Money, Benefits and Power: A Test of the Glass Ceiling and Glass Escalator Hypotheses
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, enacted in 2009, is part of a long series of laws intended to help victims of workplace discrimination achieve equal compensation, promotion and treatment in the workplace. Despite these efforts, however, such practices persist.
Two predominant theories attempt to explain the differences in treatment between white men, women and minorities in the workplace. “The glass ceiling” asserts that there is a limit to how high women and minorities can be promoted. “The glass escalator” theory suggests that in female- or minority-predominant fields, white men are promoted more quickly and with greater ease. Some new research has explored how workplace configurations and team dynamics can influence these outcomes.
A 2012 study in the Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, “Money, Benefits, and Power: A Test of the Glass Ceiling and Glass Escalator Hypotheses,” explored these two theories. This researcher, from the City University of New York, used data gathered in the Multi-City Study of Urban Inequality.
Key findings include:
- As one would predict, income significantly increases in positions with greater authority: “Workers in the sample would have mean earnings of roughly $36,239 (2011 dollars), compared with roughly $42,226 for supervisors and $53,255 for managers.”
- The average white man working full time would earn $10,400 more than the average black woman — greater than the wage advantage of managers over nonsupervisory workers. The average white man earns $3 more per hour than a black man, greater than the $2 gap between workers and supervisors. “Although wage differences by authority level are statistically significant … they pale in comparison to enduring ethnoracial and gender differences.”
- Contrary to the “glass ceiling” theory, the overall wage gap is not primarily caused by the gender difference at the top levels; instead, “the relative white male advantage remains the same at each level of authority for each ethnoracial and gender group.”
- Examining the patterns of promotion reveals some evidence supporting both theories: “White male supervisors and managers are paid better under dissimilar superiors than under white male superiors; the opposite is true for all other groups [and] the wage gaps between white men and other groups increase from supervisory to managerial authority, and the wage gaps are wider between white men and other groups in work settings where employees report to women and minorities.”
- The advantage for white males is not only in wages and promotions but also in employee benefits: “White men are more likely than any other group to have sick leave, individual health insurance, family health insurance and retirement plans.”
The study concludes that “ethnoracial and gender disparities in workplace processes and outcomes remain formidable obstacles to the fulfillment of a truly meritocratic system of attainment.” However, the two most popular theories to explain these disparities may not be the most accurate.
Tags: civil rights, women and work
Read the study-related New York Times article titled "Female Wal-Mart Employees File New Bias Case."
- What key insights from the journal article should reporters be aware of as they cover these issues?
Read the full study titled "Money, Benefits, and Power : A Test of the Glass Ceiling and Glass Escalator Hypotheses."
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?