The Gender Pay Gap: Work More, Get Paid More

Brenda Cronin had an op ed in the Wall Street Journal on Saturday arguing that if you want to decrease the gap between what men and women make, then you need to make work more flexible. This puts me in a bit of a philosophical bind because:

  1. I’m decidedly not committed to the idea that equal pay for gender is an intrinsically valuable goal. If men and women are paid on equal bases, but men gravitate towards more remunerative fields, why should I care? When inequality is the result of choice, it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
  2. On the other hand, I am committed to the idea of more flexible work culture. For knowledge workers, the antiquated mores of industrialized work places just don’t make sense.

In any case, I found the research pretty illuminating. For men and women who graduate with an MBA there is initially no pay gap, but it starts to appear after 5 years and is pretty entrenched at 15. What drives the gap?

Three factors explain 84% of the gap. Training prior to MBA receipt, (e.g., finance courses, GPA) accounts for 24%. Career interruptions and job experience account for 30%, and differences in weekly hours are the remaining 30%. Importantly, about two-thirds of the total penalty from job interruptions is due to taking any time out.

So about a quarter of the gap isn’t going to go away because it’s based on gender-neutral criteria (what classes you take and how well you did). Another 60% of the gap is simply based on time worked. If you work more, you will get paid more. This isn’t rocket science. I think it’s pretty stupid, however, because it leads to a culture of conspicuous chair-time instead of actual results. I’d love for companies to modernize work expectations because it’s the smart thing to do (and also because–as a man–I like having time with my family, too). And if that results in more gender equality: so much the better.