Home > Uncategorized > The gender wage gap is not misleading

The gender wage gap is not misleading

November 2, 2015

The U.S. gender wage gap is the difference between what the median woman earns and what the median man earns in the United States. Since women earn consistently less than men, it’s typically quoted as the percentage that the median woman’s pay is of the median man’s pay. It’s gone up slowly over time:

You can also break it down by age, by race, by location, by percentile, or by occupation. You’ll find that the gender wage gap rises and falls depending on how you measure it and what restrictions you set.

I’m bringing up this simple statistic because I’ve noticed that recently, when it comes up in conversation, the person I’m talking to will often say that it’s “misleading.” When I ask them why, they mention that “women choose jobs that don’t pay as well.”

Well, I think this is incorrect. Or rather, I think that, taken as a whole, including socialization and how our culture values work, and so on, the simplistic statistic represented by the gender wage gap is actually pretty sophisticated. It captures a lot of the nuances of our sexist culture.

For example, it’s true that not as many women choose to become mathematicians versus, say, high school math teachers. But is this really an independently made choice that young women take? Or is it socialized choice? In other words, are women squeezed out of the mindset whereby they’d consider that path? Obviously the answer is “a bit of both.”

On the statistic side, then, it’s not enough to only consider “women who became mathematicians versus men who became mathematicians” when comparing ultimate wages. That would ignore the implicit socialization element that keeps women away from higher-paying jobs. Indeed, if you think about it, you’d really want to compare “women who might have become mathematicians if there weren’t so many barriers to doing so” with “men who might have become mathematicians if there weren’t so many barriers to doing so,” and I say it like that because of course, there are plenty of barriers for both men and women, although I’m pretty sure not as many men had their 6th grade teacher explicitly tell them not to study math because they “wouldn’t need it later in life” like I did.

The problem is, it’s hard to find those groups of people, because a good fraction of them didn’t become mathematicians or even high school math teachers. So we’re kind of left without a statistic at all for math nerds, if we are being honest. We just can’t collect the relevant data.

However, this same argument applies to basically every high-paying career. In fact it applies to every career, if you’re willing to generalize a bit and point out that some jobs are shunned by men for mostly social reasons, and they just happen to also be relatively underpaid as well.

So what we do, to be statistically correct, is we pool all the “women who might have done X” and we compare them against all the “men who might have done X,” where X varies over everything, and we get the best version of the gender wage gap that we can. And that’s actually what we’ve done when we compute the above statistic. It’s not misleading at all, in other words, when you take into account weird social rules we have around who should do what job and how much that job should be valued.

Just to give another example of how strong a signal this gender wage gap represents, imagine that we instead had separated the population into two different groups: the humans that were born during an even hour of the day versus the humans that were born during an odd hour of the day. We’d not expect to see a huge wage gap then, would we? And that’s because we don’t think they evenness or oddness of the hour of the day you were born really dictates much about your choice of work nor your ability to command a good salary.

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Josh
    November 2, 2015 at 8:54 am

    I agree the reasons behind the larger wage gap are interesting and related to sexist socializations and work environments. That’s said I’ve very frequently heard people argue about wage inequality, using the wage gap, to imply or outright state that a man and a woman doing the exact same job (not similar jobs, not jobs which require an equal amount of skill, not jobs that ought to be paid the same, the same job) there will be a 23% difference in salary. This is frustrating and arguing in bad faith and where some of us “the wage gap is misleading” is coming from. I’ve explicitly seen people say “Women are paid 77% of what men are for the same work”, not only is this factually incorrect but it mispoints towards the primary source of the problem. The vast majority is in choice of profession (which, again, as you note is not exactly free) and it’s frustrating to hear it mis-framed as Women being cheaper to hire for the same profession.


  2. hilbertthm90
    November 2, 2015 at 8:56 am

    The people you are speaking to aren’t properly articulating why it is misleading. When the wage gap comes up in politics, it usually takes the form: women only make 77 cents on the dollar; women deserve equal pay for equal work!

