What’s behind the gender pay gap? Really?

I saw this on CNet news

More girls joined the classes and, according to Nourbakhsh, they turned out to be more talented programmers than the boys, dispelling an age-old stereotype. Kids taking robotics classes where Terk is used now include the artists, environmentalists and literati instead of just the techies, Nourbakhsh said. That’s exactly the effect Nourbakhsh says his group hoped to achieve.

Which surprised me, because I’ve been thinking about a new, more detailed study published last week. One of the comments in the Times is this:

Catherine Hill, the organization’s director of research, said: ”Part of the wage difference is a result of people’s choices, another part is employer’s assumptions of what people’s choices will be. … Employers assume that young women are going to leave the work force when they have children, and, therefore, don’t promote them.”

As usual, the media coverage and comments in some blogs reiterate the usual explanations about all the possible explanations. Depending on political viewpoint, either the gap is all the result of women’s choices, or the gap is all the result of a vast right-wing antifeminist conspiracy.

Read the actual study, and the difference is more subtle.

One year after college, there is already a 20% pay gap. But three quarters of that gap is readily explained by differences in choices between men and women graduates: Women enter lower paying fields, are more likely to choose nonprofits, and work fewer hours. But there is still an unexplained 5% difference in pay between men and women. For me, the most striking difference is in education, almost hidden away on page 11: Women in education average of $520 a week; men in education make $547 a week. These are, at this stage, mostly teachers, with very similar roles and environments, and very similar qualifications. Indeed, elsewhere the study reports women do better, as a group, in school than their male counterparts. How can we explain that $27?

The standard explanation is that women take more time off, work fewer hours, and focus more on having a family than having a career in the first then years. That is, to some extent, true: Women are three times as likely to take several months off, and that leave is almost always paid leave. Those women also work fewer hours, are more likely to take time off to care for sick kids, and are less likely to take on management roles.

Those women are less likely to get promotion opportunites, less likely to get “choice” assignments, and are more likely to viewed as less committed to the workplace. There was also the surprising finding that while women who have children work fewer hours, men who have children work more hours. There is some sort of “motherhood penalty” both in hours worked and in perceived value to the organization. There is also a “fatherhood bonus.”

The problem, however, is that the same thinking is applied to women who do not have families. Women, it seems, are always “potential mothers” who will abandon their duties to be a (potential) drain on the organization.

I have a personal stake in this, on two levels.

First, this is just a justice issue. Women should not face discrimination in the workplace, and neither should men. Both women and men should be evaluated on their contributions to the organization, and both men and women should be able to balance work and family according to their own choices.

Second, Teela is now about a decade from entering the workforce.

So, there is a five percent unexplained gap between men and women in their first year in the workplace. The unexplained part of the gap grows to 11 percent ten years later. I am less worried about the explained part of the gap, though I understand that real market forces don’t drive the differences in pay between occupations.

I worry, though, that the attempts to “do something” about the explained parts are somehow generating the unexplained, gender biased, differences. Women can take time off to have children, so managers assume that they will, and treat even women who don’t accordingly. That shouldn’t happen.


Explore posts in the same categories: GeekDad, Process Change, Software

2 Comments on “What’s behind the gender pay gap? Really?”

  1. […] are the result of discrimination, as I previously discussed, and as we saw from a couple of court cases this week.  An important point, missed in some of the […]

  2. moe Says:

    yeah, i totally agree. Personally i feel that the women of this day are achieving more than the men.

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