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What is the Real Gender Wage Gap?

by Elaine Schwartz    •    Feb 10, 2014    •    TIME TO READ: 2 minutes

It is tough to identify the gender wage gap and why we have it but I think a group of people who live in Northeast India provide some pretty good answers.

But first…

The U.S. Gender Pay Gap

If we look at average annual wages, the gap is 23 cents for every dollar earned. However, since women tend to work fewer hours than men, of course their yearly wage totals will be lower.

Comparing weekly wages, the gap narrows to women earning 19 cents less than men for every dollar. But, the same issue of fewer hours remains.

So that takes us to hourly wages where the gap, at 14 cents for every dollar, gets smaller. But then, we could be comparing people in very different kinds of jobs.

When we look at hourly wages for women and men with similar characteristics, the gap is close to 5 cents for every dollar.

But still, women could take different pay packages from men. What if we add the value of benefits to wages? Because women tend to accept less pay in exchange for family friendly fringes like paid sick leave when caring for children, their wage may be less than a male counterpart’s but not their whole pay package. In one study, economists estimated the gap at 3.6% after including benefits.

Another possibility is to look at the payoff from college majors. Among the top ten such as petroleum, aerospace and mechanical engineering, men dominate in 9. And yes, those that yield the lower pay, including social work and early childhood education, are primarily populated by women.

Where does this leave us? It returns me to the Khasi and one of my favorite  posts:

The Khasi

In a Khasi maternity ward, you might hear cheering when a girl is born but, “‘oh okay, he’ll do” for a boy.

Or, if you visit a Khasi home…

“When we visited the Khasi household of a youngest daughter, if a man
(obviously the husband) came first to greet us, he always said ‘please wait, my
wife (or mother-in-law) is coming.’ And it was the wife who entertained us…
while her husband remained silent in the corner of the room, or in the next room.”

Located in Northeast India, the Khasi is a matrilineal society numbering close to 1 million (2011). From birth, women experience a female world. Their households are led by females, businesses are run by women, property can be inherited only by women. When University of Chicago researchers quantified male and female tendencies to compete, the Khasi women got the top grades.

The Bottom Line

Although we can attribute a wage gap to the law or the workplace or college, I suspect we are really talking about a new image and attitude that starts with the family. While we can create incentives that encourage legislators, employers and professors to change, really aren’t we talking about something much more basic?

Your opinion?

Sources and resources: If you feel we are really talking about nature, nurture and women’s ability to compete, then a good starting point is the paper where the patriarchal Maasai are compared to the matrilineal Khasi. Next, the Khasi are further described in these more recent news articles, here and here. After reading about the Khasi, perhaps this NY Times Magazine article on STEM careers will be more thought-provoking as will this econlife post on the problems women experience at Harvard Business School. Finally, for statistics on the gender pay gap, I suggest the St. Louis Fed, the Washington Post, an econlife post on the state-by-state gender pay gap and BLS statistics and US Census Bureau statistics. (Most of the statistics I cite are for 2010.)

To improve clarity, this post has been edit since it was published.

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