The XX Factor

Equal Pay Day

The other day an op ed in the Wall Street Journal explained away the pay gap between men and women: men work about 75 minutes more a day than women, and men tend to work in more physically demanding, dangerous professions. “Women gravitate toward jobs with fewer risks, more comfortable conditions, regular hours, more personal fulfillment and greater flexibility.” Carrie Lukas writes. “Men, by contrast, often take on jobs that involve physical labor, outdoor work, overnight shifts and dangerous conditions…” I’ve read the “men work in tough conditions” explanation before, but it hardly seems to explain a persistent gap across professions. And if physically grueling shift work were the way to high pay, and sitting in cushy offices were the way to low, all those hedge fund managers would be leaving the corner suite to start collecting garbage.

Today, a piece in The Washington Post tackles the same topic and comes up with some different explanations, which basically turn out to be sexism. How else to explain, that as Mariko Chang writes, “[T]the median weekly salary for full-time male pharmacists was $1,954 in 2009, compared to $1,475 for female pharmacists…” Or that “full-time female registered nurses earned an average of $1,035 per week, whereas men earned $1,090…” She points out that when musicians audition behind a screen so that judges don’t know their sex, it improves the hiring and promotion of women.

She also says that despite the gains young women have made, even the fact that their earnings often outstrip young men’s, she doesn’t think this will solve the problem. “[P]ay doesn’t differ as much for younger workers since they are typically in entry-level and low-paid positions. As time passes, however, the pay gap between men and women widens.” One thing I have not seen addressed in the discussion of the gap is the difference between how men and women negotiate their salaries. Women tend to see the offer as just that, the offer, while men often see it as the opening number. Then as their careers go along, men are more aggressive about asking for raises, while women are more inclined to hope their contributions are recognized. There are many reasons for women’s pay gap, but one way to fight it is to learn the skill of asking for the money we deserve.