Women and Pay

Wow, this report comes out with guns blazing, and it should:

I urge you, today, to ask at your place of employment.

In every field, at every level of education, men earn more than women. That’s the grim takeaway of this new report [PDF] from the U.S. Census Bureau, which assesses the value of a higher education in the United States—and illustrates the persistent pay gap between male and female employees who hold comparable degrees. In short, education is valuable, but it’s most lucrative if you’re male.

Among Americans with some form of post-high school education—a vocational, associate’s, bachelor’s, or advanced degree—men make more than $800 above women’s pay every month. And the gap widens as men and women climb educational ranks. Men with bachelor’s degrees in business make $1,000 more each month than their female classmates; among men and women with advanced degrees in business, the gap widens to $1,400 a month. In the natural sciences—the only sector in which men and women earned fairly equal pay at the associate’s and bachelor’s degree levels—the equity was erased among advanced degree holders. Men with advanced degrees in the natural sciences make about $2,600 more per month than their female peers (couldn’t you use an extra $31,200 a year?). Even in sectors traditionally regarded as feminine—education and liberal arts, for example—male earners outstripped female ones.


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  • Though this is deplorable, what offsets this (somewhat) are the recent findings that show women currently are finding it easier to get employment. So the trade-off question is: A job or a higher-paying job?

  • As a woman who has been in traditionally male-dominated fields of work, I can vouch for this disparity, not only of pay but of opportunity for advancement. Though I always received glowing praise for the quality of my work and work ethic, men with no experience but similar education would be hired above me at sometimes 40% more than I made even after several years with the company. In some cases I learned that after I left for other employment (the only way to get a raise or promotion, it seems), two or three people were hired to replace me. I was never credited for ideas management solicited from me (because they knew my input was valuable), while young men with naive ideas were wined and dined and promoted. Nobody can tell me there’s not glass (or stained glass) ceiling… though many men have tried to deny it.

    And they deny it because in a very few cases, the pendulum has swung the other way. Thousands of years of male preference don’t seem to be enough to justify tolerance one or two generations of SOME female equality; they throw tantrums like toddlers hearing the word “no” if they every have to suffer for one moment what women have suffered for millennia. They fear women’s treatment as equal adults just as some whites feared the same for non-whites. Yet in spite of racial equality, white men did not become less white; so why is it that some men are so afraid that if women are treated (not just on paper) as equals, the men will be less manly?

    Another statistic I think would bear out is that if anyone should be paid more on the basis of gender, it should be women, because only women must bear the children and are often forced to do so alone. Yes, on occasion it happens to men, but compared to the number of women, I think the men should take it like women have always had to do. Women, it seems, have had more backbone than men when it comes to enduring injustice.

    I could go on…

  • Oops, must clarify that last paragraph! It should read,

    “Another statistic I think would bear out is that if anyone should be paid more on the basis of gender, it should be women, because only women must bear the children and are often forced to RAISE THEM alone. Yes, on occasion it happens to men,”


  • Joe Canner

    If women are indeed getting paid significantly less than men for the same job at the same company, then that is a concern. However, this data, while interesting, is too general to draw that conclusion. There are too many other variables that could be contributing to these differences: years of experience, number of hours worked, specialization within a degree/field category, etc. For example, taking a few years off to have children can have an adverse effect on long-term earnings.

    I also wonder whether salary demands play a role. In cases where there is flexibility in determining salary, perhaps men are more aggressive when negotiating starting salary and raises.

  • Re. “salary demands”, everybody presumes the familiar stereotypes, such that aggression in a man is deemed good, while aggression in a woman is deemed bad. And again, per experience and observation of my own, women who do manage to move up are often presumed to have earned their promotions “on their backs”. Women simply are not viewed as human beings on a par with men, but instead as more like a different species, the butt of jokes.

    I and other women can tell you that even if we play by all the rules and employ all the best workplace advice there is, it often backfires for us. What’s even more galling, though, is when some women play along, in an almost cannibalistic hatred of their own gender, or the “happy slave” who resents anyone not playing along.

    Re. taking time off for children, remember also that many men have to choose between their career and their family. So again, there is no reason to penalize women for this. IMHO.

