The Real Reason Why Women Still Earn Less Than Men?

gender wage gap

It seems like every other week there is another study examining the persistent wage gap between male and female workers in America. Female workers still earn, on average, 77 percent of what men earn for the exact same work in a year, a stat that has remained unchanged since 2005, according to the U.S. Census. And on-the-ground evidence only furthers the case; just this week, two young college grads working as paralegals in New York City told Business Insider that the male makes 15 percent more than the female, and has an office, while the female works from a cubicle.

But what causes the gap? Is it because of choices that women make -- or just good-old-fashioned sex discrimination? Or another reason altogether?

A New Study Offers A New View: Women Work Differently

A new study by the Federal Reserve of St. Louis caused an uproar last week when it argued that the gap between men and women is in fact much lower than is widely reported. For starters, the study says, widely reported figures don't account for varying work habits between the genders.

So, for instance, when looking at median weekly earnings, which the study notes reached a low of a 16.5 percent pay gap last year, it's important to note that such analysis might be incomplete, given that "women are likely to work fewer hours than men." As a result, the study notes, the appearance of a gap may not represent a reality in which hourly wages are in fact the same.

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Women Aren't Motivated By High Salary, Study Claims

Beyond the argument about hourly earnings versus weekly earnings, the St. Louis paper also argues for a reassessment of the role of men in higher paying-professions. The higher concentration of men in higher ranks "may be skewing the data," in the words of a report by The Wall Street Journal.

And men and women often enter the workplace with different expectations, the authors note. After having children, many women who seek employment are more motivated by the attainment of benefits -- like flexible scheduling or insurance -- than a high salary. So when accounting for total compensation, including both wages and benefits, the gap in weekly pay shrunk to 3.5 percent, according to the study.

Not So Fast

Just days before, Evergreen State College historian and noted author Stephanie Coontz wrote an op-ed in The New York Times blasting a series of recent books, such as "The End of Men," which argue that men are on the decline. Those who argue that women are ascending, while men are declining in both the workplace and society, "exaggerate" gains that have been made. Sure, Coontz concedes, things are no doubt better than when husbands could legally rape their wives in their homes. But if there was true equality, "why do women make up only 17 percent of Congress?" she asked in her essay, entitled, "The Myth of Male Decline."

Here are some more data points:
  • Women make up 40 percent of full-time workers in management.
  • Only 4 percent of the CEOs in Fortune's top 1,000 companies are female.
  • In some metro areas, never-married childless women in their 20s earn more than their male counterparts.

%VIRTUAL-hiringNow-topCity%Coontz notes that this last trend is "an anomaly," due to the fact that there are many highly educated single white women in cities -- and lots of poorly educated, low-wage Latino men.

What's the path to parity? For Coontz, it would help if men and women both work to shatter the "masculine mystique," so that the culture evolves into one in which men can "liberate themselves from the pressure to prove their masculinity."

In The Eye Of The Discriminated

Charged discussion about wage disparities and relations between the sexes can only be a healthy thing for America. But amid all the statistical analysis comes one last report that might provide some valuable insight into the state of things on gender parity in 2012. As real as inequality may be, and of course it can often be, it's important to keep in mind how large a role perception might be playing.

As was reported by USA Today, a recent survey of 400 economists by the American Economics Association found that 76 percent of women say faculty opportunities in the field favor men.

As for their male counterparts? Eighty percent say women are favored or the process is neutral.

Which do you think is right?

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