Uncovering JAPA

Professional Inequality Within Urban Planning

The planning profession often prides itself on being an advocate for marginalized communities and various social justice initiatives. Planners find themselves occupying a unique position at the intersection of public policy, design, and community organizing: the equitability of our cities and urban spaces depends on their training, insights, and political motivations.

But what happens when the diversity of the planning field does not represent these beliefs we claim to espouse? How do we reconcile an industry striving towards just urban spaces that still internally reflects the larger injustices of the U.S. labor market?

Inequality Persists in Planning Profession Demographics

These are the questions that Eun Jin Shin asks in "Representation and Wage Gaps in the Planning Profession: A Focus on Gender and Race/Ethnicity" in the Journal of the American Planning Association (Vol. 88, No. 4). Shin addresses the subtle hypocrisy that, while so much of the research conducted in the planning profession focuses on identifying and addressing inequalities in cities, there is a lack of research on inequalities within the field of planning itself. Like most managerial and professional trades in the United States, Shin notes that there is a popular conception of unequal opportunity geared towards white men in the field of planning.

Degree of Workplace Inequality

Shin sets out to investigate the validity of these claims and uses quantitative data to examine and determine the degree of workplace inequality in both the public and private sectors.

To do this, she focuses on representation within the planning field by gender and race/ethnicity and then compares these percentages to the U.S. workforce overall. She then uses a regression analysis to determine wage gaps between these gender and racial/ethnic minorities as compared to the "control variable" of white male planners and adds a temporal variable to measure trends and changes in wage gaps by comparing three sample years: 2000, 2008, and 2016.

Unfortunately, Shin's study finds that the assumptions about planning are correct: the field is still dominated by white men, and these white men tend to earn more than their female and POC co-workers.

However, Shin identifies some interesting sub-trends in her study that paint a more nuanced picture of the planning field and point to possible solutions to this inequity within the industry. While the percentage of female planners rose throughout the study period to roughly equal their percentage in the general labor market, on average they were still only paid about 80 percent of their male counterparts in the private sector.

Wage gaps in the planning field by ethnicity/race and gender.

Table 3: Wage gaps in the planning field by ethnicity/race and gender.

Addressing Inequalities in Planning Profession Demographics

Shin found that these inequalities had largely to do with cultural issues surrounding parenthood in the workplace: male planners were subject to a "fatherhood premium" that views them as breadwinners and subsequently pays them higher wages.

In terms of race and ethnicity, Shin found that the planning field still suffers a lack of diversity and white planners make up a greater percentage of the field than of the overall U.S. labor force.

The strength of Shin's piece lies in her ability to connect her findings to larger social trends and turn the identified disparities into potential actions. When confronted with the unexpected finding that Black and Hispanic planners faced a wider wage gap in the public sector than in the private sector, she postulates that "they potentially reflect a more recent trend of increasing racial/ethnic wage gaps in the public sector due to privatization of the public sector and the resultant increase in employers' discretion over hiring, promoting, and compensation," connecting her findings to the larger issues of neo-liberalization in the planning field, especially since the Great Recession (which Shin also analyzes).

Her ability to historically contextualize the trends she analyzes allows for a more hopeful cadence as she makes recommendations for the future. Basic workplace changes, such as the promotion of Black and Hispanic planners to senior-level positions, and the implementation of paid paternity leave to challenge the assumption that fathers are the main family breadwinners, could have overwhelmingly positive effects on combating inequality in the field.

Overall, Shin provides a necessary framework that is all too often missing in planning: the ability to reflect not only on our cities but also on ourselves.

Top image: kate_sept2004/E+/gettyimages.com

About the author
Michael Uhll is a master's in urban planning candidate at Harvard University.

June 30, 2022

By Michael Uhll