The Gender Pay Gap Revisited

I’ve written about the gender wage gap before and a recent piece in The Economist on the subject graced my news feed the other day:

In the rich and middle-income countries that make up the OECD, the median wage of a woman working full-time is 85% that of a man. This is not, as many assume, because employers pay a woman less than they would have paid a man in her place. Data from 25 countries collected by Korn Ferry, a consultancy, show that women earn 98% as much as men who do the same job for the same employer. The real reason is twofold. Women outnumber men in positions with lower salaries and little chance of promotion. And men and women are segregated between occupations and industries; those where women predominate pay less.

Just a fifth of senior executives in G7 countries are female. Across the European Union supervisors are more likely to be male, even when most of their underlings are female. Nearly 70% of working women in the EU are in occupations where at least 60% of workers are female. The top four jobs done by American women—teacher, nurse, secretary and health aide—are all at least 80% female.

Occupations dominated by women have lower status and pay. Primary teachers in the OECD earn 81% of the average for graduate jobs. Nurses earn less than police officers; cleaners less than caretakers. Women’s lower earnings mean that after divorcing or being widowed, they often end up poor. And skewed workforces can be a problem for firms—and for society. BHP Billiton, a mining company, has found that sites with more women are run more safely. Heavily male police forces and female nursing corps are unlikely to have the best mix of skills, experience and priorities to deal with crime victims and patients of the opposite sex. One theory for why boys do worse than girls in school is the shortage of male academic role models.

The gender pay gap would shrink if men moved into female-dominated jobs and vice versa. But in America such workplace gender integration stalled about a decade ago after steadily increasing for more than two decades. A study of 12 European countries concluded that between 1995 and 2010 the share of female workers in most occupations changed little. A similar pattern has been found in Australia.


a survey by McKinsey in 2016 found that women in corporate America asked at the same rate as men. It also found that women and men were promoted at similar rates, except at the lowest rungs of the career ladder, where women lagged behind. A possible reason is that managers are reluctant to promote women who are starting families, or are likely to do so soon.

…A survey earlier this year of America, Australia, Britain, France, Germany and Scandinavian countries by The Economist and YouGov, a pollster, gauged how children affected working hours. Of women with children at home, 44-75% had scaled back after becoming mothers, by working fewer hours or switching to a less demanding job, such as one requiring less travel or overtime. Only 13-37% of fathers said they had done so, of whom more than half said their partner had also scaled back.

When women give priority to caring for toddlers they fall behind. A recent American study put the motherhood penalty—the average by which women’s future wages fall—at 4% per child, and 10% for the highest-earning, most skilled white women. A British mother’s wages fall by 2% for each year she is out of the workforce, and by 4% if she has good school-leaving qualifications. Jennifer Young, an American mother with a degree in mechanical engineering, had been out of the workforce for 13 years when Cummins, an engineering firm, offered her a re-entry internship in engineering last year. She had been sure that a part-time or administrative job was her only possible route back to work.

Lots of good info. Check it out.

Roots of the Gender Wage Gap

I’ve written about the gender wage gap before. An October 2016 article in the St. Louis Fed’s The Regional Economist “examine[s] the evolution of the wage gap by cohorts” as well as “the evolution over the life cycle to gain further insight into the patterns and possible causes of the gender wage gap.” The researchers find that

the gap increases with age, at least after the age of 24, which is the age by which the majority of individuals have completed their education. Thus, the gender gap when workers are 24 is substantially smaller than the gap when workers are in their mid-30s. This fact is well-known, and one of the main reasons for this pattern is that men and women make different choices over the life cycle. As they get older, women are more likely than men to work fewer hours outside the home and have breaks in their labor force participation (yielding less accumulated experience and possibly fewer labor market skills) and are less likely to hold highly compensated jobs with promotion prospects.

But why a gap at all?

Specifically, firms often have costs of hiring and training workers. When they hire people for jobs with good promotion prospects and jobs that require training and long hours, they are likely to seek individuals who are less likely to leave the labor force or to reduce their hours substantially. While some women are more inclined to participate in the labor market and work full time, women in general are still more likely to reduce hours or leave the labor force, especially during childbearing years, relative to what men are likely to do. This can lead to lower wages for equally qualified women. Furthermore, since many factors affecting labor supply are not known to employers at the time of hiring, even women who are likely to work long hours and are attached to the labor market as much as men are may earn lower wages because, on average, women with the same qualifications as men are less attached to the labor force than men are.

