Exploring the Kyriarchy: Marginalized People and Income Inequality

Women are more likely to be nurses than men. And men are more likely to be doctors than women. Women are more likely to be teachers than men. And men are more likely to be Fortune 500 CEOs than women.

These statistics fit our preconceived notions of what is men’s work, and what is women’s work. But there is nothing biological about nurture, science, or management; these roles are socialized. Boys are socialized into action, while girls are socialized toward relationships. Women are often encouraged into careers like nursing and teaching, whereas boys are socialized into science and math. And careers that are typically considered women’s work are undervalued. For example, teachers are among the lowest paid college educated professionals in the US. 

But career socialization isn’t the only socialization contributing to the oft cited 20% difference in pay between men and women. In the United States, in heterosexual relationships, women still do more housework and childcare than men. That is true even when both partners work. It is true even when the woman works and her male partner is unemployed. That can mean that women are passed over for promotions because of their increased childcare responsibilities, real or perceived. Pay gaps widen significantly when women typically give birth, in their late twenties and early thirties.

Women in the United States earn, on average, 20% less than men. This is a fairly frequently cited statistic. But wage gaps are more than gender. For example, Asian women earn 16% less than white men, black women earn 40% less, and Latina women earn 45% less than white men. So the intersection of race and gender exacerbates the wage gap. Our society undervalues women, especially women of color. 

But gendered wage gaps aren’t the only wage gaps. Black and hispanic men earn less than white men, on average. Even black boys who are raised rich are more likely to be poor adults than white boys.

One reason is education level. But when we look at unemployment rates, we find that black unemployment is consistently nearly double white unemployment rates. That means that black people are not being hired, as the education differences don’t come close to accounting for the unemployment differences. 

Mass incarceration plays a role in wage gaps, particularly among black men and women. The criminal justice system disproportionately affects black people, as they are more likely to be stopped and searched, arrested, prosecuted, and convicted. Once convicted, employment opportunities diminish. Further, some states allow licensing boards to deny occupational licenses to those convicted or even accused of a crime, which can exacerbate unemployment for the previously incarcerated. 

Beyond race and gender, other qualifiers impact wages. For example, people with disabilities earn less than so-called able-bodied people. People with disabilities have higher unemployment rates and earn less when they are employed. Barriers to accessing quality public education plays a role. While the ADA requires “reasonable” access to buildings, it does not fund or require modifications to older buildings. Further, social resources, including special education programs and counseling for issues like bullying, are limited. This can limit opportunities for students with disabilities, as they may not be able to reach their full potential. 

LGBTQ wage gaps and unemployment are more difficult to assess due to a lack of research. The lack of research available may reflect discrimination or ethical concerns of outing individuals, or a combination of both. The data that is available is largely based on self reports gathered from surveys conducted by advocacy groups. Such research shows that trans people face higher degrees of unemployment and workplace discrimination, as well as greater underemployment and poverty rates. LGBTQ employees have faced workplace discrimination, some leaving a job due to the environment. This can impact morale, productivity, and resumes, which can affect future earnings. 

The statistics clearly show that intersectional discrimination (gender, race, disability, sexual orientation, and gender identity) affect not only wages but also employment status, workplace environment, and poverty. This is clearly an example of the kyriarchy in terms of marginalizing those who are not white, straight, cis, and male. But analysis of how pay equality for women would impact poverty shows that poverty rates could be cut in half if women were paid the same as comparable men. Pay equity across the board may not completely eliminate poverty, but it could go a long way. Further improving educational opportunities, addressing mass incarceration and its role in unemployment, and changing the culture of gender socialization and stigma will be an excellent start toward solving income inequality.