Complexities of the gender pay gap

Reading Time: 2 minutes

An article about the gender pay gap, published by CNNMoney, was floating around Twitter recently. It examined the gender pay gap and centered on a study conducted by job search engine Glassdoor.
Glassdoor’s study found that the national average for women’s wages is in the ballpark of 95 cents for every dollar a man makes. However, it also found that this number varies significantly state-to-state and industry-to-industry. In some states, women’s wages are lower than 70 cents per dollar, and in others, women’s wages are actually higher than men’s.
Stephen Dubner, a journalist for Freakonomics, interviewed Professor of Economics, Claudia Goldin, who says that pay differences boil down to temporal flexibility rather than outright gender discrimination. Temporal flexibility is the variation in the number of hours worked and the timing of the work. Regardless of gender, those who cannot meet the hours demanded by their job, or those who opt for part time, tend to make less money than their full time counterparts.
“Does that mean that women are receiving lower pay for equal work? That is possibly the case in certain places, but, by and large, it’s not that. It’s something else,” says Goldin.
Her thoughts on the gender pay gap answered questions left by CNNMoney’s article, namely why there is so much variation in wages between men and women. Goldin acknowledges that women make less than men, depending on the industry, but she does not blame men or gender discrimination for the pay issues that women face in the workplace.
There are several factors at play when it comes to the gender pay gap, but political leaders and celebrities hint that the pay gap is due to gender discrimination. However, when you take into account the subtle differences between men and women in the workplace, the reality is a bit more complex. Women make less because they value occupations that allow for more temporal flexibility, while men value positions that allow for more competition and income growth.
Simply put, women are taking jobs that allow for flexible hours, the ability to work from home and the option to extend deadlines outside of the normal schedule. They are opting for jobs at smaller corporate firms, which allow more flexibility, but where the pay is lower than a larger firm.
Obama attempted to tackle the pay gap issue using legislation like the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. But, is this the best way? Goldin suggests that the best solutions focus on, “changes in the labor market, especially how jobs are structured and remunerated to enhance temporal flexibility. The gender pay gap would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours.” Several of the changes she suggests are being seen in the technology, health, and science fields, but are lacking in the corporate, financial, and legal fields.
While both articles presented compelling arguments, it is clear that the gender pay gap is a complex issue. There are several factors that influence what a woman is paid, so it is not fair to put the blame solely on men in the corporate sector. Rather than blaming each other, both sexes should work together to restructure the labor force so there is no longer a penalty for wanting more temporal flexibility.