Salaries and gender inequity

All right, for the past several days now I’ve been hearing talk of the famous statistic that women are paid less than men for the same work. Specifically, that women on average get $.72 for every $1.00 men make.

Does anyone know where this statistic actually came from?

My impression is that the whole thing is a misunderstanding. The statistic in question doesn’t seem to show that women are paid less for doing the same work, but that women’s salaries make up less than half of the total value of salaries in the US. In other words, women’s salaries make up about 42% of the total amount of money people earn.

That doesn’t mean women are paid less. There are several possible causes for this phenomenon: there might be fewer women working, there might be fewer women with high-paying jobs, a combination of these factors, etc.

You are correct in that the “average woman” makes 70–72 cents for every dollar the “average man” makes. This means all the salaries of all working women/men are pooled and then divided to reach these numbers.
Before anyone takes that as validation that gender inequity in the workplace is a myth, ask yourself why that would be true. Women are graduating from universities in equal or greater numbers than their male counterparts, and fewer women drop out of high school. Why then, with this collectively better-educated pool of workers, is the female’s average salary so much lower than a mans?

I don’t know what the statistics are regarding equal salary for equal work–or if any exist–but just from personal experience I know that my male coworker who holds exactly the same position as me, has the same amount of education, and has been at the company the same amount of time does make more than I do, which squicks me off to no end.

But are they entering the workforce in equal numbers in equal areas? OR, how does education relate to salary?

If they didn’t enter the workforce, their numbers wouldn’t be included in the average salary, so I’m not sure what you mean by that.

As for how education relates to salary–that’s kind of the root of the inequity. Traditionally “female” professional fields–teaching, social work, etc. are lower paid than a lot of “male” fields that require little-to-no education (tradesmen, laborers, etc.) Personally, I think that’s BS–but unfortunately it’s sort of inherent in the system. Now I’m curious too if there’s ever been a study on the equal pay/equal work numbers. And if not, why not? It seems like a glaring ommision considering how many downright silly things get studied (cow flatulence anyone? :)).


First, I take no position on gender salary equity, but it must be said that the quoted statistic does not prove that women are paid less than men for doing the same jobs, nor does belladonna’s anecdotal evidence prove it (although she certainly did not offer that as any type of proof).

Even if we take this to be true, any History of Art major will tell you that graduating from a university does not create an entitlement to a job, much less a high-paying one. One must not only look at the percent of women receiving degrees, but also look at what fields those degrees are in, and the employability and salaries in those fields.

For example, statistics from the National Center for Education Statistics (here is a PDF file) show that in Minnesota in 2000,

Although women may be earning more degrees overall, more men are going where the bucks are.

Women are more likely to take off time from work to have children and therefore have less seniority and experience than men. If you adjust for qualifications women make about 95-98 cents for every dollar a man makes. There were studies of this by O’Neill of CUNY and Waldfogel of Columbia.

You made the point exactly. If they didn’t enter the workforce, and then they’re not included in average salary, then it doesn’t really matter if they got a degree. A more meaninful statistic would be the percentage of men and women who got degrees and then entered the workforce.

This is the fallacy of cause and effect. Even if women are in lower-paying jobs, it doesn’t mean they’re being paid less because they’re women. There may be other factors that cause women to select jobs that are lower paying as a result of basic supply-and-demand economics. For example, one hypothesis might be that women may be predisposed to select jobs that are more humanistically rewarding. I don’t mean to say that’s the case, only that we must consider alternative explanations and test them.

Of greater concern from my perspective is not why are women in certain fields lower paid, but why are there barriers to women entering some fields dominated by men.

You can prove anything by using statistics as I showed in this thread which dealt precisely with the topic of discrimination against women.

First off you need to have the men and women being compared to be exactly alike in everything or the comparison is meaningless. If the women dedicate less time and effort to their jobs because they want to spend more time and effort to their family life then they cannot be compared except to men who do the same. There are hundreds of factors which may influence and I believe prejudice on the part of men is a minimal part of it which is more than overcome by preferences and affirmative action for women. I believe personal choices are the major factor.

Cecil on this exact subject:

Are women paid less than men for the same work?

Did you hear about the statistician who drowned in a river with an average depth of 1 foot?

What sailor said.

Along similar lines: I believe that society places more of an expectation on men to acquire earning power and act as breadwinners.

No, I don’t have a cite for this. But I know I chose my career in part because I wanted to be able to provide for a wife and family, based on my impression that men who didn’t make any money didn’t generally have as many marriage opportunities.

I’m a chartered accountant, who always wanted to be a lion tamer (OK, actually, I’m an engineer, who always wanted to be a musician – I just wanted to see if there were any Monty Python fans reading this).

This expectation may exist in parents, who may be more likely to encourage and permit their daughters than their sons to pursue lower-paying careers.

It may also exist in women who expect potential husbands to earn more than they themselves do.

Does anyone know if such a study has been done? I.e., ask a group of young adults what (if any) income requirements they place on a potential spouse (relative to their own income); and observed if there are any gender differences.

Okay, that settles that.

Now: where did the idea that the statistic indicates women are paid less for the same job come from?

Unless you’re just comparing male/female salaries for entry-level positions, this fact won’t affect the argument much for another 30 years or so.

For what it’s worth, my job requires me to talk to tons and tons of people about their jobs.

