Devaluing the Feminine + Econ 101

…talk therapy is often considered a “junk discipline” and is very badly-paid in part because it comes from the “feminine” domain of relationship management and emotional management.

I hear this sort of argument quite a lot and I think it has some truth to it, but also misses something.

Many sociologists have already digested a lot of economics, they might want to skip this post.  Let’s assume, for the sake of the argument, that the disproportionate number of talk therapists who are women, or the perceived femininity of the practice, causes talk therapy to be viewed as low-status.  Will this also cause it to be paid more poorly?  In a supply and demand framework, the reason for thinking a low-status occupation will earn less money is the demand side.  Fewer customers are willing to pay as much money for it as they would be willing to pay in a world where talk therapy was not perceived as feminine.  But don’t forget the supply-side.

It seems reasonable to assume that because talk therapy is considered feminine, fewer men are willing or able to go into the field.  This is a restriction on the supply, which means that talk therapists face less competition which means they can charge higher prices and still keep their customers.  So does the perceived femininity of talk therapy cause talk therapists wages to be lower?

This basic economic analysis is silent on whether the reduction in demand will affect wages more or less than the reduction in supply.  At this point, I’d put my theory aside for a while and start thinking about how to collect empirical evidence.  Theory is less ambiguous on something else though, if femininity depresses both supply and demand then we can be sure the overall size of the market, the amount of people getting talk therapy, will be smaller.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of reasons labor markets aren’t perfectly competitive so the analysis above can be made more realistic by considering that it takes time for supply and demand to equilibrate, and that norms and especially governments, can stop supply and demand from adjusting.

Though I’m questioning whether the low-status of an occupation causes it to be low-paid, there is a much more straight-forward way in which women were historically forced to accept low wages.  Social norms meant that women were only allowed certain occupations… if they weren’t low-wage already, they became low-wage because there was a large supply of women who couldn’t work in other jobs and therefore had reduced bargaining power.


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