(rev 10/02/20

What Causes Gender Inequality?
     ... Analytical Strategies

What Causes Gender Inequality? ... Analytical Strategies

SOC-GA 2227

Robert Max Jackson

~~~~~  The Term Paper  ~~~~~

~~ Basic Considerations ~~

General Expectations

The paper should a substantial question concerning what causes gender inequality.  The paper should aim to provide as complete and as current analysis as possible (within reasonable constraints of time and effort). 

Perhaps the simplest strategy for a paper is to focus on one facet of gender inequality, for example, the unequal treatment of sons and daughters or the male monopoly of political power.  Such a paper might first explore what the chosen inequality looks like, describing how it varies across individuals, groups, and history.  Having clarified the phenomenon to be explored, it might then consider what we know about it, by reviewing the literature.  In this review, we want to stress the causal issues.  When this inequality exists, what are the conditions or processes that produce it (the mechanism issue)?  What circumstances or dynamics preserve (or challenge) the inequality across generations (the persistence issue)?

The paper should include a thorough review of the relevant scholarly literature, identify the important competing arguments, and place them in historical context.  The body of relevant scholarly publications includes all publications in reputable journals or books that are known and referenced regularly by authorities in the field, plus recent publications in prominent journals or by authorities on the subject.  The number of citations received by publications is a good, initial indicator of their importance, although we should not expect citation counts to have much precision in this regard.  The most important arguments are usually those explicitly stressed in the published work, with the citations received by works again useful as a rough guide.

How do you gauge that your analysis is sufficient?  This can be a tricky question from graduate school onward.  To begin, we should recognize that unlike most undergraduate programs, graduate schools apply a professional standard.  The professional standard against which we assess a paper or research project reflects the expectations for published articles and books presenting similar kinds of work to professional audiences.  Beyond that, it might help to imagine that you are writing a preparation piece for your boss at a research or policy institute.  They must moderate to a debate between three scholars who work in this area and offer critical comments.  Your boss knows sociology very well and the general area of gender and gender inequality reasonably well, but is not familiar with the literature in this specific area.  After reading your paper, your boss should be able to respond critically to the three debating scholars without much risk of embarrassment from ignorance of the knowledge that scholars would expect a commentator to have.  Your boss is not aiming to become an authority who can cope with any question the scholars might raise.  Still, they do not want to display ignorance of the major ideas and important research findings in the area.  If this still leaves you very unclear about how deep or wide your term paper should be, just do your best (but do not hesitate to seek further advice or comments on a draft).