My experience seems to support what others are saying in this thread - that men make more money than women but are doing different work.

For example, many men I meet who do not have a lot of education are doing jobs that are dangerous, dirty, physically demanding or which otherwise impose hardship. For example, I meet many male machine operators; tugboat captains; and ironworkers who earn very good money for their level of education – like $20 to $30 per hour plus overtime.

At the same time, I meet a lot of women, who are not highly educated, who shuffle paper for a living earning $20 to $35k per year.

It seems to me that men earn more money than women for the same reason that women are more frequently anorexic than men. As others have pointed out, there is a lot of social pressure on men to make money. There is a lot of social pressure on women to be attractive.

From women who have been paid less for the same job. Like me. And no, it wasn’t a nursing or teaching or “female oriented” job, like in the Cecil column, it was a proper tech job handling databases & networks. A male colleague when moved to this role the previous year got his pay rate increased to £200 per day, when I got moved to this role the following year, I didn’t get a raise. I was doing the same job for £100 a day. I pushed & fought for a raise, and got an increase to £113 per day - at which point, I left the company.

It’s illegal, but it happens - and I was a contractor (as was the colleague), and if I had brought a court case or similar, I would suddenly have been surplus to requirements - and possibly have found it hard to get hired anywhere else either, due to the publicity. So I left, despite having been happy there previously and went to work for a different company.

There’s no such thing as “the same job,” just like there’s no such thing as the same marriage or the same friendship. A job is a relationship between two people.

This distresses me. Can anyone point to evidence that it’s true, that women with good, solid cases regarding the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (or the equivalent in your country) are unwilling to pursue them?

Yes, women make less, but there are lots of factors.

I researched this extensively not relying, as Cecil [] did, so much on case law but interviewing various people, mostly female. I focused on three occupations: Law, medicine, and veterinary medicine, because those are three areas which used to be almost exclusively male (50 years ago) and which are now trending toward women.

In those three occupations, women still make less. Of course the overall average is skewed by the preponderance of men who are in their peak earning years vs. women who are still relative beginners.

But: Women who have been on the job for 15 years make less than men who have been on the job 15 years. And there are lots of reasons.

These are generalizations of course. (I myself adopted a strategy, in about 1979, of not taking a job unless the previous person in that job was a male, and this strategy served to keep my salary ahead of my husband’s for practically my entire marriage, so far.) But some of the reasons women don’t make as much are:

They aren’t (generally) as tough when it comes to negotiating. Or some of them—lots of them—don’t realize that everything is negotiable.

Those who do sometimes negotiate lower salaries in return for flex time. Or they trade down their benefits and get a child-care adjustment instead of company stock. Women are lots more likely to do this than men.

They are more likely than men to work part time or to job share.

The Mommy Track is real. I know (and interviewed for the article) three women and one man who worked either part-time or on a non-partnership track at law firms (at these law firms, “part time” was 40 hours a week) and made less money. (The man who did this made less money too, but his wife was on the partnership track at a different law firm; he rarely saw her. He did all the soccer/piano/ballet coordinating for their daughters and took them in on Take Your Daughters to Work Day.) This is a choice that more women than men make. Obviously, if the men who opted for this did it in great numbers it would bring their average salary down too.

Women are way, way more likely to look for another job if their bosses are assholes. Men are more likely to suck it up if the money’s good.

In all this, I am speaking of the three job categories mentioned above. In addition, female MDs got much less research grant money and female attorneys were significantly less likely to be rainmakers. Female veterinarians were somewhat less likely to specialize in larger animals. All these are choices (or maybe not choices; they could be dictated by temperament and physiology) that result in lower incomes.

Whew! I didn’t mean to write a damn term paper here. I’m blowing through several inches of research I did for a story on this in 1995, so this info is 8½ years outdated.

Here’s some depressing news, though. Men who worked in predominately female job categories, such as secretary, made 103% what women did in those jobs. This is balanced by the fact that women who go into he-man fields such as plumbing or construction make 105% to 108% of what men in those jobs earn. (I think these stats were from 1994 but could be ’93).

There certainly is such a thing as “the same job” when a job has a proper definition, description and set of requirements and expectations. If two workers have the same job title – assembler, then they are both assemblers. Even if Bob assembles greplocks and Joanne assembles lockgreps (each task completed by inserting tab A into slot B and twisting 90 degrees) they have the “same job.” There is no reason why Bob and Joanne shouldn’t be paid the same base salary, with the potential for increases based upon seniority and exceptional performance.

Cicada2003 is right: many of the most lucrative careers require so much time on the job that a married person has to have considerable homemaking support from a spouse.

A female physician I know once pointed out that men far outnumber women in high-paying surgical specialties, but less so in areas like internal medicine and family practice. One reason, she believed, was that the residencies were respectively structured so that surgical residents had to have a stay-at-home spouse: in one class she knew, of twelve residents, all ten men had stay-at-home wives, and both of the women were unmarried.

A female physician could, of course, choose to marry a man who supported her career thusly – there are no doubt some out there. But my friend herself agreed that a lot of female physicians would balk at marrying such a man – societal pressure again.

Until this situation changes – until there are as many househusbands as housewives – there will be a gender skew in income statistics. (This is not meant to deny or make light of the actual cases of gender discrimination experienced by others in this thread).

And my apologies for continuing to hijack this GQ thread – perhaps one of us should start another one in GD?