    The misleading part of this is that a gap between medians cannot ever be taken to mean wage discrimination at an individual level, i.e. the number doesn’t tell us whether women are getting less pay for equal work. It is misleading to put these two statements next to each other and imply they have anything to do with each other.


  3. November 2, 2015 at 9:00 am

    As a loyal mathbaberoo, I agree, of course. The difficult part is, what comes next? If people doing identical jobs in identical ways are getting paid differently, then there’s one set of policy actions to (try to) address that. If qualified women are not being hired into particular fields, there’s another set of policy actions. If women are not getting qualified for particular fields or jobs, then another set of policy actions, etc etc.

    Some of the policy sets have been tried, some partially tried, etc. Is there any high impact part of the pipeline where we should be focusing attention now?

    As someone with limited time, money, and emotional bandwidth, I need some help knowing where to *particularly* care, otherwise it is too diffuse.

    Also, fwiw, there are people on the political spectrum who see inequality like this and immediately say, “that’s a problem, let’s do something.” However, there are also people who say, “why is that a problem?”


    • Quentin
      November 2, 2015 at 10:00 am

      The thing to focus attention on now is parental leave policies. Cathy makes a very good case for the usefulness of a single number describing the pay gap, but if you are going to analyze the number more deeply, perhaps the most informative categorization to look at is the pay gap for women who are mothers vs women who are not. I don’t have a readily available source to cite here, but if I recall correctly, the difference was quite striking when some researchers looked into it.

      As far as policy implications, we can learn a lot from the experience of Sweden. Parental leave has been available to men for a long time, but men weren’t using it because of cultural and employer expectations. A policy change that made more leave time available to both parents if the fathers took some leave time resulted in a change in the culture that made taking leave the norm for new fathers. I think policies that encourage men to think about work/life balance questions in the same way that women have have always had to will potentially influence some of the career choices that contribute to the pay gap.


  4. Billbo
    November 2, 2015 at 9:20 am

    Devil’s advocate.

    Completing your last thought, you are implying that gender is irrelevant to people’s ability or desire to make particular career choices much like the hour of one’s birth. I would suggest that until quite recently in human history women who engaged in career choices that made it more difficult to breast feed were at a disadvantage in procreating. This would have the potential to place evolutionary pressure on the human genome. It would be nice to look at other species to see if there are gender specific behavioral patterns. Unfortunately, I’m not knowledgeable enough to say what happens with even close relatives like primates. With animals we could do research to see what happens when members of a species are raised without contact with other adult members of the species in terms of gender specific behaviors. Again, however, I know nothing about any research or results in this area. My guess is that there are probably some inherent gender related behavioral differences between men and women, but that socialization is the primary cause of remaining differences in career choice. Still, I can’t just accept the statement that there are no differences in behavior caused by gender. It seems likely it isn’t always true with other species and I see no reason to think that humans should be any different.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 2, 2015 at 9:43 am

      It’s a good point. Speaking as a person who has breast fed three kids, I can say it’s time consuming while it lasts, but it doesn’t last very long, and overall it’s exasperating how much attention it is given but how practical little help is actually offered.

      Given that the fertility rate in the US is 2.01 and that only 29% of women are breastfeeding at all by 6 months, I think it’s safe to say that, speaking generously, 1 year of a long career by women in this country should be well protected. It’s not too much to ask.

      Put it another way, if we had people consistently but randomly called to civil service duty for 1 year, we wouldn’t expect their lifelong wages to go down as a result.


      • Billbo
        November 2, 2015 at 2:15 pm

        BTW, cutting off breast feeding at age one seems to be a modern and/or Western construct. Given issues of sanitation of the food supply, etc. breast feeding children longer probably wasn’t a bad idea historically.

        Further more, although men certainly can do everything except breast feed a child; if you already have a woman breast feeding an infant they can also care for older siblings rather easily. So while pregnancy and breast feeding are the only things which only women can do certain other activities are likely to become associated with women over evolutionarily significant time as well. Since you are not going to lug around an infant and a toddler while out hunting, gender based jobs are likely to have been the norm for much of the (short) life of ancient humans.

