Friday, March 20, 2015

Yes, the Pay Gender Gap is Real – But It’s Not All from Discrimination

One work-related issue seems to have perpetual press coverage.  Consider the following:

Men and women must be paid equal wages if they perform substantially the same work under the Equal Pay Act.  “Equal pay” refers to more than just your paycheck.  Under this law, all employers must provide employees within the same establishment whose jobs require substantially equal skill, effort and responsibility, and are performed under similar working conditions “equal pay.” – U.S. Department of Labor Website

In 1951, women made about 64 cents for every dollar earned by men.  The wage gap has narrowed over time, with today’s women (age 15 and over) earning 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, for year-round, full-time work.  –

How can we reconcile the above two statements?

In 2005, to answer that question, author Warren Farrell published Why Men Earn More:  The Startling Truth about the Pay Gap – And What Women Can Do About It.  Per its subtitle, the book also included constructive ideas on how women can avoid getting less than men.  The way they can do that, the author wrote, is for them to make more of the same choices as men.  And what are they?
Note that none of these are about acting differently in the workplace, or fighting remaining sex discrimination.  Such things would help, but are hardly the whole story.  So what did Farrell, backed with documented statistics, come up with?
First, women can choose from the 25 worst positions, as assessed by the Jobs Rated Almanac on quality of work environment, employment prospects, physical demands, job security, and related stress.  As of 2002, 92% of workers in these 25 jobs were men.  Only one position, dancer, had more than 32% female workers.  Some of the better paying ones in this list were carpenter (99% male), boilermaker (100% male), and the overall lowest-ranking one, lumberjack (98% male).

Second, Farrell recommended that women opt for careers with lower personal fulfillment, such as being a tax accountant instead of a child-care professional.

Third, on the lower-qualification end, women are likely to be paid more if they end up with jobs outdoors, such as package deliverers, instead of those only requiring work inside.

Fourth, if women seek positions in which they “can’t psychologically check out at the end of the day,” such as corporate attorney, instead of working as, for example, librarians, their earnings will tend to be higher.

Fifth, being more willing to take the most extreme physical risk, being killed on the job, of which 92% suffering that early last decade were men, can help women’s pay.

Sixth, female workers can help themselves by putting in more hours.  According to a 2004 Department of Labor survey, women were less than half as likely than men to work over 50 hours per week.

Seventh, gaining more experience, by not being among the 50 times as many women as men who are full-time homemakers, the 8 times as many who take at least four years out of the labor force, or the 9 times as many who leave work for six months or longer for family reasons can boost expected income.

Eighth, simply getting to work more often, and not contributing to women’s averaging twice as much time away from it as men, can help.

Ninth, being more willing to take nonphysical as well as physical risks, such as joining heavily male fields such as venture capitalism, generally pays more.

Tenth, taking jobs requiring working at inconvenient times, such as being a doctor in private practice instead of working for an HMO, can shrink the income gap.  

These ten were only those I chose from one old book – many, many more are out there. 

Despite sex discrimination laws in effect for half a century, there are reasons for women still being paid less, overall, than men.  There are certainly men in positions of power who would prefer their subordinates to be the same.  But that sort of thing is nowhere near the whole story.  Choices matter too, and mean enough that no simple assertion of broad-based pay differences should be taken as being caused by other reasons.  The issue of average pay differing by sex, as is the case for many, is far more complicated than it looks. 


  1. So just leave the baby on its own,or the child to burn down the house or not get to school? Your list carelessly leaves out the fact that childcare is work, and begs the question as to why unpaid work is the woman's responsibility. Instead of opting for a fight over scraps and a terrible quality of life for both genders, why not incentivize workers with decent salaries, flexible hours, safety, and manageable schedules?

    1. Men do unpaid work at home too. Employers would do well to implement the things you mention, but they're not a subject for forcible implementation for all. Thank you for your response!

    2. Companies should pay their workers for equal work actually done. They should not care about who does "work" at home.

      Who does what house/yard-work is up to the couple and it is their personal decision.

      How many children couples have is up to the couple. Women especially have a vast number of ways to control how many children they have.

      Childcare is NOT work. Childcare is a PERSONAL CHOICE. If I choose to have a 5,000 square foot house I have no right to complain to my boss about the "work" I have to spend maintaining it. If I have five kids I have no right to complain to my boss about the "work" I have to spend raising them. If your spouse doesn't contribute enough take that up with them as no one else should care (especially your boss).

