Why the Gender Wage Gap Is Worse Than We Thought

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The gender pay gap is so much worse than we thought.

The wage gap between college-educated men and women starts small, but it snowballs significantly over time, the economists Erling Barth, Claudia Goldin, Sari Pekkala Kerr, and Claudia Olivetti write in an article in the Harvard Business Review. By his early 40s, the average male grad takes home a whopping 55 percent more than the average female grad, the researchers found.

The reason? (Hint: if you think it’s primarily because women “choose” low-paying careers, guess again.) Marriage and motherhood — or, more precisely, the traditional gender roles women tend to adopt after tying the knot and having kids — are the pivotal factors, the researchers say. A woman’s earning power falls after she marries, thanks to a catch-22, Claire Cain Miller explains in a related article in The New York Times. Because she already earns less, it might seem sensible for a wife to put her husband’s career before her own, at least temporarily, Ms. Miller notes. But that’s where things cascade.

More often than not, it’s the wife who moves for her husband’s job (often hurting her career prospects in the process) and shoulders the bulk of the household and child-care duties, writes Ms. Miller, who is a Times correspondent. (The lack of parental leave and child-care policies in the U.S. doesn’t help any.) That in turn makes her more likely to scale back her hours (though even when she doesn’t, her employer will pay her less on the presumption that she might), she writes. All of which undermines her long-term earnings potential (and any hope of recouping her losses) and fosters more gender bias. It’s enough to make a woman’s head spin.

The gap is widest for college-educated women in high-paying jobs, the economists say, since those positions pay more and put a premium on face time and fixed hours. (The pay gap for less-educated women expands with age, too, but less so only because men without college degrees lack the higher pay prospects of their more-educated male peers, the researchers note.) Their findings suggest that short of women staying single and childless, the keys to greater pay parity might lie in more flexible work hours, opportunities to work remotely, and a fairer labor division at home, Ms. Miller concludes.

Sally Hubbard, a legal journalist at Slate, would agree. Her biggest career break wasn’t a promotion or a job offer, but when her spouse took the lead at home, she writes in a recent column: “My husband left his law firm job to start his own firm from home. I knew the change would be good for him, but I had no idea how good it would be for me,” she explains.

Of course, to fight gender pay discrimination a woman needs to know when it’s happening in the first place. That’s where ending taboos on sharing pay information (prohibitions on doing so have long been illegal, as NPR notes) and promoting transparency come in, Kristin Wong suggests in a New York magazine article. She notes that shady employment practices — including gender bias — tend to thrive on secrecy. (Witness the recent Labor Department suit against Google, she adds.) Disclosing pay data, meanwhile, looks increasingly like a win-win scenario for employees and employers, she notes, pointing to studies showing that employees work harder and collaborate better when salaries are public.

The good news is more cities and states are introducing legislation that bars employers from penalizing workers who discuss pay and prohibits hirers from asking for salary histories

Another study circulating online suggests that if men had more daughters, there might be greater parity, since fathers of girls tend to treat women better in the workplace, The Washington Post reports. Harvard University researchers compared venture capitalists with and without daughters and found that the former were 24 percent more likely to hire a female investment partner, the Post notes. What’s more, those who did fared better financially, the newspaper adds. While this isn’t the first study to suggest that dads of girls are more pro-equality, it does show that diversity is the reason these firms are more profitable. What seems like positive news on the surface, though, may seem less so on further reflection, Lucia Peters says in an article on Bustle: “Men shouldn’t need to have daughters in order to want to promote gender equality in the workplace and at home. It’s yet another reminder that our culture so frequently values women only insofar as they have relationships to men.”

The workplace is even less equitable for black women.

A new report from the Institute of Women’s Policy Research confirms that African-American women, hit by the double whammy of sexism and racism, really do get shafted in the workplace, an article on Slate notes. What’s more, unlike many of their white counterparts, black women are more likely to work full time and less likely to have high-earning husbands or partners to help carry the financial load, the article says.

Short Takes

The unseen labor of mentoring.

What does it mean to be a professor of color at a predominately white institution? It means being a go-to mentor for marginalized students, which is an emotionally taxing labor of love that never lets up, Manya Whitaker writes in an article on Vitae. So how does she help those students without jeopardizing her career? Ms. Whitaker explains.

Marginalized people need power, not courtesy.

In an essay on Medium, Fredrik deBoer explains why the “call out” culture, often dismissed as too tough on white people, men, and heterosexuals, actually lets them off easy: “Shaming culture teaches people from dominant groups that policing their language and thoughts is sufficient to achieve change. But you cannot be polite enough to black people, as a white person, to undermine white supremacy,” he writes. What’s more, shaming is aimed at people, not structures: “ICE, the racial income gap, and cissexism can’t be shamed,” he notes.

Discrimination is a health issue.

Mounting evidence suggests that racial and sexual prejudice is poisonous to the bodies and minds of those who experience it, an article on The Upshot explains.

Why conservative lawmakers are turning to free-speech bills as a fix for higher ed.

The conservative mantra in state legislatures these days is that college campuses are being held captive by liberal views, a Chronicle article by Beth McMurtrie reports (for subscribers). Free-speech bills like those recently introduced or passed in Colorado, Illinois, and Michigan have become one of the ways in which they plan to “right the ship,” she notes.

Drew Faust will step down as president of Harvard in June 2018.

The historian, who led the university through economic crisis and campus growth, will always be remembered as its first female leader, Jack Stripling reports in The Chronicle.

Yet she remains an anomaly, Audrey Williams June notes elsewhere in paper. The proportion of female presidents in academe has “barely budged” during Ms. Faust’s 10-year tenure at the Ivy League university’s helm, she explains.

Colleges celebrate diversity with separate commencements.

Alternative graduation ceremonies for minority students — like the ones recently held at Harvard University, Emory and Henry College, and the University of Delaware — are becoming more common, according to an article in The New York Times.

What it costs to pay the rent.

A few weeks ago The Chronicle reported (for subscribers) that some candidates are saying no to jobs at universities in the Bay Area because they’re worried about finding an affordable place to live. According to a new report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition, that’s not the only place where rents are out of reach. It turns out the average American worker would need to earn $21.21 per hour in 2017 to reasonably afford a modest two-bedroom apartment, an article on The Atlantic’s CityLab says. That’s almost triple the federal minimum wage of $7.25, and nearly a third more than the $16.38 hourly wage that the average renter is paid in the U.S., the article by Laura Bliss notes. In places like DC ($33.58), Maryland ($28.27), Massachusetts ($27.39), and New York ($28.08), among others, workers would need to bring home significantly more, she observes. In fact, there are only a dozen counties, in Washington, Arizona, and Oregon, in which the average worker earns enough to afford a modest one-bedroom flat, she adds. And almost all of those counties are in rural areas, far from where most jobs are, Ms. Bliss concludes.

Questions, Comments?

Have a suggestion for the newsletter or a tip or story idea to share? Send it to me at gabriela.montell@chronicle. com or @GabrielaMontell.

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