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Will gender inequality disappear? Cornell Center for the Study of Inequality hosts debate, Sept. 7, and a semester-long lecture series

Paula England and Robert Max Jackson, two leading scholars in the field of gender studies, will go head-to-head in a debate on gender equity in the workplace Friday, Sept. 7, at 3 p.m. in Barnes Hall Auditorium on the Cornell University campus.

The debate and a subsequent lecture series titled "The Declining Significance of Gender?" are hosted by Cornell's new Center for the Study of Inequality (CSI) and funded by the Russell Sage Foundation. All events are free and open to the public.

Jackson, an associate professor of sociology at New York University, has argued in his earlier research that gender inequalities are poised to decline and ultimately disappear, given that careers are increasingly forged in large organizations that have no fundamental interests in discriminating by gender. England, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, has argued that such organizational discrimination may well decline, but gender inequalities will likely be maintained by other forces. Those forces, she says, include the continued tendency for women to be assigned domestic roles in the family and to be allocated to low-paid "caring labor" in the formal economy.

The debate between Jackson and England will lead off with short position statements, followed by rebuttals and questions from the audience.

Jackson has research interests in gender inequality, stratification, and economy and society. He is author of Destined for Equality: The Inevitable Rise of Women's Status (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1998), a study of the decline of gender inequalities in the United States in the past 150 years. In her work, England focuses on how the pay gap between men and women is maintained because the "caring labor" that women disproportionately carry out (e.g., child care) is not typically well compensated. She also is involved in fostering dialogue between the perspectives of sociology, economics, demography and feminist theory. England explores these subjects in her many publications, including her book titled Comparable Worth: Theories and Evidence (New York: Aldine de Gruyter, 1992)."These are feisty intellectuals who are quick on the draw and can lay out the core issues at stake in compelling terms," said David Grusky, professor of sociology at Cornell and director of the CSI. "Although the weakening of some forms of gender inequality is one of the great developments of our time, it remains an open and crucial question whether the forces underlying this development will continue to play out, be stalled, or even reverse themselves."

Grusky points out that the recent tendency of gender scholars, especially those within sociology, has been to emphasize the perpetuation of inequality rather than the sources of change in gender systems. The CSI debate and lecture series, he said, "refocuses attention on the logic or logics underlying these recent changes. In hosting this event, we hope not only to develop better explanations of ongoing trends, but also to identify some of the possible futures of gender inequality and how those futures might be brought about or forestalled."

The debate and lecture series is organized by Francine Blau, Cornell's Frances Perkins Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations, and Cornell sociology professors Mary Brinton and Grusky. Sponsors of the debate and lecture series include: Cornell Careers Institute (an Alfred P. Sloan work/family center) and the university's Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Program on Gender and Global Change, Women's Studies Program, and Feminism and Legal Theory Project.

The Sept. 7 debate will be followed by a semester-long lecture series, in which leading scholars of gender will discuss the forces underlying current changes in gender inequality. The following is a list of these upcoming lectures (all to be held Fridays at 3 p.m. in 105 Ives Hall):

  • Sept. 14: "The Gender Pay Gap: Going, Going … But Not Gone," Francine Blau, Cornell, Frances Perkins Professor of Industrial and Labor Relations, director of the Cornell Institute for Labor Market Policies.
  • Sept. 21: "Explaining Gender Inequality Among Law School Professors," Barbara Reskin, Harvard University, professor of sociology, president of the American Sociological Association.
  • Oct. 19: "An Evolving Force," Claudia Goldin, Harvard, the Henry Lee Professor of Economics, director of the Development of the American Economy Program of the National Bureau of Economic Research.
  • Oct. 26: "The Past, Present and Future of Hiring Discrimination," Trond Petersen, University of California-Berkeley, professor of sociology, Haas School of Business, Organizational Behavior and Industrial Relations Group.
  • Nov. 2: "The Gender Wage Gap Across the States," Heidi Hartmann, president of the Institute for Women's Policy Research.
  • Nov. 30: "Gender Status and the Rough Road to Gender Equity," Cecilia Ridgeway, Stanford University, professor of sociology, editor of Social Psychology Quarterly .

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