        In the modern world, that is no longer necessary; but I don’t think that has been true long enough for any gender based genetic differences in behavior to have been eliminated from the genome. So while we should work to eliminate the cultural elements which restrict gender equality, we should be aware that there MAY be underlying genetic differences which are working against those efforts.

        Of course, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try because it is somehow “unnatural”. Dying young is incredibly natural from an historical perspective and I see no reason not to work to change that either.


      • November 3, 2015 at 7:54 am

        “Put it another way, if we had people consistently but randomly called to civil service duty for 1 year, we wouldn’t expect their lifelong wages to go down as a result.”

        We sort of did that experiment in the US but as far as I know the data has never been analyzed from that perspective.

        The issue is mandatory (drafted) or encouraged enlistment (enlisting to avoid getting drafted) during 1970 and 1971. You can’t compare men with military service versus those without because, naming just one reason, the military service rejects people for physical or mental reasons which could also affect earning potential.

        The 1970 draft is problematical both because of problems with the randomization of the drawing and also because the pool (men born 1944-1950 who had not already served) had already been winnowed by people who had been drafted, permanently exempted (4-F, etc.) or enlisted previously.

        The 1971 draft (drawing July 1970) covered just those who turned 20 in calendar year 1971. So it is possible someone could do an analysis of lifetime earning history based of birthday (picked or not).


        • November 3, 2015 at 5:10 pm

          Based on what you said about the draft lottery, I decided to look up whether I would have been drafted.


          Turns out that I would not have been drafted. Yet I chose to serve in another country’s military, which despite my 1-A status in the USA, would have exempted me anyway from Vietnam.

          Yet those 3+years of service had a major impact on my life, influencing everything I’ve done since and making me the man I’ve become. So I’m wondering whether it is sufficient to look only at birthdays, as that would ignore the impact of actual service – for good or for bad.

          Just a thought.


        • November 4, 2015 at 9:01 am

          @abekohen If the proposition is that a few years compulsory public service, that is a few years delay in a normal career path, had no negative effect on earnings then an analysis by birthday is one way to look at it. It is of course possible that the positive effects of military service cancel out any negative effects and more.

          I am interested in the notion that service in a foreign military would exempt you from service in Vietnam. That would be true (according to https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/32/1630.48) only if you were an alien.


        • November 4, 2015 at 9:19 am

          I served in the early 70s, before that law was passed. “52 FR 24456, July 1, 1987.” So I was 1-A and exempt. I had to register for Selective Service at the US Consulate, which I did while I was a soldier. (I had to enter the Consulate in civilian clothing.)

          I don’t think military service is a net positive for all. As a result of stress and/or trauma some become stronger and some become weaker.


  5. mrgeocool
    November 2, 2015 at 9:54 am

    I always thought the “wage gap” referred to men vs. women when doing the same job with the same level of education and same # of years of experience. Is there anyone trying to calculate a number for this kind of wage gap?


  6. November 2, 2015 at 10:39 am

    I also think that it’s interesting to consider why the jobs that are traditionally female are low paid. Professions like nurses and teachers (at least for younger ages) were traditionally considered female occupations, and low paid because they were either a “calling”, in which case one apparently doesn’t really need food and shelter, or the only opportunity to get out of the house and have something of your own, in which case beggars can’t be choosers. Take the low paid job or stay in the house. Unfortunately, these salary structures still live on. I think it’s ridiculous, because nurses and teachers are some of the most important professions to keep our society running. They deserve more money. They are the ones we trust with our children for 8 hours a day, and the people who take care of us when we are sick. Paying them what they are worth would go a long way to eliminating the wage gap.


    • November 2, 2015 at 10:58 am



    • RTG
      November 3, 2015 at 10:44 pm

      I don’t at all disagree with your sentiment, but I also think it’s important to recognize that some of the factors contributing to these jobs being low-paid were explicitly sexist (and FWIW heteronormative). Nursing and teaching are among the very few jobs requiring advanced education that are female-dominated. In the 1950s, when the level of education required for these jobs was rare across the board (i.e. higher education rates among men were also low though rising due to the GI bill), you might naively expect these jobs to pay extremely well if you were an economist. But while excuses like being a “calling” might have been used to make the lower wages more palatable, I think it was also pretty explicit to tell women they didn’t need a higher wage since they had a husband to take care of them.

