The Gender Pay Gap, Demystified

The existence of a gender pay gap, both in the United States and in other countries, has been well established, but its causes are less well understood. A new report entitled "Demystifying the Gender Gap" from Glassdoor Economic Research, however, sheds some additional light on the matter. The report's findings suggest there are actually lots of underlying causes creating the wage gap — but some are bigger than others.

The gender pay gap is one of those things that is everywhere, and yet still often remains invisible. Although we most often hear about sexism from certain fields, such as STEM or the world of sports, the pay gap applies much more broadly. Women are paid less all over the place — whether you're looking at movie stars or small business employees, news media or athletes, chances are that whatever field you work in, the gender pay gap is present.

And this can have a big impact. Not only does it have major effects on a generation of women dealing with student loans, but studies have also suggested that the gender pay gap is linked to issues like anxiety and depression.

In many ways the gender pay gap seems like the sort of thing that's just a holdover from a bygone sexist era — something that would naturally take care of itself, now that people are much more used to the idea of women not only being in the workforce, but being also very good at our jobs. However, research also shows that the gender pay gap isn't going away — or at least, not at any speed you might consider acceptable (especially not if you live in Wyoming).

Then how do we fix this problem? Well, a good place to start is understanding it. And the "Demystifying the Gender Gap" report is a good place to start. Here are a few of the major takeaways:

1. The Gender Gap Is Everywhere

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In the report, researchers looked at five Western countries — the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, and France — and found that the gender pay gap exists in all of them. However, the gap in the United States seems to be the worst of any of these nations; women here make about 76 cents on a man's dollar, as opposed to about 77 cents in the UK and Germany, 82 cents in Australia, and 85 cents in France.

All of which makes sense. It not only lines up with other numbers researchers have found about the gender gap in the United States, but also the knowledge that the United States is far from the only country to have this issue. After all, the only country that seems to be closest to truly ending the gender pay gap is Iceland, and even they're still not quite there yet. The gender pay gap is literally everywhere.

2. What Does It Look Like Adjusted?

The figures you've probably heard about the gender pay gap — estimates that typically claim white women make somewhere between 75 and 80 percent that which a white man earns, with the figures dropping dramatically for women of color — come from taking the overall average salary for women and comparing it with the overall average salary for men. But while these are important numbers, it doesn't take a lot of factors into account. To "adjust" the gender pay gap means comparing the salaries of men and women with similar job titles and experience working in the same industry.

However, the gender gap still persists once the numbers are adjusted. According to Glassdoor, women still only make about 95 cents on the man's dollar in the United States — and that's about on par with the other countries surveyed, too.

3. Some Fields Are Better Than Others

Glassdoor did find that the gender pay gap is, predictably, bigger in some fields than in others. The largest pay gap was found among computer programmers, where women earn just 72 cents on the dollar. Other sizable gaps were found among psychologists, with a gap of 27.2 cents, and "C-suite professionals" such as CEOs and chief financial officers, where the gap is around 27.7 cents.

Surprisingly, they did find some jobs where women earn more — though overall, this report, much like other studies in the past, finds that there is no industry in which men are not overpaid. Nevertheless, in Glassdoor's analysis, women are paid more for a select few jobs. Female social workers have the biggest advantage, making 7.8 percent more than their male counterparts. And other jobs give women a financial edge over their co-workers, too, such as being a research assistant, where women earn 6.6 percent more, or a physician advisor, where women earn 2.4 percent more.

It is notable, of course, that even in the field most biased in favor of women — social work — the pay gap is not even as large as the average pay gap in favor of men across all jobs, let alone the pay gap among computer programmers. And it's also notable that the jobs that tend to favor women slightly in pay also pay significantly less than the jobs that most heavily overpay men; social work is not known for being a financially lucrative profession, after all. Meaning that, disappointingly, these jobs may actually be the exceptions that prove the rule.

4. What Are The Biggest Causes Of The Gender Gap?

The largest cause of the gender wage gap, according to the Glassdoor report, is "occupation and industry sorting of men and women" — in other words, the gender distribution in various fields. In fact, they find that this occupation and industry sorting accounts for 54 percent of the overall wage gap.

“Women and men tend to pursue different career paths early in life and then sort into different industries and occupations, which, in large part, is due to a variety of societal expectations and traditional gender norms,” Dr. Andrew Chamberlain, chief economist of Glassdoor, Inc., explained in a press release.

In other words, this gap is also a sexist force in society. We socialize women to pursue certain types of careers — such as being teachers or social workers — which are almost always underpaid. Meanwhile, higher paid fields, such as finance or STEM fields, are often resistant to hiring and promoting women employees. And then of course there's the fact that when women start working in a field in large numbers, the pay actually begins to decline.

Basically, if a job is well paid, we don't think women should do it, and if women do a job, we don't think it should be well paid. And that right there accounts for 54 percent of the gender gap.

5. So How Do We Fix It?

Fixing the gender pay gap is difficult, especially considering that a lot of the factors the play into it are still uncertain. Glassdoor's analysis was only able to identify factors to explain about two thirds of the gender pay gap — which isn't nothing, but the remaining one third remains ellusive. Possibly it's a result of things like the much talked about "negotiating gap" or the "confidence gap" between male and female employees, and at least some of it really might be clear-cut sexist discrimination — all of which can be hard to quantify and pin down.

However, there are still other factors that can be identified, and those we can address. Unfortunately, it seems that anti-discrimination laws alone won't really get at a lot of the root causes.

“To help close the gender pay gap, we should focus on creating policies and programs that provide women with more access to career development and training, such as pay negotiation skills, to support them throughout their lives in any job or field they choose to enter,” said Dawn Lyon, vice president of corporate affairs of Glassdoor, Inc., in a press release.

She added that transparency can also be a big boost to pay equality by making the gaps much easier to spot.

And, of course, we should also keep up the pressure on companies and industries where women are few and far between to keep hiring and promoting women. Because women shouldn't have to deal with any more obstacles to the careers they want to pursue than men do — and we deserve to be paid just as much.

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