  • RJS


    Aggressiveness in negotiation plays a role. Although it has also been shown that agressiveness in women has negative social consequences that agressiveness in men does not have.

    The table 8 in the report though is subject to the kinds of concerns you raise. In my field more women are in the lower paying fields (e.g. biology rather than physics) and tend to be concentrated in the less competitive positions for a variety of reasons including personal lifestyle choice. Even accounting for all of these there are some demonstrable differences – but they mostly relate to the aggressiveness issue (or so I think), because there is no set pay scale.

  • Sal

    The statistics on this have been countered repeatedly. The counter is multi-faceted, and includes argument based on simple economics, anecdotal evidence, and logic:

    1) If, as the line goes, men are paid more than women for the same job, in numbers great enough to create a national trend, one of us should know a man and a woman doing the exact same job where the man gets paid more. I’ve never met one person (or even one person who knows a person) who can identify a male and a female that they know in a company where the male doing the exact same job is paid more than a female. They can’t do this because it doesn’t exist. That’s because if it did exist, that company would be sued repeatedly.

    2) Workplace injuries and deaths occur at a rate of 10 to 1 in ‘favor’ of men, which suggests that even at the same job classification, they aren’t doing the ‘same job’.

    3) Think about it terms of simple economics. If a company, any company, with it’s primary motivation as turning a profit, could simply replace all of it’s men making $1 and replace them with women paying them 80 cents, they’ve just upped their profits 20%, something any company would do if given the chance.

    There are more reasons, of course, but this is a start. It’s a bad stat.

  • RJS


    The statistics in Table 8 of the report are not “bad.” But the necessary comparisons are not made to determine the reasons (good, bad, or indifferent) for the disparities.

    (Added) I don’t think the claim that it falls on the kind of discrimination your comment implies makes much sense. That doesn’t mean it isn’t an issue worth investigation.

  • Sal

    Yes, that’s a fair correction, RJS.

  • Percival

    There is not enough info here to draw any firm conclusions. Joe Canner #4 is right. This is one of those things that it is hard to doubt though because everybody knows this is a fact. But is it? A quick look at the issue:

    And for a more in-depth look:

  • Business and organizations do not hire “degrees.” They hire people with particular skills, experience, and credentials. The author is using sweeping categories like business, education, or natural science. Let’s take business. Is the concentration in marketing? finance? human resources? accounting? management? All these have different career paths and salary patterns. Did all the women with business degrees go into the concentrations as men? (The answer is no.)

    There are other issues. For whatever reasons, studies show men work about 44 hours at their employment for every 40 hours women work (as I recall). Women in aggregate choose greater flexibility and less demanding hours (translates to less pay). Then we get the issue that it is still primarily women who drop out of the workforce for a time, or all together, to rear children.

    When instead of comparing all men vs women with bachelor of business degrees, and instead compare men and women with, say, a degree in a marketing from a Big 10 University, who have worked at a mid-sized manufacturing operation for ten years, the difference in salary evaporates for most professions. There is no massive conspiracy by America’s employers to pay women less. I think much of the difference lies in gender differences (such as why men, in aggregate, feel compelled to work longer; why women, in aggregate, feel inhibited about seeking raises; child rearing patterns; etc.)

    In fact two of more interesting developments in gender differences in pay are 1) single childless women in their 20’s earn about 8% more than male counterparts, and in some major metro area’s like Atlanta it is 20% more. 2) Forty percent of women in married couples today make more than their husband.


  • John Inglis

    That alleged salary disparity is made the issue diverts attention away from the real issues of glass ceilings and unequal opportunity and unequal mentoring.

  • Joe Canner

    Paula #5: I’m sure you are correct that aggressiveness during salary negotiation is perceived differently depending on the gender of the employee. All I was saying is that this data is not able to elucidate the reasons. The common assumption when interpreting data like this is that employers are consciously choosing to pay women less, when in fact the reasons are much more subtle and complicated.

    Regarding child-raising, again, I’m only making an observation, not a value judgment. That said, I’m not sure how one would go about changing this on the employer level. It’s one thing for a family to make choices that would even out the burden (see here for a proposal related to this issue), but I don’t see how an employer could overlook the fact that a such a woman has been out of the industry for a period of time and has less experience than a man of comparable age.