This type of discrimination is often called statistical discrimination because group affiliation and group averages adversely affect individuals in the group. Over time, employers can typically observe work experience, whether individuals were working and whether they were working full time or part time. Therefore, employers can increasingly identify workers who are less attached to the labor market and, as a result, discrimination of the type described above goes down with age. Since this type of discrimination is more likely to be directed at women, the wages of women who work full time continuously may grow relative to the wages of men due to a decline in discrimination.

They note,

We investigated the changes in the education composition of men and women who work full time continuously in each cohort. For the group working full time continuously in the first cohort [1941-1950], females were more educated than males up to age 28; however, the wage gap is declining when males are more educated than females. In the second cohort [1951-1960], the education gap among those working full time continuously declines (with females being more educated than males in all age groups). Thus, education composition does not explain the evolution of the gender pay gap differences in that group.

They conclude,

By comparing the differences in the evolution of the gender pay gap not only by age but by full-time/part-time status, we demonstrated the importance of statistical discrimination and its relationship to labor force participation of women. As one would expect, this type of discrimination plays a smaller role for the third cohort (born 1961-1970) because women in this cohort are more attached to the labor force than women in the past.

What is Recent Research Saying About the Gender Wage Gap?

Image result for gender pay gap
Well, about $0.06 cheaper.

We’ve discussed the gender wage gap here on Difficult Run before. My last post on the subject covered a lot of the research. In the comments, I made mention of a couple more 2016 studies that should be included in the analysis. However, I thought I’d highlight them in a post for educational purposes. In a paper soon to be published in the Journal of Economic Literature, Cornell economists report,

Using PSID microdata over the 1980-2010, we provide new empirical evidence on the extent of and trends in the gender wage gap, which declined considerably over this period. By 2010, conventional human capital variables taken together explained little of the gender wage gap, while gender differences in occupation and industry continued to be important. Moreover, the gender pay gap declined much more slowly at the top of the wage distribution that at the middle or the bottom and by 2010 was noticeably higher at the top. We then survey the literature to identify what has been learned about the explanations for the gap. We conclude that many of the traditional explanations continue to have salience. Although human capital factors are now relatively unimportant in the aggregate, women’s work force interruptions and shorter hours remain significant in high skilled occupations, possibly due to compensating differentials. Gender differences in occupations and industries, as well as differences in gender roles and the gender division of labor remain important, and research based on experimental evidence strongly suggests that discrimination cannot be discounted. Psychological attributes or noncognitive skills comprise one of the newer explanations for gender differences in outcomes. Our effort to assess the quantitative evidence on the importance of these factors suggests that they account for a small to moderate portion of the gender pay gap, considerably smaller than say occupation and industry effects, though they appear to modestly contribute to these differences.

Five interesting facts from the study are:

  1. The gender pay gap shrank the most in the 1980s.
  2. Wage-gap narrowing wasn’t tied to government policies.
  3. Gender differences in occupations and job roles matter the most.
  4. High-income women have seen the smallest wage-gap closing.
  5. Findings are fuzzy about the impact of family-leave policies.

A 2016 study from Glassdoor yields further support for #3. When “comparing [male and female] workers with the same job title, employer and location, the gender pay gap in the U.S. falls to 5.4 percent (94.6 cents per dollar).” But it turns out that “the single biggest cause of the gender pay gap is occupation and industry sorting of men and women into jobs that pay differently throughout the economy. In the U.S., occupation and industry sorting explains 54 percent of the overall pay gap—by far the largest factor.” And “while overt forms of discrimination may be a partial cause of the gender pay gap, they are not likely the main cause. Instead, occupation and industry sorting of men and women into systematically different jobs is the main cause.”

In short, the gender pay gap has shrunk considerably and is far smaller than one typically hears in political discourse. Nonetheless, a gap remains. The Glassdoor study finds that “employer policies that embrace salary transparency can help eliminate hard-to-justify gender pay gaps, and can play an important role in helping achieve balance in male-female pay in the workplace.” Perhaps this and similar policies going forward can help us eradicate the (adjusted) gender pay gap indefinitely.

Gender Wage Gap: Different Choices, Different Pay?

