Do Women Make Less Money? No, Yes, And Then Maybe Yes Again.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

The Daily Beast debunks that old canard that women don’t make 77 cents for every dollar that men earn.  As they say, and correctly:

The 23-cent gender pay gap is simply the difference between the average earnings of all men and women working full-time. It does not account for differences in occupations, positions, education, job tenure, or hours worked per week. When all these relevant factors are taken into consideration, the wage gap narrows to about five cents. And no one knows if the five cents is a result of discrimination or some other subtle, hard-to-measure difference between male and female workers.

So it’s not true, and I wish people would stop pushing that bad factoid.
…But on the other hand, it is true in a sense – because if you look at the source of the discrepancy as listed in that very article, it’s basically that “women enter fields that make less money.”  The ten least remunerative (and God, I love that word) majors are dominated by women, whereas the most-lucrative majors are infested with men.
So on the one hand, yes, women don’t make any less when compared to men – they just take crappier jobs.
And why do they take crappier jobs?  Quite possibly because, if you’ve been paying attention at all, the way women are systematically treated in the lucrative technical fields is so hostile that a lot of them quit.  (And that girls are systematically encouraged to not go into those fields by being given different toys, which subtly signal what’s okay for women to do.)
So yeah, trotting out that canard irritates me.  It’s not that if you place a woman next to a man, they earn significantly less* – it’s that women are steered via societal forces towards jobs that pay them less.  And fixing that problem requires a whole bunch of different solutions – ones where we have to look deeper at the questions of what women are encouraged to do, and why, and what can we do to make those careers more welcoming to women.
And – and I wish I could find a link I read a while back – there was a discussion of some of these high-paying and very technical professions, and how in other countries where women do flock to these professions, they tend to get paid less.  The theory was that when women crowd a profession, it becomes viewed as easier to do, and hence gets paid less.  And I can’t find that, so I can’t research it – stupid browser crash – but it passes my sniff test as something that could be true.  After all, nurses often know a hell of a lot more than doctors, but because nurses are largely women, they often get shrugged off as not knowing what they’re doing.  I’d have to look into it more, but who knows?
So there’s a problem.  To my mind, quoting the ol’ “women get paid less” makes the solution seems like a simple thing, as if we just passed a law that smashed wage discrimination this would all go away.  But it won’t.  The issue is more insidious, and deeper; we have layers of incentives and disincentives, in some cases, applied almost from birth, that quietly encourages women to move into fields that will reward them less.
That’s a deeper issue.  You have to combat that with other societal incentives.  And I don’t know all the ways we could fix that, but I’d at least like to see the issue focused on.
* – Which is not to say you can’t find pay disparities if you look for them, but on the whole the problem is different.  If you are saying, “Ferrett is not concerned about women earning less!” then you have clearly turned your brain off for the day.


  1. Aaron
    Feb 8, 2014

    One thing that I’d read in print, WAY back in the day, is that part of the wage gap is hazard pay. Some 95% of the on-the-job fatalities are men, and jobs that are inherently dangerous pay more. Now, I doubt that there are enough really dangerous jobs out there to make a difference in the big picture, but combine it with other factors, and it becomes worth a few cents of the gap.

  2. Yet Another Laura H.
    Feb 11, 2014

    I think it’s also possible that people tend to pay “womanly” professions less money, simply because they are gendered that way. Anecdata: I am a dispatcher, which is a “pink-collar” role in my company. I love my (twenty-five male) drivers, and think they should be paid well for their difficult, dangerous work; but my weekly pay is less than their daily pay, and it always will be. I work longer hours than they do, and dammit, I’m their manager!
    I also noticed, during the eighties, a bit of a regional bias w/r/t the pay/ benefits of construction workers and sanitation engineers and whether that profession is considered a “black person’s trade,” but again, just personal observation and no idea whether this would hold up.
    Shrugs. My two cents.

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