      I think where this gets even more interesting is when you look at pay gaps within professions. Within medicine for example, despite requiring the exact same degree, most of the specialties that are dominated by women, like pediatrics, typically pay much less than male-dominated ones like surgery and cardiology. Anecdotally, my parents are both physicians with sub-specialties (dad = interventional cardiologist and mom = neonatologist). Both have very advanced training (sub-specialties), and mom was trained at a (slightly) more prestigious program than dad, though both attained quite a high level of respect from their peers. Dad’s sub-specialty is the highest paid one in medicine, and mom’s is one of the lowest, despite, I would say, hers being more challenging since she’s treating patients across an entire age group (newborns) who could have any health problem under the sun, while his patients all have similar health issues. There may be many reasons while sociologically women gravitate more to certain professions than men, but it’s also worth examining whether the problem is that they are being discouraged from the higher paying ones or that the female-dominated ones should pay more.


    • November 7, 2015 at 9:56 am

      Don’t forget about supply and demand. Whenever prices/wages/some monetary amount seems a little off, always remember supply and demand. If there are many people applying for teaching jobs, then the employers can pick and choose and wages go down. Also, teaching jobs are government jobs. People will talk about raising teacher pay all day long at the dinner table. However, when they get to the voting booth, they vote for whoever is going to lower their taxes or shuffle more benefits to their household. Everyone else be damned.

      Regarding healthcare, I spent several years of my life in healthcare IT. There is a lot of money in healthcare right now, but none of it is benefiting me, you, or nurses. That’s just a gigantic quagmire of crap.

      I’m not saying you’re wrong, but I am saying that for those two professions there are many more things to consider in addition to what you pointed out.



  7. November 2, 2015 at 11:21 am

    Why do young single women choose to go to nursing school rather than med school? I don’t think their math teachers told them not to be doctors, nor do I think they need to know too much math. Yet, when I audit classes at Hunter College, many single young women, choose nursing as a profession, knowing full well what nursing pays relative to doctors.

    Why do young single women study liberal arts rather than engineering? Is it because of their 6th grade math teachers?

    We are not living in the 1950s. Women have choices.

    What I really want to know, like another poster here asked, what is the wage gap for (nearly) identical work? Is it as bad as the fired female NY Times editor experienced? Is it as bad as the wage gap in the Obama White House? Is it the same for doctors, engineers, lawyers, etc? Let’s look at the data.


    • November 2, 2015 at 4:07 pm

      Why do young, single, smart, straight women go into nursing? It seems clear to me that the following points will, in real life, skew between the sexes:

      • Nursing is an eminently portable occupation. If women expect to marry a professional man and follow him according to his needs. (I’ve found it to be the case even in highly egalitarian other-sex couples with partners who are both similarly highly qualified that where they live/move is contingent upon the man’s needs. Partly this happens if the man is just a few years ahead in qualification (I’ve seen doctoral candidate/postdoc wife + post-doc husband being offered a tenure-track position eg.) or already earns slightly more: small differences get amplified at this stage).
      • It’s “not a bad job” with potential for decent pay, specialization, responsibility and even adventure. (My neighbour is an RN who has her own small plane and flies out to Native villages off the road system for health/vaccination clinics. I know others who choose nursing because “they can go anywhere”.)
      • A nursing degree requires means graduating with less debt.
      • One may look at medical school and doubt one is cut out for it …
      • … or maybe have concerns about a more cut-throat environment, be that a myth or not.

      Last, I’m reading that women have overtaken men in medical school, so I’m not sure that there’s a problem that not enough women study medicine to become an MD…


  8. Kari
    November 2, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Two weeks ago NPR reported (based on a RAND study), “A detailed analysis of anesthesiologists younger than 36 who worked in group practices found wage disparities existed in 2012, even when taking into account age, experience, hours worked and type of employer. Controlling for those, women earned 7 percent less than did their male counterparts.” By focusing on the youngest cohort (anesthesiologists do not usually complete residency and begin working until at least age 30) should eliminate much of the differences in work experience.

