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The Main Reason Women Make Less Money Than Men

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 23/03/2016 Emily Peck
GIRLS © Damon Dahlen/HuffPost/Getty Images GIRLS

More than half of the pay gap between the genders can be explained by the fact that women tend to work in lower-paying industries and take jobs that pay less than men, finds a report published Wednesday morning by jobs site Glassdoor.

“Men and women for a variety of reasons are being pushed into different jobs and industries,” Andrew Chamberlain, Glassdoor’s chief economist, explained to The Huffington Post.

Before we go any further with this story, a word of caution: It would be a huge mistake to call this occupational sorting the result of “choice.” To say women are opting for less money is to ignore the heavy social pressures -- both explicit and subtle -- put on girls and boys to enter (or stay away from) certain subjects in school, majors in college and jobs as adults.

These T-shirts for children sum up the situation pretty well:

The myth that girls aren’t good at science; that tech jobs are for nerdy boys; that motherhood is a career and fatherhood is a thing you do in your time away from being at the office -- these are just a smattering of factors that push us onto different paths.

It all starts in childhood -- basically the moment a girl is born, is encased in that first pink onesie and lies back as a chorus of cooing adults tells her how pretty she looks.

Glassdoor looked at pay information shared by the site’s users, including about 504,000 full-time salaries. It found that 54 percent of the gender pay gap is attributable to the differences in jobs men and women hold and the industries in which they work, according to the study. Differences in experience and education drive a smaller portion of the gap.

Women in the U.S. make 76 cents on average for every dollar a man earns, according to the Glassdoor report. Federal data puts that gap at 78 cents. Other research, from Francine Blau at Cornell University, has also found that a majority of the pay difference can be explained by difference in occupations and jobs.

Chamberlain and his team considered if the pay gap would disappear once you take into account differences between the men and women's level of education, experience, occupation, job title and location.

But it doesn't go away. Once you adjust for those things, the gap shrinks to 94.6 cents for every dollar. 

"It's kind of a wakeup call that there's such a large gap," he said, theorizing that the remaining 5 percent difference is probably due to a mix of workplace bias against women and possibly also against women of color -- as the Glassdoor data didn't consider race or ethnicity.  

Computer programming is the job with the widest pay gap -- women programmers earn 72 cents on the male dollar, according to Glassdoor's data. Programmers are around 80 percent male, Chamberlain said. They're also fairly well compensated, earning an average of $65,000 a year, according to Glassdoor. Chamberlain said that male-dominated industries tend to have the widest pay gaps.

Even if a woman does make her way to a high-paying or decent-paying industry, she still might wind up on the lower-paying track. In my own field -- journalism --  you see a preponderance of men covering business and finance, while women are generally overrepresented on the lifestyle beats. Guess which subject gets better pay, generally speaking? In law, more women sort out of high-paying partnerships at major law firms and opt for lower-paying jobs as in-house attorneys. These are just two of many examples.

Chamberlain said that one solution to the gender gap is gender equality -- from the way men and women handle taking care of children and family to the way we push the sexes into different careers.

"You have to find a a way to get more men and women into balance," he said.

Here's a big caveat though, raised in a piece by Claire Cain Miller in The New York Times last week that is, well, super depressing: As more women enter a male-dominated field, wages fall. The reason seems to be that fundamentally, we just don't value women's work the same way we value men's.

The Glassdoor study also didn't consider any measures of productivity or the role that being a parent might play in a woman's pay. Other research suggests that motherhood helps drive the pay gap. One study found that women's income falls as they have children, while men's rises. 

While there are so many ways to explain the gender pay gap, it's clear it starts far before a woman ever actually gets her first job. Even though women beat out men in college graduation rates and other measures of academic success, they're taught as little girls that its cute to be scared and asked more about their clothes than what books their reading.

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