      The stuff you do on your own time =/= work

      Please be an adult and take responsibility for your OWN choices. Let businesses be responsible for their OWN choices and pay based on market forces.

  2. So if I, as a woman, choose a profession as a computer programmer, put in the same amount of hours (50+) that men programmers do, produce the same code, I should not expect to make the same?

    Why should I take more of the inconvenient times and not be compensated even more for those of that is what motivates the men to work those?

    1. You should get as good a deal in these ways as men.

  3. I agree with this wholeheartedly. I recently had a debate on the exact same subject. I am by no means a gender expert, but I can comment through my observations in the workplace. Women are generally "descrimanated" against because they don't provide as much value as men in the work place. Before you jump down my throat for that sexist comment, let me explain.

    The value add I am talking about is not intellectual (women are probably better here than men however I have no supporting data), the value I am talking about is the willingness of male employees to do things that most family women will not, such as working more hours, working weekends, canceling family commitments at short notice, ect.

    When a company looks at a prospective employee (both new hire and promotion) it is looking at it from an investment perspective, one aspect is how well the candidate will perform the job description (here men and women are equal), but another is how well he/she will perform auxiliary tasks that often happen in non core working hours (often tricky for a women who cooks and cares for a family (another debate worth having is if this should be the status qou and if not, would women want to forfit their child caring role?)

    At no point in my argument am I stating that women are less capable than men at performing any given task, I am however saying that when one approaches senior positions, the company needs to look at many other factors besides that of just fufuling the role

  4. Another point is that although a corporation could have many "engineers" they aren't all the same, and shouldn't get paid the same (regardless of sex), and this cannot be used to try to prove that one group is being paid less for the same job. For higher level positions, part of the hiring process is negotiating your pay. If the perspective employee is not as successful with this as their counterpart, that isn't the other person's problem. What I'm trying to say is, once you move past basic hourly wage, there are a lot of factors that are used to calculate an employee's pay, and you can't just do a comparison based on job title and sex or ethnicity.

    1. Exactly! The ridiculous premise that women and men are equal, is as untrue as claiming that all men are equal. Insisting that everyone have equal rights is fine, but actual aptitudes & qualifications are a different story. That's precisely the reason why companies don't just hire the first person who stumbles through the door, but have a hiring process where a pool of candidates is considered in order to select the best. The concept itself of a best candidate implies that all candidates aren't equal, neither are all individuals regardless of sex or race.

      In my experience, many companies, during a job interview, tend to claim that they are bound by company policy with regards to salary offerings, and equal opportunity mandates. As it turns out, if they want you, they will easily forget company policy and grant what you demand, provided your expectations are backed by experience/qualifications. To find that out, I had to be willing to negotiate, and know how to make my case. It appears that most of my female colleagues have been set back, salary-wise, by the systematic acceptance of "policy-mandated" salaries from the get-go. The fear of asking for a raise will worsen the salary discrepancy down the line. Negotiating skills being demonstrated during the hiring process set the tone for how a given employee will be considered later for promotions, etc., which, in my experience, is a more valid explanation of the lingering salary gap, than supposed gender discrimination.

    2. Here's a personal experience which is a good example of what you say. Twenty-seven years ago I found myself a highly valued information technology worker at AT&T, but paid well below industry standards, and perceived little prospect to get caught up. I gathered my information and asked for an unscheduled raise. It went over so well that, even though I asked for $3,000 more, they gave me $5,200! Since that raised my salary base, I estimate I gained $50,000 for asking. My sister, who had worked 7 or 8 years in human resources, sent a message to me through my wife that I should not do such things, that the company had plans for how much I would be paid and that I should respect that; I am glad it reached me too late.

  5. One important factor I noticed long ago in regard to the alleged 'wage gap' is the reliance on averages. One factor in particular is that all workers that put in more than 32 hours per week are considered 'full time' even though there is a 20% disparity between 32 hours and 40 hours. How can you expect useful data when you organize it this loosely?

  6. I think this article misses the point. Yes, women as a whole may pick less stressful and less risky jobs, however there are plenty of women who break that mold and work in mainly Male-dominated roles. In these roles women still make less, dollar for dollar, compared to men with equal experience and equal skills. I myself always saw my male coworkers earn nearly 75% more than me even when I was top producer. The only time I've been paid fairly was when my pay was mostly commission-based.

    1. Thank you for your comment! There are always exceptions, and anecdotals, but all we need is an extra 10% of women choosing lower-paying positions and we will have a pay gap.