It's Complicated: Age, Gender, and Lifetime Discrimination Against Working Women - The United States and the U.K. as Examples

111 Pages Posted: 16 Dec 2013 Last revised: 28 Jul 2014

See all articles by Susan Bisom-Rapp

Susan Bisom-Rapp

California Western School of Law

Malcolm Sargeant

Middlesex University - Business School

Date Written: December 16, 2013


This article considers the effect on women of a lifetime of discrimination using material from both the U.S. and the U.K. Government reports in both countries make clear that women workers suffer from multiple disadvantages during their working lives, which result in significantly poorer outcomes in old age when compared to men. Indeed, the numbers are stark. In the U.S., for example, the poverty rate of women 65 years old and up is nearly double that of their male counterparts. Older women of color are especially disadvantaged. The situation in the U.K. is comparable.

To capture the phenomenon, the article develops a model of Lifetime Disadvantage, which considers the major factors that on average produce unequal outcomes for working women at the end of their careers. One set of factors falls under the heading “Gender-based factors.” This category concerns phenomena directly connected to social or psychological aspects of gender, such as gender stereotyping and women’s traditionally greater roles in family caring activities. A second set of factors is titled “Incremental disadvantage factors.” While these factors are connected to gender, that connection is less overt, and the disadvantage they produce increases incrementally over time. The role of law and policy, in ameliorating or exacerbating women’s disadvantages, is considered in conjunction with each factor, revealing considerable incoherence and regulatory gaps. Notably, the U.K.’s more protective legal stance toward women in comparison with the U.S. fails to change outcomes appreciably for women in that country.

An effective, comprehensive regulatory framework could help compensate for these disadvantages, which accumulate over a lifetime. Using the examples of the U.S. and the U.K., however, the article demonstrates that regulatory schemes created by “disjointed incrementalism” – in other words, policies that tinker along the margins without considering women’s full life course – are unlikely to vanquish systemic inequality on the scale of gender-based lifetime discrimination.

Keywords: lifetime disadvantage, working women, gender discrimination, sex discrimination, age discrimination, poverty, disjointed incrementalism

JEL Classification: K19, K31

Suggested Citation

Bisom-Rapp, Susan and Sargeant, Malcolm, It's Complicated: Age, Gender, and Lifetime Discrimination Against Working Women - The United States and the U.K. as Examples (December 16, 2013). Elder Law Journal, Vol. 22, No. 1, p. 1, 2014, Thomas Jefferson School of Law Research Paper No. 2367859, Available at SSRN: or

Susan Bisom-Rapp (Contact Author)

California Western School of Law ( email )

225 Cedar Street
San Diego, CA 92101
United States
858-336-5834 (Phone)

Malcolm Sargeant

Middlesex University - Business School ( email )

The Burroughs
London, NW4 4BT
United Kingdom


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