According to a commonly used measure adopted by the United States Census Bureau, women in 2016 earned 81 cents for each dollar earned by men, both working full-time. ...
What’s more, the gap is a statistic that changes during the life of a worker. Typically, it’s small when formal education ends and employment begins, and it increases with age. More to the point, it increases when women marry and when they begin bearing children. ...
Correcting for time off and hours of work reduces the difference in the earnings between men and women but doesn’t eliminate it.
On the face of it, that looks like proof of disparate treatment. It may seem understandable that when a man works more hours than a woman, he earns more. But why should his compensation per hour be greater, given the same qualifications? But once again, the problem isn’t simple.
The data shows that women disproportionately seek jobs — including full-time jobs — that are more likely to mesh with family responsibilities, which, for the most part, are still greater for women than for men. So, the research shows, women tend to prefer jobs that offer flexibility: the ability to shift hours of work and rearrange shifts to accommodate emergencies at home.
Such jobs tend to be more predictable, with fewer on-call hours and less exposure to weekend and evening obligations. These advantages have a negative consequence: lower earnings per hour, even when the number of hours worked is the same.
Is that unfair? Maybe. But it isn’t always an open-and-shut case. Companies point out that flexibility is often expensive — more so in some jobs than others.
Certain job characteristics have a big impact on the gender earnings gap. I have looked closely at these issues, including the extent to which workers are:
■ Subject to strict deadlines and time pressure
■ Expected to be in direct contact with other workers or clients
■ Instructed to develop cooperative working relationships
■ Assigned to work on highly specific projects
■ Unable to independently determine their tasks and goals
Occupations with a lower level of these characteristics (like jobs in science and technology) show smaller gaps, corrected for hours of work. Occupations with a higher level (like those in finance and law) have greater gaps. Men’s earnings tend to surge when there are fewer substitutes for a given worker, when the job must be done in teams and when clients demand specific lawyers, accountants, consultants and financial advisers. Such differences can account for about half the gender earnings gap.
These findings provide more nuance in explaining why the gap widens with age and why it is greater for women with children. Whatever changes have already taken place in American society, the duty of caring for children — and for other family members — still weighs more heavily on women. And if you thought that moving to a more family-friendly nation would eliminate the gap, think again. In several nations, including Sweden and Denmark, a “motherhood penalty” in earnings exists, even though these nations have generous family policies, including paid family leave and subsidized child care.
--Claudia Goldin, NYT, on going deeper than "81 cents for each dollar"