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Breaking Glass

The lame reason why the pay gap still exists

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Sociology professors Youngjoo Cha and Kim A. Weeden at Indiana University and Cornell University have analyzed more than 30 years’ worth of wage data, from 1979 to 2009, to discover why the pay gap has persisted over time despite more women becoming highly educated and earning higher-level positions.

Their answer? Men are more willing to be overworked than women and are therefore more likely to earn higher compensation per hour.

Ouch — that stings, especially for women (including myself) who feel pulled in a thousand different directions by family, friends, financial obligations and household needs on top of a demanding full-time job.  

Statistically speaking, their answer is factual.

At the same time the pay gap was closing steadily in the 1970s and 1980s, statistics show that men were increasingly putting in more hours at their job than women.

Fewer than 9 percent of workers — of which 13 percent were men compared with just 3 percent of women — worked 50 hours per work or more in the 1980s, when women were making 70 percent of what men earned.

By 2009, more than 14 percent of workers — of which 19 percent were men compared with just 7 percent of women — worked 50 hours per week or more, and women were making 76 percent of what men earned.

Cha and Weeden said these statistics caused the gender gap to widen by 10 percent between 1970 and 2009, cancelling out the fact that women were earning more college degrees than men.

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But what the statistics completely fail to consider, however, are the reasons why women may not have been putting in as many hours at their job as men.

For one thing, there’s the gender-specific burden of carrying and raising children.

Mary Gordon, president of the manufacturing company Centryco in Burlington, believes that in male-dominated industries, a woman leaving the workforce to have children is strongly viewed as a disadvantage.

“If you take five years to have two kids, that’s five years’ less experience than you have compared to a male colleague of the same age,” Gordon said.

“What companies don’t realize is that you’ve now learned how to multitask, prioritize, manage relationships and are more effective time managers — but that experience doesn’t get recognized on the pay scale.”

And Karen Evanko, senior account manager for the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program and a prior engineer, adds that although legislation such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay act have helped raise awareness of the problem, women may still have a tough time negotiating compensation.

“With the perception that men are the ‘bread winners’ and their salaries support their families, it seems women’s salaries are considered ‘secondary’ and do not get fair compensation — even if they do the same job,” Evanko said.

Clearly, this isn’t a great reason why men are still earning 13 to 18 percent more than women for doing the same job.

And did anyone ever consider that many women may just be more efficient in their roles and therefore do not need to work additional hours?

Something to think about.


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