for how men and women wish to allocate their time. Some of those preferences may be based on social roles placed on men and women, but they have significant impacts on future labor market outcomes.


Pew Research Center extensively tracks trends in gender gaps for measures like pay, college completion, and time allocation. It’s important to start the discussion of gender gaps by focusing on how the pay gap is measured, using median earnings for all workers. From there, investigate what types of jobs men and women are most likely to perform. Many of the jobs women do are in low-paying occupations like pre-school education, secretaries and administrative assistants, and hairdressers. Each of the occupations are at least 90% occupied by women. Heavily dominated male occupation includes many physical labor occupations like brick masons, heavy vehicle operators, and power-line installers. Using the BLS’s Occupational Employment Statistics website (search bar on the left), compare median salaries of male-dominated and female-dominated occupations. The BLS also looks at gender gaps by occupation, but isn’t comprehensive.

From here, the discussion of median earnings and average earnings can veer into how we should measure whether discrimination is reflected in the pay gap numbers. Freakonomics has an interesting podcast discussing the pay gap discussing the measure and why it shouldn’t be taken as reflective of discrimination. Labor economists traditionally define market discrimination if “individual workers who have identical productive characteristics are treated differently because of the demographics groups to which they belong.” (Ehrenberg & Smith, 2016 p.404). At this point, see if students can identify items that economist may believe are considered productive characteristics. At this point, show the clip “Why No Female Garbage Collectors?” and ask students if businesses should be proactive when they get a disproportionate share of male applicants. Should businesses be more proactive, or should the government intervene to encourage the hiring of female applicants.

Finally, a discussion of why societal norms are the way that they are may be appropriate, especially for smaller classes. Much of the work presented in the Freakonomics podcasts focuses on the role of women in society and how they are often burdened with the work of raising children and managing the household. The clip, “Pie-Mary and Gender Roles” is a satirical look at how women are treated and brings up an interesting conjecture that many of the norms held for women aren’t expected for men. To end the discussion, have students identify comments or remarks they have encountered (or made) that they wouldn’t say to someone of the opposite sex.

Ehrenberg, Ronald G., and Robert S. Smith. Modern Labor Economics: Theory and Public Policy. Routledge, 2016.