• Mon, Apr 28 - 10:00 am ET

The Real Reason For The Gender Wage Gap

The wage gap is real, but not for the reasons you may think. | Source: ShutterStock

The gender wage gap is real, but not for the reasons you may think. | Source: ShutterStock

You know that theory that the gender pay gap is a result of women becoming nurses instead of doctors, that sort of thing? Or, as the Republican National Committee put it when voting down the Equal Pay Act, “There’s a disparity not because female engineers are making less than male engineers at the same company with comparable experience. The disparity exists because a female social worker makes less than a male engineer.”

You know, that?

That’s only part of the reason there’s a gender wage gap. The other reason, a Harvard study found, is because most women have other things to do besides being chained to their desks 24/7. The study showed that women place a high value on flexibility of hours, as well as leaving to spend time with their families. Meanwhile, more men rack up more hours on the job, thus taking home more pay. (Think of an attorney for a big law firm tacking on tons of billable hours, while an in-house attorney for a small company leaves at 5 PM and relaxes.)

Study author Dr. Claudia Goldin says that some occupations pay disproportionately more for overtime than others, and this is why the pay gap for certain professions, like surgeons and lawyers, is so much larger than ones in fields like pharmacy. Goldin told The New York Times, “The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours.”

Basically, as long as jobs value overtime a whole lot, and as long as men are more likely to work overtime than we are, the pay gap will still be around.

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  • Kay_Sue

    Every study shows that the Wage Gap is an incredibly complex entity, in and of itself. It’s affected by a variety of socioeconomic, political and social factors, with everything from the idea that most women will work less (because kids) to the idea that women enter into lower paid professions more often (they do).

    But all of these are just symptoms of underlying issues that we have to address in order to fix them. It’s easy for everyone, from the RNC to the organizations that represent our interests as women, to simplify it into the easiest quantifiable common denominator, but the simple fact is that there will always be more to it. And those underlying issues are the parts that are most difficult to fix.

    I don’t know that I can get behind the idea that firms shouldn’t have incentives to allow workers to work longer hours. If an employer is allowing overtime, there’s economic reasons for it for the employer too–believe me, they don’t want to pay time and a half or double time if they don’t have to. Right now, my husband is in manufacturing and typically works 10 to 20 hours of overtime. That’s perfectly acceptable to his employer, as long as there is work to be done, because it gets orders out more quickly, which in turn means that their contracts are completed quicker, which in turn means that customers are more likely to repeat. When I worked in retail, however, ANY overtime meant that I was going to have my ass handed to me on a platter by my district manager–or even higher. Different fields value it differently, and that’s not a bad thing–it’s a natural outcome of the business world. It’s a cost of doing business, if you will.

    There are a lot of issues in the workplace that need to be addressed to create a workplace where women–and men–thrive and reduce the Wage Gap. Off the top of my head, I think nursing and parental leave policies are two huge ones. I myself left the workforce because having young children conflicted with my career to the point that I felt I had to choose. When (or if) I return to my former field, I’ll be making less than others with the same education in the same positions because I’ll lack experience. Adjusting those policies so that men and women can make decisions that are best for their families and still be able to continue working later on is huge, I think.

    You talk about how “women have things to do and can’t be chained to their desks 24/7″–I completely concur. So do men. So why does it fall to women to do the doing, and men to do the working? These are societal attitudes, not business ones. I highly doubt that employers really care if it’s a man or a woman doing the job–if the job is done, and it’s right, and it’s on time, and preferably costs less than they thought, they’re pleased. That’s how it works. Changing the Wage Gap has far more to do with changing societal attitudes and creating a world where men and women can be equally involved in their lives, without feeling like they are giving something up or failing.

    I enjoyed this piece. It was quite thought-provoking. Thank you.

    • jess sager

      Thank you! I actually agree about the women having to do all the “doing.” That’s just what the study implied. You’re 100 percent on the money.

  • SherrieKesler

    In actual ways Man does not change the View about woman in different sector and as a Society in the Village .
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  • Disappointed in NY

    People say it’s complicated but what is complicated about equal pay for equal work. I am in an industry dominated by men and I accepted the position at a salary beneath what men in my position are making because I knew that I would excel and then assumed I would get just compensation.Well you know what happens when you assume. I work very long hours, am never out sick and my productivity shows it. While I did receive two salary increases in my first year, I know I am not making anywhere near what my male counterparts are. My sales stats, low return percentage and hi profit margin bear this out because everything is on an excel sheet. Not only that,whenever someone leaves the company and accounts are redistributed the cushy ones go to the men. All of the company executives are men. While all of this is disturbing, it’s nothing new. However what I do find extremely disturbing is the salary disparity. As Cuba Gooding Jr. and Tom Cruise said in Jerry Maguire; Show me the money $$$.

    • jess sager

      I hear you. Is it possible that your male colleagues negotiated for a higher salary when they got hired? Also, if you’re truly being treated unfairly, you may want to speak with HR or your supervisors.