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Culture
11/01/13

The Wage Gap: Why Sometimes Less is More

income-gap

We’ve all heard that women earn 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. But few people look into why this may be. In a Slate article this summer, Hanna Rosin disputed the decried wage gap, drawing attention to how this statistic has been calculated.

Rosin points out that when the kind of work and the number of hours worked are included in the calculation, there is a gap, but a much smaller one than is usually stated; women often do different kinds of work and also work fewer hours than men.

In response to her discovery, Rosin poses a number of questions:

“Is it that women are choosing lower-paying professions or that our country values women’s professions less? And why do women work fewer hours? Is this all discrimination or, as economist Claudia Goldin likes to say, also a result of ‘rational choices’ women make about how they want to conduct their lives?”

Ms. Rosin doesn’t offer answers to these questions in her article, but she does suggest the possibility that women may choose lower-income professions based on how they have prioritized their commitments, not necessarily because of outside discrimination.

This perspective concerning the wage gap is often overlooked and suggests that perhaps we need a more holistic method of measuring success than income.

We all have to make choices about how we balance out lives and many high-powered careers are so demanding that those who want to excel are forced to sacrifice in other areas of their lives. But treating income as the primary measure of women’s achievement perpetuates a narrow and superficial definition of success.

After all, happiness is not commensurate with income. The New Economics Foundation published a review that compiled research on the indicators of well-being, including income. The studies indicate that achieving a solidly middle class income increases happiness, but beyond this, a rising income has diminished returns for happiness.

According to the review, a sense of well-being appears to be more closely correlated to financial security than to amassing wealth. While working full-time is a positive indicator for happiness, working long hours is likely to make you unhappy—being so attached to work that you don’t have time for other commitments is a cause for negative feelings about life satisfaction.

Choosing a career path entails more than finding a position in which you will excel and be financially successful. Indirectly, it’s choosing a lifestyle. Some women may choose a less demanding and monetarily rewarding career path for the sake of the freedom to invest time in their relationships with family, serve their community, or pursue other passions, even less lucrative ones.

A woman who makes a rational decision to prioritize a fulfilling life over achieving a certain income level is not undermining women’s advancement; she is exercising her freedom to determine what is right for her circumstances. Our society, men included, could learn from her choice.

Erika Rudzis - Erika Rudzis is a freelance writer who lives in her hometown of Seattle. Erika is interested in all things related to women, society, and culture. She is the creator of both fiction and non-fiction, and is working on her first novel. Follow on twitter @ReVeraCaraMea.

Comments

  1. I have always thought that the supposed “wage gap” was really just political. I know many women who could be working more but they choose their families over “career.” One good friend of mine could be making 6 figures easily with her great talents and drive, but chooses to work from home so as to raise her children herself and also be able to work for companies dedicated to spreading God’s word. I chose to give up a career when I had my son just for the same reasons. Going to work full time was the sub-standard choice, so I have worked a variety of part-time jobs. I would rather be raising my kids. I consider that a win. I think most women put their families before any career and THAT is the cause of any “wage gap.” Feminists just don’t see that as a viable option because children are not what is important to them. Money & power are.

  2. Veronica says:

    I would beg to differ that Rosin suggested that the wage gap was due to choice and not discrimination. On the contrary, she attributed the discrimination not to a direct choice from organizational leadership, but to a much more dangerous broad institutional discrimination that suggests that women rather than men should assume the caretaker role simply by having XX chromosome. At the heart of what happens in institutional discrimination the marginalized community makes “choices” because there are limited options. It’s how marginalization perpetuates.

    “It’s the deeper, more systemic discrimination of inadequate family-leave policies and childcare options, of women defaulting to being the caretakers.”

    While I do agree with your point, that happiness and satisfaction aren’t best measured in men or women by making large salaries, we aren’t exactly ready to imply that making money isn’t worth fighting for the right to make the same amount for the same job – be it 77%, 91% or 99.99999%. Take a lesson from Title IX that policy enforcement DOES create a cultural shift.

    I suppose these two ideas colliding – Wage Gap and quality of life – is a dangerous way to suggest that the US as a culture doesn’t focus enough on family and community. There is a fine line in discussing a government call to action and a cultural shortfall as if one excuses the other from necessity. Perhaps it wasn’t the intent, but the article reads much like: women make less than men but they’re probably happier so they don’t really need to make more.

  3. Jessie says:

    Hi Ladies!
    Can’t tell if this article is satirical or not. This piece seems to suggest women have some hidden insight on the real values in this world that men don’t. In reality, men are permitted to have both home and work lives while women are punished (I believe that’s the right word, not “choose”) if they want to fully pursue both.
    Minority women make even less than their white female peers in the same jobs. Obviously being being paid less isn’t a choice in this case. How do you reconcile that with the mindset that women are “choosing” lower paying jobs? It seems that some humans are valued more than others. And that needs to be fixed.