  • MWK

    I’m a female attorney who, after eight years of practice at decent size firm, did not make partner, while my male counterparts did. I had no problem with that, because I worked 18 months less then them as an associate due to having children. The result was that I billed less hours and brought in less business.

    While I made partner later, I have voted similarly when the situation has presented itself with other women associates. Without looking closer at the facts, it would look like women are being treated poorly in my field as it relates to pay, but I don’t feel that way, particularly in 2012.

  • @Joe Canner, I think we all know that we’re talking about generalities and statistics, but just as surely, I think there is enough data to draw some legitimate conclusions and question the practical equality of treatment of women in the workplace. I mainly gave personal anecdotes to show that there is still a lot of prejudice out there, and that women as a group have had to suffer from it for a very long time. So if it is premature to jump to the conclusion that there is conscious prejudice on the part of employers, it is also premature to conclude that there isn’t. My experience says there is; the only question is how much.

    As for how to change this, it all comes back to how various groups of people are taught to view groups to which they do not belong. All facets of culture play a part, not the least of which concerns the church, where it has become fashionable among many to regress to make women dependent, helpless, and secondary. As long as any group of people are considered by those in power as not quite as worthy of recognition, salary, or opportunity, we will have injustice. So the solution is to teach the equal value and worth of all human beings, whether in the schools, the churches, or entertainment. We have a long way to go on all counts.

  • #14 MWK

    What a cool set of initials! 😉

  • MWK

    Right back at you Michael!!

  • DRT

    Not based on fact, I feel that we are now dealing with a bifurcated situation, much like what is happening to the church. I admit i have not read the study in detail, but my bet is that there are companies that treat equally, enough, and those that don’t.

    I see companies on both sides of the equation, and occasionally within companies due to individual discrimination.

    As someone recently turning 50, I feel (know) that I am being discriminated against (a male). This is a really difficult problem.

  • Diane


    Thank you for your comments. Women know how it is–but it can rip one’s heart out trying to convey it and not be seen as a “whiner.” A whole culture that subtly favors white men has to change and that won’t happen overnight. A friend of mine is undergoing a female to male sex change–she/he says it is remarkable–absolutely astonishing–the difference in deference and assumed intelligence now that she has become a he. But white men simply don’t see it–their privilege has always been there and so it simply seems normal. They just can’t see it and so get angry and blame women when their privilege is challenged. Whites do it with blacks–as a white person I know I am hardly exempt from assuming my many privileges as normative.

    One issue I want to address is the value laid on work hours–and the stat that men work 44 hours for every 40 women work. I worked for one company in particular that valorized the number of hours people put in–but many of the extra hours were wasted hours. I’m sure many of the men who participated in this culture would have agreed that staying to 8 each night was a waste of time, but they had to prove they were “players” by hanging out for the long days. Most women, having other responsibilities, couldn’t stay late, but worked extra hard to get their jobs done during the day. When do we start valuing productivity rather than time?

  • Thanks, Diane, for your thoughts as well.

    You raise a good point about productivity too: it isn’t the hours but the efficiency. I was once reprimanded for not spending enough hours on one client’s software, though I had done more than the required work in half the usual time. Quality vs. quantity. We could also make note of all the off-the-clock business that gets done in bars and on golf courses, which typically is male-dominated. Women at bars are not seen as business partners but as targets of conquest. And I know of no way to prove or disprove the importance of this unwritten and unofficial male advantage.

    While there are industries where being female is a clear advantage (remember Mrs. Doubtfire, or Tootsie?), the bulk of them favor males; this mitigates against the argument that somehow a few advantages for women are magically equal to the multitude of advantages for men; one or two exceptions do not make the charge of male preference invalid.

    For another personal anecdote, I have proved repeatedly that if I comment online anonymously or use a male-sounding name, I get much more respect and validation– not just from men but also from women. My writing style matches that of the stereotypical male. I’ve also made the same mistake about others, who have neutral or female-sounding online names; many “gentle” writers turn out to be men. So I have concluded that there is no such thing as a male personality or a female personality; there are more differences among people of one gender than there are between the genders. Personality is thus a human thing rather than a gender thing.