    Similarly, a study of nurses found “even after controlling for age, race, marital status and children in the home, males in nursing out-earned females by nearly $7,700 per year in outpatient settings and nearly $3,900 in hospitals.” In this case, the most experienced nurses would have been predominantly female–as men only began entering nursing fairly recently. (http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2208795)

    I find it interesting that at both ends of the income scale in medical fields, the best evidence continues to reflect a real wage difference.


  9. November 2, 2015 at 3:15 pm

    I think there’s also a fallacy here where people think there’s some objective reason why job X pays more than job Y independent of the population of workers. But I really think that a significant factor in why male-dominated jobs pay more than female-dominated jobs is precisely the pay gap! That is, you don’t need to offer as much money to be competitive if you’re hiring mostly women, because women get paid less. I think if you took a male-dominated job and increased the number of women applicants the pay would go down.


    • EMB
      November 2, 2015 at 9:48 pm

      Pay for the job might go down relative to other industries eventually, but I’d expect that to be a fairly slow process due to downward wage rigidity. In the short term, what I’d expect to see (at least assuming a lack of salary transparency) is unequal pay for equal work. From the point of view of the hiring manager it needn’t even seem like discrimination: it might just be that women were less effective in negotiating higher salaries (because they had worse other offers/prospects, because of the wage gap).


    • Kevin
      November 3, 2015 at 4:47 pm

      “I think there’s also a fallacy here where people think there’s some objective reason why job X pays more than job Y independent of the population of workers.”

      You don’t think doctors who are out of the workforce longer and incur greater debt from their schooling are going to demand higher wages than nurses, whose time out of the workforce and school debt incurred are less?

      Or to put it another way, if being a doctor and a nurse paid the same, you don’t think we’d have far fewer doctors and far more nurses as a logical result?

      There are many objective reasons why job x pays more than job y, independent of the population of workers. Time out of the workforce and debt incurred for the knowledge/credentials are just two of them.


    • Kevin
      November 3, 2015 at 4:50 pm

      “I think if you took a male-dominated job and increased the number of women applicants the pay would go down.”

      Yes, increasing supply means the employer is free to choose workers with the required skills and the lowest salary requirements.

      The same occurs (wages go down) when the number of male applicants increases in female-dominated jobs.


  10. November 2, 2015 at 3:52 pm

    Like, I’m sure, many of us I’m spending more time correcting misconceptions among people who I ideologically or politically am close to than among those I have battles with. So the mere existence of those misconceptions isn’t a reason to abandon a useful concepts. Because I wholeheartedly agree with:

    Or rather, I think that, taken as a whole, including socialization and how our culture values work, and so on, the simplistic statistic represented by the gender wage gap is actually pretty sophisticated. It captures a lot of the nuances of our sexist culture.

    As far as I understand (*) when the factors are teased apart in the US wage gap, you get approximately 1/3 of it due to differences in occupation choice, 1/3 due to seniority differences, and 1/3 … “unexplained”. These of course vary a lot between occupational fields, and I imagine country etc. The seniority differences of course reflect both the direct impacts of taking time away from employment, being more numerous among part-time employees, and the effects Cathy mentions about how these “time-outs” seem to affect women more than they would if gap years were randomly assigned to anyone (to be further studied, I imagine). And the “choice” component is of course not free from bias, be it cultural, economical, discriminatory. As an example to add to the above: in the UK a few years ago (I moved away in 2011 — not long before that) there was a lot of kerfuffle, human rights lawsuits etc. regarding the lowest-paid council (= local government, municipal) employees. It was found that at the lowest grades, men were paid vastly more than women, and nearly all of that was because of occupational sex-segregation: men were gardeners, caretakers, waste disposal workers; women were dinner ladies, school aides, janitors. A court decided that all these jobs imply comparable levels of stress, physical effort and accident risk, and there was simply no good justification for the wage difference (other than “he has a family to feed/she just makes some extra cash”, which then got codified into salary schedules).

