Over the past several decades women have made up nearly one half of the workforce in the United States. In well-developed nations, legislation has generally been developed to promote equal economic footing for both men and women. This progress is overdue by centuries, as empirical documentation has long been available to show us that male and female cognitive abilities are virtually the same. With the societal progress coming to fruition, many are bewildered by a roughly 9% pay gap between men and women. How do we explain this difference? Are women being treated unfairly in the workplace, or are there other factors that should be considered?
By taking an in-depth look at the matter, I’ve found several factors that give a more well-rounded explanation for the salary disparity than merely pointing to sexism as the sole answer:
- Different vocational preferences
- Different sacrifice threshold
- Different personality traits
- Different value scales for job choice
The Power of Choice
Growing up in a family of seven, it was clear that my family had a knack for taking advantage of side hustle opportunities, even as far back as elementary school. The side hustles manifested into different forms though.
For instance, one of my brothers would buy candy from Costco and sell it with a markup at school. He found that school vending machines lacked certain items that were desired in the marketplace, and saw an opportunity to turn a profit.
My sister on the other hand, started a mini jewelry business with a neighborhood friend, crafting and selling affordable necklaces door-to-door. Although both my brother and sister had identical economic incentives, their genders would guide them to different avenues for realizing their goals.
This gender choice differential in career path is abundantly present as males and females enter the adult workforce. Currently, 90% of nurses are female, while only 16% of engineering majors are represented by women. As few as 6% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. Meanwhile, females dominate the education field, accounting for 82% of elementary and middle positions. All in all, women with freedom of choice are choosing careers that pay less than what men are choosing.
For instance, the median RN salary in the U.S. is $67,930, while the average computer hardware engineer makes $103,980. Studies have shown that while women have more than enough IQ capability to thrive in the higher paying industries, they typically choose not to. Leading psychologists believe that this is explained by job fulfillment desires, and not by equality issues.
Jordan Peterson of Toronto University studied this issue in Saskatchewan, a place widely recognized as the champion for the cause of gender equality in the workplace. Even in the most ideal environment women are still choosing to gravitate towards female dominated industries at nearly identical rates. This gravitation will work to uphold the gender pay gap.
What’s Money Worth?
The mainstream media readily points out vocations where males and females hold comparable jobs, yet are paid vastly different wages. What they often omit, however, is that there are certain sacrifices females seemingly are unwilling to make to achieve the higher salary.
On average, American men spend 23% more time commuting to work than women do. This costs men an exorbitant amount of quality of life in their pursuit of a higher income. It is conceivable that women have the opportunity for the higher paying job in their same field, but opt for a more comfortable quality of life – hardly a bad decision.
Relocating to a new city or state presents an even bigger sacrifice in the name of money. This too is an accommodation far more likely to be made by men than women, as nearly twice the amount of men are willing to relocate for a promotion as women. These statistics tell us that at least some of the “same job, different pay” circumstances across the country can be explained by the higher income sacrifice threshold that men have displayed.
Traits That Predict Pay
Psychologist David Schmidt performed a cross-cultural global study to measure personality traits that are strong predictors income level. After analyzing these results he would later look to see if these traits are dominant in either males or females. The longitudinal study indicated that the strongest deterrent for income generation is “agreeableness,” a trait dominant among females.
Conscientiousness was determined to heavily predict economic success, and was found to be more dominant in both males and females, depending on the country. Openness to feelings was found to be a trait dominated in all cultures by women, while openness to ideas was found to be dominated across all cultures by men.
Schmidt maintains that excessive agreeableness could hamper women in the workplace when submissive tendencies prevent fighting for higher pay, better benefits, and overall work quality. On the other hand, openness to ideas in men cultivates success in entrepreneur-based careers that tend to have higher incomes. Openness to feelings supports the earlier illustration that women dominate roles in social work, psychology, and counseling. These careers are rewarded with only mid-level pay.
This study essentially solved the missing link of X in the formula of X + Y = Z. X being the personality traits that cause females to gravitate to certain career choices (Y) which contribute to the pay gap (Z). Furthermore, the X in the equation appears to point to natural barriers preventing women from fighting for pay raises they may deserve. Although it is unclear if societal conditioning or natural hardwiring plays a stronger role in creating these inherent differentials, it’s clear that they play a role in the gender pay gap.
The Pros and Cons
Before accepting a role in a company, males and females both will naturally weigh the pros and cons. Most of the pros for women are also pros for men, but the weighing these elements varies greatly between the genders.
For example, a job’s proximity to friends and family is considered a pro for both genders, but is weighed more heavily by women. The amount of emotional stress that a job creates is a fundamental con for both genders, but is given far less consideration with men. Status in job title is another example of a universal pro, but is given more value by males.
Generally speaking, males tend to downplay the importance of cons if they are accompanied by a high paying job. Women, on the other hand, tend to be far more objective in this process. They are more likely to place a dollar value on abstract factors that cannot be easily valued monetarily. This contributes to a higher quality of life at the expense of a gender pay gap.
A Few Final Thoughts
As clinical psychologist Jordan Peterson suggests, we cannot demand equal outcome without first understanding why the outcomes are different. It is undeniable that there are gender issues that have led to an income disparity between men and women. Sexism has not been eradicated in our society, and will continue to have ill effects on females in the workplace.
While accepting that we cannot ignore the disadvantages females face, we cannot turn a blind eye to vast factors that help shed additional light on the gender pay gap. Studies suggest that while there likely will always be a gender income disparity there are some things we can do as a society to improve the situation. Encouraging assertiveness and strategic argumentative behavior as a society in women would be one of these methods. Even with legal and social remedies, analyzing the full scope of the issue allows us to see that a gap may indefinitely exist, and that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. Ultimately, it is up to each individual to decide what they want out of life and that includes their income.