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The Wage Gap: Why Sometimes Less is More


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.