    (*) Euphemism for: I don’t have time/inclination right now to chase down a reference, so I’m being hand-wavey here…


  11. Scot B.
    November 2, 2015 at 3:58 pm

    “women choose jobs that don’t pay as well.”

    “Why is that, do you think?”



    • JK
      November 3, 2015 at 11:35 pm

      Primarily because men are much more prepared to do unpleasant, dangerous jobs with long hours and poor conditions for better pay.

      There are many other factors, it is a complex issue. But the above is a very significant contributor to the problem.


      • November 4, 2015 at 2:49 am

        There have been counterexamples to this in this very comment thread.


        • JK
          November 4, 2015 at 2:24 pm

          There are plenty examples of people speculating why they think it might be. There is a plethora of research showing that a -very- significant proportion of the gap is because men are simply prepared to work longer hours in worse jobs for better pay.

          Not denying for a moment that other points are valid. But the elephant in the room needs to be acknowledged.


      • RTG
        November 4, 2015 at 3:17 pm

        JK, I’m not very familiar with the research you are citing, can you share it?

        And, while this certainly does get us deep into the sociological rabbit hole, I wonder how much of this reflects innate differences in willingness to take certain risks for one’s profession vs. societal expectations. Women may not choose those jobs since they are typically “default parents” whose loss to a family extends far beyond their financial contribution…whereas men are traditionally viewed primarily as providers.

        And not to quibble about the dangers of certain jobs (like deep sea fishing), I also think that the perception of danger associate with job may need to be viewed along multiple dimensions. We usually associate dangerous jobs with acute dangers (like falling off a fishing boat in Alaska and freezing or dying), but a lot of female-dominated jobs like administrative assistant lend themselves to repetitive stress injury (though software developing is changing this making a male-dominated profession highly susceptible to this as well). I think it’s also been very well-documented that in many jobs women face an even higher risk of death or injury than men for several reasons. One example is migrant labor, which is hard on both men and women’s bodies, but women also face much higher risks of physical and sexual assault from co-workers.


        • JK
          November 4, 2015 at 6:22 pm

          I’m loathe to post any links to studies because otherwise sane rational people (on both sides of the debate) seem to really struggle to discuss these issues in non-polarized ways.

          I think there are a million different studies that ‘prove’ a million different points of view. By and large I think people cherry-pick whichever study aligns with their confirmation bias and simply dismiss the rest as agenda driven. Again I think this happens on all sides of the debate.

          I totally agree the issues are very complex and multifaceted. I absolutely believe women are inherently discriminated against in many tangible ways. However I also believe a great many studies deliberately do not make fair comparisons of basic things like number of hours worked and actual work done.

          If you compare the wages of part time receptionist in the mining industry and a full time shift working miner the amounts will be very different. You could call that a study, put a banner headline on it about massive inequity in the mining industry and get a lot of clicks. Would any fair minded person suggest that that ‘study’ in itself a balanced representation of the problems?

          The problem is this issue is portrayed as women not getting the same pay for doing the same job when in fact a great number of the studies do not actually measure that at all.

          Again I believe women face discrimination and there are still serious inequities. I need to make it very clear I am not arguing against any of that.

          However I do not believe that is a legitimate reason for researches to fundamentally misrepresent basic arguments.


      • Prof. Curmudgeon
        November 9, 2015 at 6:58 pm

        I am a social scientist, anthropologist (also schooled in human evolution), and teach a course on gender/economy issues. There’s gender pay gaps in most fields — not prostitution or porn — and it starts right after college and includes traditionally female fields. The % varies but the fact of a gap is endemic, within fields, within ranks. And remember, hard physical labor gets paid less than white-collar work, so risk, strength is out as a reason. Education, experience etc don’t account for all of it (and to the extent field selection, choice, etc does — that begs other gender questions, as some posters noted.) As the post notes, this varies by race — but employed men of color on average earn more than white women for the same rank/field/etc.
        I encourage a long-term view: For most of homo sapiens lives, gathering produced most protein — hunting has been overrated. Women can provision while pregnant and breastfeeding. ” IOW for the majority of human history, women clearly contributed to provisioning, and it wasn’t specifically fraught by femaleness. So, the real question is: why is reproducing and child care now so incompatible with human provisioning?


