Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Gender Bender

The other day, I posted my thoughts regarding the exoneration of the Duke lacrosse players. I thought my longest exchange would be with radical feminists, but curiously, a reader stepped up and posted some very long and interesting posts regarding the myth of male dominance in America.

I thought I'd revisit this issue, on the heels of a new study released yesterday, that indicates that women's earning power is affected immediately and longitudinally by the mere fact they are not men.
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A dramatic pay gap emerges between women and men in America the year after they graduate from college and widens over the ensuing decade, according to research released on Monday.

One year out of college, women working full time earn 80 percent of what men earn, according to the study by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, based in Washington D.C.

Ten years later, women earn 69 percent as much as men earn, it said.

Even as the study accounted for such factors as the number of hours worked, occupations or parenthood, the gap persisted, researchers said.
I haven't seen the report, so it's hard for me to verify that the research truly did factor out pregnancy and occupations. The report presented on the Today Show was very misleading, in fact, as it compared an English major (woman) to an engineering graduate (man). The Reuters article, however, goes into a bit more depth regarding the study:
Among factors found to make a difference in pay, the choice of fields of concentration in college were significant, the study found. Female students tended to study areas with lower pay, such as education, health and psychology, while male students dominated higher-paying fields such as engineering, mathematics and physical sciences, it said.

Even so, one year after graduation, a pay gap turned up between women and men who studied the same fields.

In education, women earn 95 percent as much as their male colleagues earn, while in math, women earn 76 percent as much as men earn, the study showed.
Interesting that even in traditionally female professions, like teaching, there would remain an apparent gender-based difference in salaries. Here's the kicker:
While in college, the study showed, women outperformed men academically, and their grade point averages were higher in every college major.
Presumably, that would make women more qualified for better paying jobs.

Onto leaves of absence: clearly, if a man or woman takes a leave of absence, it should affect her or his earnings, when compared to someone who worked straight through the gap. An appropriate study, in my opinion, would be to pair up groups: men who took leaves, for education or parenting, with women who took similar leaves; men and women who worked straight through; and of course, pairing up equivalent earners in both groups.

This study attempts to delineate the general pay gap:
Specifically, about one-quarter of the pay gap is attributable to gender -- 5 percent one year after graduation and 12 percent 10 years after graduation, it said.

One year out of college, men and women should arguably be the least likely to show a gender pay gap, the study said, since neither tend to be parents yet and they enter the work force without significant experience.
Statistically, it seems to me that the initial pay should be equal, of course, but here again, it's not clear if the "five percent gap" is attributable to field of study, gender, or some other factor. A five percent gap is pretty significant as an initial set of conditions.

Too, the gender issue is fraught with complications: how much of this is inherent gender bias, and how much of it is individual psychology? Are men trained to negotiate tougher, to be more self-oriented? Are woman more respectful of authority, more willing to accept the first offer because they want to be perceived as team players? Are companies less likely to hire a woman because she might get pregnant and take time off, providing a built-in "discounting" of a woman's work because eventually, the firm will at the very least have to do without her for a period of time?

To be continued, I'm sure...in the meantime Happy Equal Pay Day!