The gender wage gap has been a controversial topic for some time, even though the literature tends show the popular talking points to be exaggerated. For example, the claim that women make 78 cents for every dollar a man makes is misleading because this looks at the average wages of both men and women with no distinction made for careers, education, experience, hours worked, etc.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (pg. 80), women work about 5 hours a week less than men. This has been true since 1976. Less hours tend to mean less pay. This has been found to be the case in the medical profession, law, and among MBAs. Men also work more overtime and thus reap its financial rewards. Firms are currently structured to disproportionately favor those who work longer hours (whether this should be changed is worth discussing). Women are also less likely to negotiate for higher salaries, at least when the rules for wage determination are left ambiguous. Noncognitive skills and family preferences also go a long way in explaining the gap. As a 2009 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Labor concluded,

Although additional research in this area is clearly needed, this study leads to the unambiguous conclusion that the differences in the compensation of men and women are the result of a multitude of factors and that the raw wage gap should not be used as the basis to justify corrective action. Indeed, there may be nothing to correct. The differences in raw wages may be almost entirely the result of the individual choices being made by both male and female workers (pg. 2, bold mine).

A brand new report draws similar conclusions about the choices of men and women when it comes to both careers and college majors (from the abstract):

[W]e find that women, on average, have a higher willingness to pay for jobs with greater work flexibility (lower hours, and part-time option availability) and job stability (lower risk of job loss), while men have a higher willingness to pay for jobs with higher earnings growth. In the second part of the paper, using data on students’ perceptions about the types of jobs that would be offered to them conditional on their college major choices, we relate these job attribute preferences to major choice. We find that students perceive jobs offered to humanities majors to have fewer hours, more worktime flexibility, and higher stability than jobs offered to economics/business majors. These job attributes are found to play a role in major choice, with women exhibiting greater sensitivity to nonpecuniary job attributes in major choice.

Check it out. There is still something like a 6-cents difference in the wages of men and women, which could possibly be due to discrimination. Nonetheless, if we want to get serious about addressing discrimination, we need to be accurate in our assessments. Ninety-four percent and 78% are big differences.

A Primer for Understanding Conservatives

I think it’s fairly common for people to wonder “Are my conservative friends insane?”, so I’ve set out to provide a short primer on factors that influence modern conservative thought. The following points will obviously be generalizations, both of conservative and liberal thought.

Outcome, not Intention

To a conservative, the intention of a law or government program is generally meaningless. At first, that might seem odd, but think about this way: Who in their right mind intends badly with legislation? Given that almost nobody intends badly when legislating, a conservative is instead focused on the outcome: Does the law or program do what we want it to do? If it doesn’t, the legislation can be the most well-meaning program in the world, and conservatives still won’t support it.

Federal Government is not the Only Tool

Even if a federal government program is effective to one degree or another, a conservative is next going to ask: Is the federal government the most effective tool for accomplishing this goal? Could this goal be better accomplished on a local or state government level? What about with private programs? In general, the burden of proof is on the a federal government program to prove it could not be accomplished effectively on a more local or private level.

No Solutions, Only Trade-Offs

If I could frame a youtube video and put in on my wall, I would frame this youtube video.

Thomas Sowell summarizes a philosophical cornerstone of conservative thought: There are no solutions, only trade-offs. I think Sowell fairly contrasts the different paradigms underpinning modern conservative and liberal thought. For the liberal, if we could only get our institutions right, all would be well. For the conservative, no amount of institutions can ever make man right because man is inherently flawed. We can only hope to mitigate man’s negative impulses, and any attempt to mitigate one negative impulse has the possibility of encouraging another. So we have to ask of any law or program: Are the positives of this legislation going to outweigh any negatives it might introduce? Or, as Sowell puts it, “At what cost?”

How These Principles Turn Out in Practice

With these general principles in hand, one can hopefully start to understand conservative thought. A great example to test this understanding is minimum wage laws. Walker and Nathaniel have written quite a few articles on how minimum wage laws intend well but in reality only hurt the people they are meant to help. Another great example is equal pay laws. We can all agree that women deserve to be paid as much as men, but any legislation addressing the issue is going to cross every one of these principles: Does the proposed equal pay law actually work? Is federal government intervention the only or most effective means of addressing this issue? Will these equal pay laws be worth any trade-off incurred?

These examples also represent topics where conservatives are often impugned for their intentions and conversation breaks down: Do you hate poor people? Do you hate women? Of course not. We’re deeply concerned about the welfare of others. But we want to know that what we’re supporting actually works, is done at the most effective level, and is worth the cost. If legislation cannot jump over those three hurdles, we’re not going to support a program simply for the sake of its good intention.