        • JK
          November 10, 2015 at 3:47 am

          There are significant gender pay gaps in most fields if you do not control for basic differences.

          When you do account for known factors and actually compare apples with apples the picture is far, far less clear. Again I’m not claiming pay gaps do not exist at all but throwing about raw figures in the 80% range is a gross oversimplification and terribly misleading.


        • November 10, 2015 at 6:08 am

          Geez, no, I don’t think you understood my post at all.

          My point is: women “choose” different jobs, with different hours, but their choices are not actually fully choices. We are all convinced of our place in part because of how we are raised.

          I am a great example of this. I work in data science, and before that in math, which is totally male dominated. Is this because ignored my surroundings and just rationally went with the field I loved? No, I think not. In fact I was actively discouraged, by my (female) 6th grade teacher, but the fact that my MOTHER was already a Ph.D. in math, as well as my father, made me think that it was a path I could follow. Of course that means my mom, who went to MIT in the 1960’s, really did buck her childhood experiences. And I’m grateful to her. But I am much more social than my mom, and worried much more about what people thought of me. So my “choice” was extremely easy compared to most women.

          Do you get me now? Of course, I cannot easily measure, accurately, how much of an effect this is compared to some ephemeral concept of “biological differences.” But I know that the most important difference, from my experience, is a bunch of people yelling at you about what to do and what not to do.

          Another example. My father, when I was pregnant with my first child, told me I had a choice: ruin my career or ruin both my husband’s and my career. He was telling me I should work fewer hours and stay home with the kids so as not to disturb my husband’s chances at a successful career. I ignored him, but many women don’t.

          So yeah, I think that until we clear out the “socialization” issues we will not be in a position to accurately measure “biological” factors, if they even exist.


        • November 10, 2015 at 8:46 am

          I am not disagreeing with you, but I would like to see actual data broken down by different factors. If my wife’s neuro-oncologist (NO) is being paid less than comparable NOs and/or department chiefs because of her gender, I would like to know that, and would be motivated put pressure to rectify the situation.


  12. Guest2
    November 2, 2015 at 5:24 pm

    Here is how sociologists approach the problem of gender stratification in earnings. No easy answers, I am afraid. While it is easy to say (as always) that disparity is socially (even institutionally) produced, this does not shed light on HOW it is produced.


  13. shaynaalice
    November 2, 2015 at 6:05 pm

    And what about those would-be female mathematicians that choose not to enter the workplace at all? Is an income of $0 included in the calculation of Women’s (and Men’s) Median Annual Earnings?


    • November 10, 2015 at 8:57 am

      Actually, I don’t think so. I believe this number was measured including only people who work full time.


      • JK
        November 11, 2015 at 5:39 am

        The very study you are quoting clearly states that the actual pay gap is considerably lower once basic factors like hours worked, type of job, etc. are taken into consideration.


  14. Fry
    November 3, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Anybody can think of numerous reasons that may contribute to a gender wage gap. Many of them are quite innocent, e.g. that there are different personal job and educational preferences, individual role models, full-time vs part-time work as a preference/plan for life, etc.

    What I find disturbing is the political twist of the feminists saying that the male part of the population (and only these) are somehow “guilty” of creating that gap, and that the society altogether should feel an “imbalance” as if there were a natural goal or equilibrium where the wage gap must be zero.

    That means skipping a lot of steps in the analysis and coming to a premature, politically-driven conclusion, specifically the conclusion that it is mandatory and ok to give dedicated support and more opportunities to women only.

    If and where that happens, it is clear that there is a true imbalance, and I even know who is guilty: the political drivers behind it, the feminists.


  15. tdhawkes
    November 3, 2015 at 10:30 am

    Hi mathbabe. Awhile back you were job searching. I don’t know if you are still looking, but here is one you might find interesting:https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/about/jobs/#op-85553-data-scientist

    Sorry. Didn’t know how else to send this info to you.


