Gender Inequality

Historically and continuing into the present, women have not been afforded the same rights, support, or benefits as have their male counterparts. The gender wage gap is perhaps one of the most salient manifestations of this trend: while some differences in occupation, experience and hours influence this gap, studies claim that even when those factors are controlled for, the pay gap remains. In 1963, John F. Kennedy signed into law the Equal Pay Act which abolished wage disparity based on sex and although conditions improved, today women are still only paid 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns. And, as women age, the wage gap expands: on average women’s pay stops growing at age 39, whereas for men it is 48.

According to a 2010 study, there is one type of female that earns more than her male counterpart, and her characteristics are indicative of implicit cultural priorities: she is single, childless, urban and young (between the ages of 22 and 30). Women suffer more ageism and pay a greater price for having children. In fact, while marriage and parenthood are associated with less time spent on paid work-related activities for women, the onset of family responsibilities has the reverse effect on the careers of men.

This soundscape demonstrates these disparities through data on wages (1951 - present), workforce participation (1948 - present), poverty levels (1966 - present), housework hours (1965 - present), and educational achievement (1969 - present). Each data set has been converted into a musical line with pitch being calculated based on the disparity between men and women as the soundscape advances through the decades, starting in 1948 and continuing into the present.

The concept of equality is presented as a single, repeating tone (216 Hertz) and each musical line can be understood in reference to this tone. Throughout the soundscape, poverty data holds relatively steady, lower than the equality pitch as women have consistently been more likely to be in poverty than men. Workforce participation and income music lines initially rise steadily closer to the equality pitch, but have held steady in recent years. The only two lines of data that are above the equality pitch (meaning women are doing or achieving more than men) are households work hours and educational achievement. American mothers spend more time than fathers doing housework and although the gap has narrowed dramatically since 1965, it has leveled off in the past 10 years. Meanwhile, women’s gains in educational achievement have significantly outpaced those of men over the past 40 years.

Sound engineering by Jeff Koster