  4. Anna says:

    Thanks to Veronica and Jessie for commenting what was on my mind – is that “rational decisions”, really? Are we women free to choose any career we want? Why does society still point at us as the ones working less outside home and more in home tasks and children care?

    In my opinion, we won’t be able to talk about “rational choices” until they are, effectively, choices, in a completely free of prejudice society. The day that there are as many man leaving their jobs to be stay-at-home dads as women do, or working part-time, or lowering their career expectations (not only income) for non-productive tasks, let’s talk again about “choices”. Now they are not.

    By the way, I’m from Spain. This means that the situation you describe is not only valid in the US but, in my opinion, in most of the Western countries.

  5. Kristin says:

    I think that you are both misreading this. It doesn’t say anything about paying women less for the same work. It’s about personal choice:
    “We all have to make choices about how we balance out lives and many high-powered careers are so demanding that those who want to excel are forced to sacrifice in other areas of their lives.”
    This is 2013, women are in every field and we have every opportunity that men do. Having it all has never existed for anyone. If more women are likely to chose flexiblity over income than men, more power to them.

  6. Kirstin says:

    I think you’re misreading the article. In my experience, women get pressured to put career over all other things, like family. If you don’t than you’re betraying the feminist movement. I don’t have kids yet, but I have friends who have gotten grief for taking a break from good careers for having a baby. Men don’t hear thing like this because they’re not being pressured like they need to prove something, but women get pressured (bullied) usually by other women! Yes, women traditionally are the family caretakers, but that’s valued a lot less now that having a career, at least in America.
    Having it all doesn’t exist for women or men. If women seem more likely to value flexibility over how much they get paid, good for them.
    Personally, I’ve never felt like my career is limited by being female.

    • Bianca says:

      I completely agree with you. I take home the same salary my male coworkers do. I also feel the pressure to stay in my career and put off marriage and a family. Thank you for acknowledging that pressure.

  7. Anna says:

    I think there shouldn’t be any pressure in any sense: neither the pressure of “you must have an extremely brilliant career and forget about all the rest” nor the pressure of “you must be a brilliant mom even if it makes you leave your career forgotten for a while”.

    We are in the same fight, we want to have freedom to have the lifes we choose for ourselves without being forced to take any decision in any sense. We don’t want pressures, we don’t want to feel like we have to prove anything.

    The thing is: why do the article and some comments state that we still have to choose? We do not, as long as we include men in the group of caretakers to the same degree as we are included in the group of career pursuers.

    The analysis “maybe there is the wage gap because of family decisions” looks very poor and superficial for me. There shouldn’t be any gap. Maybe it’s not a wage gap, it’s a “decision gap” – anyway, there is something unbalanced here, and we still have a lot of work to do to fix it.

    • Kirstin says:

      You say: “…why do the article and some comments state that we still have to choose? We do not, as long as we include men in the group of caretakers to the same degree as we are included in the group of career pursuers.”
      Are you meaning that we don’t need to choose how we balance life and work? Every adult must make choices about how to use his or her time. This will be true, however men are included in the group of caretakers. Why shouldn’t women make slightly different decisions than their male counterparts? I don’t see anything in the article or comments that says only woman must prioritize.

    • Indre says:

      I completely agree. Right on!

  8. Anna says:

    I’m sorry I didn’t explain myself properly. Of course everybody has to take decisions about their life. But, just as Jessie said, men are allowed to have both whilst it looks like women must choose between one path or the other, being mutually exclusive.

    It might be true that we make different decisions than our male counterparts. However, are they “rational choices” or consequences of the pressure and the (still) sexist structure of society?

  9. Keep in mind that the wage gap gender disparity concerns itself with equal pay for equal work for both sexes. The issue is not between equalizing the gender pay between lower and higher paying careers, but rather once in a career of one’s choice there is no wage gap gender disparity in that career. While the issue between the varying career choices is an issue, it appears not to be the issue of the gender wage gap disparity. Thank you.
    Barbara Joan Zeitz, Women’s Historian/Author/Speaker

  10. Indre says:

    Fantastic article! I would draw a different conclusion, though. Women are most likely just as happy as men, and are happy with lower paying jobs. However, this is a result of society’s presseure on men to succeed professionally, and on women to be good caretakers. Women will naturally aim for higher paying jobs if it becomes more common to do so, and men will naturally spend more time with their families when they are expected to. Currently, though, women “choose” to prioiritze family over work more than men do, and men “choose” to prioritize their jobs. Women and men BOTH need to have equal societal expectations and thus more individual-and not pressured- thought when it comes to what career path they embark on. I hope to see the day when more Fortune 500 companies have women executives, and when being a “house husband” is just as common as being a “house wife.”