  16. November 3, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    Definitely an upward trend! I think the future will be interesting and I personally don’t think that people who consider themselves females exceeding the salaries of males by this measure will mean feminist victory and so on… However, it would also be a shame if they fell significantly in my opinion. I’m maybe more of a Nate Silver agnostic mostly perhaps but maybe you could contribute your numbers and opinions to his fivethirtyeight.com if you haven’t already to give it more of a “point of view” than it currently perhaps has. I personally hope a future president Clinton if elected will slightly accelerate the upward trend of female wages vs overall wages however defined!


  17. Amos
    November 4, 2015 at 8:52 am

    It’s not that jobs that are traditionally female are low paid, it’s that jobs that traditionally pay well (or are prestigious) are male dominated. This is because hiring is still far from gender blind. Men choose to go to higher paying jobs because they can. Women are stuck with what’s left.


  18. Charlie
    November 4, 2015 at 2:12 pm

    What’s the effective pay of incarcerated men? Is that included in the above gender pay ratio? I don’t think so, but I’ve never looked into it.

    I don’t think the prison populations are gender equal. Which implies either a gender-biased justice system or a series of behavior differences.


  19. JK
    November 10, 2015 at 1:49 pm

    I don’t understand what has happened here, my reply seems to have been deleted. I’m presuming this is some sort of accident and will repost.


  20. Peter Gerdes
    November 11, 2015 at 7:47 am

    Your point that this might be the result of socialization is correct but that still renders the statistic misleading. Importantly, two different career choices might be equally rewarding despite substantial differences in pay because one is more stressful, more fun or offers unique opportunities (like impacting public policy) etc..

    In it’s usual context statistic suggests that women are somehow being treated unfairly and only receive 70% as much consideration even though they bring similar contributions to the labour market. If we assumed that men and women were equally distributed across fields then we could ignore the fact that the burdens imposed and the remunerations received from a job involve many non-monetary factors.

    However, even if we pretended that men and women were bullied by social norms into choosing gender appropriate careers the gender differences in career paths mean this statistic tells us nothing about how well women are being treated in the job market compared to men.

    Indeed, IT’S ENTIRELY POSSIBLE THAT SOCIAL NORMS ENCOURAGE MEN INTO HIGHER PAYING CAREERS WITH EVEN HIGHER STRESS LEVELS AND LESS EMOTIONAL SATISFACTION TO SUCH AN EXTENT THAT MEN ARE ACTUALLY THE ONES WHO ARE WORSE OFF. I mean it’s a truism almost everyone believes that we focus too much on work and money and that we would be better off choosing jobs that provide personal satisfaction (which is a trait that stereotypically female careers are seen as offering) and are less stressful. If you are going to consider societal influences that make women proactively choose careers that might be less beneficial it’s only fair to consider this with men as well.

    However, this entierly misses the point. Society will influence people and even if men and women were identically distributed amoung careers SOMEONE is still going to be making less rewarding career choices because social norms/pressure (“plastics”). If that happens to line up with another trait like gender so what?

    The harms that come from societal stereotypes and gendered expectations are the result of people wanting to pursue a given career and being told they can’t. It’s the frustration and the implicit devaluation (you aren’t good enough to do that) which cause the problem. If these gendered expectations work by actually causing people to proactively aspire to different careers great! It’s not brainwashing it’s how everyone decides what to do.


    • JK
      November 11, 2015 at 3:11 pm

      (I’ve tried to reply to Cathy directly several times but for some reason the forum software deletes my post, so I’ll make the same basic point here.)

      Agreed Peter, the underlying assumption in the OP is that men and women want the same jobs and that money is the only important factor when they make their employment decisions.

      Men don’t work twelve hour shifts for three weeks straight, risking their lives on offshore oil rigs because they love the work or the conditions. They do it because the pay is great and they are much more likely to value pay over conditions. The pay is great not because it’s part of some master plan to entrench the patriarchy, it’s great because of simple supply and demand market economics.


  21. Nadia Hassan
    November 17, 2015 at 6:27 am

    It’s also worth thinking about how which jobs pay well and why. In Russia, doctors are paid poorly, and they are more often than not women.


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