Allison Yarrow

February 13, 2012

Dining out for Valentine’s Day? A new study’s findings may make you want to cook at home: men dominate restaurants’ most lucrative roles, women face more sexual harassment—and women servers often earn below minimum wage.

Women have long earned less on the job than their male counterparts, but the disparity is far worse in the restaurant industry, a new study released Monday finds. Full-time women servers earn 68 percent of the salaries that male servers earn. That number drops to 60 percent for black female servers.

One reason behind the findings, according to the study: restaurants’ most lucrative roles are dominated by men—only 19 percent of chefs are women. In addition to lacking growth opportunity, women work in lower-dollar “quick serve” and “family style” restaurants, occupying the lowest-earning jobs, including server, host, and counter attendant. Seven of the 10 least-compensated jobs were in restaurants in 2010.

Another startling finding is that women in the restaurant field seem to endure more sexual harassment and have less schedule flexibility, health care, and paid leave than in other industries.

The study, “Tipped Over the Edge: Gender Inequality in the Restaurant Industry,” mined data from several sources, including the Current Population Survey and the Occupational Employment Statistics, to find that while women servers make up 71 percent of the 10 million-strong restaurant workforce, many could not afford to purchase the food they serve. The paper describes the restaurant industry as burgeoning, despite 39 percent of its staff earning belowminimum wage.

Servers who earn tips can be paid $2.13 an hour as long as their tips close the gap between that and minimum wage ($7.25), but many restaurants ignore this mandate, according to the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, the lead group authoring the study. Other study sponsors include the National Organization for Women and the National Women’s Law Center.

In many jobs, women bring home between 70 and 80 percent of the wages men do.

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Allison Yarrow is assignment editor and a staff writer at Newsweek and The Daily Beast. Her essays and journalism have appeared in Huffington Post, Slate, CNN.comPoets & Writers magazine, and The Forward. She created and hosted the Yid Lit podcast, which interviews authors of literary fiction and nonfiction. Previously, as an associate producer at NBC News Productions, Allison produced health segments for a nationally syndicated program hosted by Hoda Kotb and long-form documentary hours for MSNBC.

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