As a final thought, one can understand conservative thought and still disagree with it. I have no problems with that. My only goal is that people first understand before they disagree. Otherwise, conversations are unproductive at best and nasty at worst. And in keeping with this thought, if you think I’ve misrepresented either conservative or liberal thought anywhere, let me know! I’ll probably still debate the comment, but as my momma came to understand, just cus I’m debating doesn’t mean I’m not listening.

Thoughts on Closing the Gender Pay Gap

983 - The Gender Pay Gap

Not long ago I added a little motto to the front page of this website: We tackle controversy with civility. Here’s my attempt at applying that approach to the controversial topic of the the gender pay gap.

Let’s start with some myth-busting. Not long ago, Buzzfeed produced a video that is a perfect example of what the wage gap isn’t.

The whole point of this video is that you’ve got two workers whose only apparent difference is their gender. Same approximate age, same race, same education (we’re guessing here) and, as the woman says, the very same job. And yet she gets paid 78% of what he makes. This is a myth, and it’s irresponsible even by the standards of Buzzfeed given that (as PolitiFact noted) “BuzzFeed actually looked at some sources that got it right, but then produced a misleading video.”

This sensationalist approach is sadly common. Comedian Sarah Silverman grabbed headlines herself recently for her own contribution to the myth. She relayed a story of when she and a male comedian were paid $10 and $60, respectively, for the same work in a PSA about the wage gap. Except that she left out the part where her gig had been unbook and his gig had been booked in advance. When the man she had called out as sexist (by name) spoke out publicly about that, she released an exclusive statement to Salon, saying that “My regret is that I mentioned Al by name- it should have been a nameless, faceless anecdote” and conceding that “This is also HARDLY an example of the wage gap.”

Even worse: it’s not just Buzzfeed videos and stand up comics who perpetuate the mythical 22% wage gap for men and women doing the same work. When I researched this piece I was stunned to learn that the website of the United States Department of Labor does the same:

MYTH: Saying women only earn 77 cents on the dollar is a huge exaggeration – the “real” pay gap is much smaller than that (if it even exists).

REALITY: The size of the pay gap depends on how you measure it. The most common estimate is based on differences in annual earnings (currently about 23 cents difference per dollar). Another approach uses weekly earnings data (closer to an 18- or 19-cent difference). Analyzing the weekly figures can be more precise in certain ways, like accounting for work hours that vary over the course of the year, and less accurate in others, like certain forms of compensation that don’t get paid as weekly wages. No matter which number you start with, the differences in pay for women and men really add up. According to one analysis by the Department of Labor’s Chief Economist, a typical 25-year-old woman working full time would have already earned $5,000 less over the course of her working career than a typical 25-year old man.

Once again: this is giving a misleading impression that if you have men and women with the same backgrounds doing the same work, the man will get paid more. That’s simply untrue. When you control for these factors the wage gap shrinks dramatically or even disappears. According to the HuffPo of all places (based on a study prepared by the American Association of University Women): “Women are close to achieving the goal of equal pay for equal work. They may be there already.”

This is where most conservative responses to the wage gap question stop, but I want to keep going because there is more to talk about. In particular, two issues remain.

The first issue has to do with why it is that more men apparently have the education, training, and background necessary to compete for higher-paying jobs. The reason is complex, and it probably involves personal choice correlated with gender (e.g. more women may prefer jobs that trade compensation for flexibility) and also with making the kinds of training necessary for some high-paying jobs uncomfortable environments for women (anyone who is familiar with the computer science field will know that is a factor). To the extent that personal choice is the deciding factor, there is no inequality. To the extent that it’s hostile environments, then clearly we’re just relocating sexism from hiring managers to colleagues and students in male-dominated fields. Let’s set this issue aside for a bit, we’ll come back to it later.

The second has to do with studies that appear to show sexism directly in hiring decisions. One of these studies was conducted by Corinne Moss-Racusin, a social psychologist at Skidmore College. The study was very simple: create a resume and send it off (in this case to scientists) where one version has the name “John” and the other has the name “Jennifer.” See if the responses differ. As this Stanford article summarizes, they do.

Superficially, this looks like clear evidence of sexism, but that might be too hasty. First, it’s odd that the biased reactions come from female scientists as well as from male scientists. Of course it’s not  impossible to hypothesize that women in male-dominated fields view themselves as exceptional and still have a generally sexist view of women in general, but this explanation is at least a little odd. Is there an alternative explanation? There is.

You can explain this finding without recourse to sexism simply by assuming (1) that hiring managers only care about bang for the buck and (2) that men tend to work more hours. Well, as it turns out, #2 isn’t an assumption. It’s a fact, as sources like this one indicate. Well, if the folks doing the hiring want the most bang for the buck and if men tend to work more hours and if the position is salaried, then clearly they will have a preference for men, even if they think women are just as competent hour-for-hour.

If true, this means that the gender discrimination is not operating at the level of individual prejudice. It is not the case that people making hiring decisions dislike women or devalue their contributions. But it also doesn’t mean that our work here is done. What remains is still the question: why do men work more hours?

And this brings us back to the point I said we’re return to: the question of personal preference vs. environmental factors. Or, to use the more conventional terms, nature vs. nurture. I can’t emphasize enough: this is the reason the wage gap is so controversial. Because at its heart, buried beneath all the layers of analysis we’ve done so far to get here, we stumble on one of the most controversial questions of our age: are gender differences tied to innate human nature or are they merely social constructs? Your view on that question will, for the most part, cement whether you see the gender gap as essentially a minor issue where we just need to eradicate remaining vestiges of chauvinism and/or clean out a few specific problem industries or whether you see the wage gap as a society-wide, catastrophic consequence of a thriving patriarchy. Because if you think women tend to work fewer hours because they elect to value other things (such as child-rearing) more relative to men, than the wage gap is mostly a reflection of individual preference. But if you think women tend to work fewer hours because they are being socialized not to fully develop their talents and view their contributions to society as equal to those of men, then the wage gap (all 22% of it, not just the small amount that remains when you control for job type, etc.) is a form of widespread oppression. Women contribute fewer hours, in that view, because they are unfairly burdened with more of the work outside of their day job and because they are subtly manipulated by society from an early age to see themselves as objects to be desired for superficial characteristics rather than as subjects to be actively engaged in shaping their own destinies and developing and expressing their innate capabilities.

As long as this conflict remains, the issue is not going to go away. Even if the 22% number is a myth, it’s a myth that expresses a critique of modern society that has far more validity than Silverman’s mangled story or the Department of Labor’s mangled statistics.

Now, as I get ready to wrap this post up, here are my own thoughts about this conflict. For the most part with the view of the gender essentialists, especially after reading Steven Pinker’s influential book The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Pinker argues very persuasively and with reams of evidence that human nature is real and that it includes meaningful sex differences. What this means is that, if women tend towards actually liking being primary caregivers more than men, working towards equal pay across society (not equal pay for equal work, but equal pay AND equal work) is not actually going to make women happier. It’s going to make them less happy, as a group.

Imagine a scenario where Bob really likes to hike and so he takes a full-time job with lots of flexibility and expectations of a 40-hour work-week. His wages are lower in return for having a lot more time out of the office. Jim likes to buy stuff, however, and so he takes a full-time job where the expectation is 80-hours a week. He gives up hiking time to earn even more money. There’s an obvious wage gap here. But if you come in and solve it by insisting that Bob and Jim both spend equal hours in the office and equal hours hiking, you’re making them both less happy. You took away Bob’s hiking time, which he values more, and gave him a higher salary, which he was already willing to give up for the hiking time. You took away Jim’s money, which he values more, and gave him hiking time which he had already chosen to give up for the money. If women willingly choose careers that allow more flexibility in exchange for lower pay, then trying to coral them into higher-pay, lower-flexibility jobs is a terrible solution. If women want to be part-time nurse practitioners and you try to engineer them in to being full-time software engineers, no one is happy.

This isn’t purely hypothetical, by the way. As women have moved towards parity in the workplace over the last few decades, their level of happiness has not increased. It has decreased:

By many objective measures the lives of women in the United States have improved over the past 35 years, yet we show that measures of subjective well‐being indicate that women’s happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men.

Since I largely believe innate human differences account for the systematic decisions of large numbers of women to spend less of their time in formal work, I don’t accept the view that what we’re witnessing is widespread patriarchy. I think what we’re witnessing, by and large, is people doing what they want to do.But there are some really important corollaries and caveats.

First, although I think it’s too obvious to require saying I’m going to say it anyway: the fact that lots of women decide of their own volition to emphasize something other than professional achievement (relative to men) does not in any way indicate that all women should do the same. The classical liberal in me is deeply committed to individualism, and that means that I have a lot of sensitivity for the outliers. There should be absolutely no coercion–formal or informal–designed to force men or women to pick certain careers based on their gender.

As a follow-up to that, if we’re going to have a situation where the women who choose to (for example) go into computer science are always going to be in a minority then we ought to have institutions and systems in place that ensure they get equal access to training and other opportunities. Not to be too personal, but my wife is getting a PhD in computer science. You can’t ask for a more male-dominant sector than that. She regularly attends women-centric conferences and groups and I am very glad that they exist to provide her and other women with something closer to equal opportunity in an environment that can be really hostile. There is a lot of room for conservatives and liberals to agree on common sense, incremental improvements for women.

I also think that our work culture is intrinsically anti-family, and that this is a problem for men as well as for women. As a recent article at Harvard Business Review pointed out:

We often think of problems with [work] expectations as women’s problems. But men too may struggle with them: my research at a top strategy consulting firm, first published in Organization Science, revealed that many men experienced these expectations as difficult to fulfill or even distasteful. To be sure, some men seemed to happily comply with the firm’s expectations, working long hours and traveling constantly, but a majority were dissatisfied. They complained to me of children crying when they missed their soccer games, of poor health and substance addictions caused by how they worked, and of a general sense of feeling “overworked and underfamilied.”

I would dearly love to see some sanity, some balance, and some honesty start to replace a culture of dishonesty where, as the headline of that article points out, “Some Men Pretend to Work 80-Hour Weeks.” Sure, some really do work that much. (I have a few times.) But it’s the perception that more hours = better employee that leads some men and women to fake it while other men and women really do work that many hours and in both cases productivity and health suffer.

On the wider picture, however, I fear the conflict is irresoluble. If gender is innate, then it is quite probable that a number of systematic gender differences will be a permanent feature of human society. If gender is primarily a social invention, then the agenda is clear: equality means women and men earning the same in the workforce because they are largely doing the same things and they are equally happy about it. You have to erase any correlation between gender and work-preferences. On any significant metric, therefore, androgyny is the goal by definition. Any gender differences that remain will be inconsequential and superficial.

At that point you’re trying to socially engineer people’s conception of gender and definition of happiness in order to fit your pre-conceived notions of equality. And I have to ask: why? Something seems backwards when you first tell people how to live and then have to re-engineer them to like it that way.

Female Tech CEO: Lean In Doesn’t Cut It

2014-01-14 Sabrina ParsonsSheryl Sandberg’s Lean In takes a lot of flack for being a privileged woman’s guide to becoming CEO. My own take is that a privileged woman’s guide is much better than no guide. I’m a fan of Sandberg, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to the story of how women can get ahead in business. This article at Business Insider has another very interesting perspective. Sabrina Parsons (CEO of Palo Alto Software) writes:

What needs to change is how and when women work. Being told to “lean in” by itself is not useful. Instead, women need to come together and demand that we are given the flexibility to excel in our jobs; to admit that we have kids and not hide that fact in fear that it will stunt our career opportunities; to occasionally bring a child into the office to quietly do homework on a day when school is out or daycare is unavailable.

Let’s demand that corporate America’s norms change to accommodate women — those who want to have families and realize that having a family does NOT make us work less or achieve less.

I’m still leery of these arguments because I don’t like the rationale that we ought to try and legislate until we reach the arbitrary goal of equal pay without consideration of individual preference and choice. That’s bad policy.

But you know what else is bad policy? Continuing to push the same antiquated practices for business that have been around since the Industrial Revolution. I think that for most white collar knowledge-based workers you would get far more productivity per day if you got 4 hours (or even 2 or 3) of really concentrated effort then you do out of the 8 hours of procrastination and avoidance that is common today. Fewer hours would be beneficial for employers directly, and also indirectly by making your employees hate work a little less. (In my experience at several large companies in a variety of industries: everyone in a cubicle hates their job and everyone in an office hates their job too, but lies about it better.)

Formal regulation is probably not the answer, but I sure would love to live in a world where, when both parents worked, they were doing offset, flexible 6-hour days. And, while we’re at it, it would be nice if people didn’t expect for me to foist off all family obligations on my wife because (1) she’s just as busy as I am and (2) I actually want to be an involved father. When I reschedule business to go to my daughter’s drop-in day at school it’s not a chore. It’s what matters most to me. When I can’t be with my kids for something they are doing it isn’t because I love my career, it’s because I have to balance my desire to be with them with our need to eat.

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.