One Woman’s View of the Female Wage Gap

Sheryl Sandberg at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2012. (Photo: World Economic Forum)

Jennifer Colosi runs a San Francisco executive search firm with a concentration in finance. Here’s what she wrote in to say about our analysis of the persistent female-male wage gap:

Agreed with all you wrote about wage gaps between women and men.

Why yes, women do love kids!

You are exactly right — a higher wage isn’t as important to some women — because it comes at a “household” cost.

If I could add this non-scientific but beyond anecdotal research:

I’ve called hundreds of women for executive roles in carrying out searches for our clients.  They simply say “No thanks.”  Perhaps they are a single parent and the current role is 20 minutes from home, and the one I’m calling about is 50 minutes to an hour away. And these are executive roles.  

They say “no thanks” because they are unable to travel or commit the hours for the job that would move their careers further upward.  To take that “exceptional” role.

I call it: “Why very good is better than exceptional.”  They have roles that are “very good” that also allow them to be closer to picking up kids, etc.  One possibility is that many women will just always have more responsibilities at home even in two earner households.  Someone told me Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook wrote about this as well.

That’s not changing soon.  I don’t fault them for this choice.

I do resent the media making companies out as if they are not doing enough to hire senior women.  Our clients would love to hire them….if only they’d say “yes.”  Clients say, “You must have these candidates in your back pocket.”  The response is, “Why yes, we do. And they will talk to me.  But very good is good enough, thank you.”

Women and men are different…..and it should stay that way!

To be filed under “the cost of preferences”?

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  1. rationalrevolution says:

    This is absolutely true. I know in my case my wife is doing the exact same thing. She has an MBA, but actually wants to quit her corporate career to become a fitness instructor, which will pay about 30% of her current income.

    She wants to do that #1 because she doesn’t like her career. #2 so she can have more time to spend with the kids and to be there when they get home etc.

    But here is the real kicker. She’s able to do this BECAUSE of my income, indeed she expects me to nearly double my income over the next 2 years in order to be able to make up for the loss of her income.

    And this is what I want to point out. The “wage gap” isn’t purely a product of discrimination against women, in many cases its a LUXURY afforded TO women.

    She is going to choose to take a significant cut in her own income, BECAUSE she knows she’ll have access to MY income.

    Indeed what’s going on is that, because she can depend on the use of a partner’s income it gives here THE FREEDOM to choose a job that she LIKES over one that pays more.

    And this is really what Mrs. Colosi is saying as well, that women have more freedom in choosing their jobs, because they often have partners that subsidize their expenses, so as a result they can afford to choose something they like more over something that pays more, and this is true for most single mothers as well, because even single mothers are getting child support and/or alimony.

    So, at least part of the “wage gap” is a product of women’s own choices, and a product of the fact that they are choosing jobs that they enjoy more over pay, whereas men are much more pressured to take jobs that pay the most, regardless of whether they like the job or not.

    So this component of the s0-called “wage-gap” is really a luxury afforded to women. The fact that men have higher income in aggregate is in part a product of the “bread winner” burden placed on them, with much of that money being given directly to women (and children) anyway, and with women expecting them to be able to give them this money.

    So, I just don’t guy this whole “wage-gap” nonsense. I’m absolutely for equal pay for equal work, 100%, across race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever, and I’m all for making education as accessible as possible to everyone of all races, genders, and economic backgrounds, indeed I’m for free (tax payer funded) universal secondary education, be it college or trade schools, but I don’t see the fact that women and men tend to hold different types of jobs as a problem that needs to be solved, and I don’t believe that all of the “wage-gap” is even something that works against women. A large portion of the “wage_gap” is actually a product of the fact that women have a greater luxury to peruse jobs that they like and want as opposed to the jobs that bring home the maximum money for the family. That burden falls on men, and yes, it is a burden, and its a burden that most women EXPECT men to shoulder!

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    • Nia says:

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      • Joe J says:

        Why?
        Because both know in the divorce, she will get the kids, the house, child support and alamony from his current salary projections.

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      • Roger says:

        Answers to Nia’s question:

        p(Marital conflict | Woman’s income higher) >> p(Marital conflict | Man’s income higher)
        p(Penalties | Woman out of workforce) << p(Penalties | Man out of workforce)

        A good follow-up question would be "Why?" which would open up a jar of worms, but RationalRevolution already hints at the answers: these violate expectations, and violations do not go unpunished.

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      • rationalrevolution says:

        Well I could, but it would probably result in divorce. I mean how much sense does that make? This is something she wants to do, so I would tell her no she can’t do what she wants to do, and in fact, she’ll have to work harder so I can have a less stressful job and spend more time with the kids. Yeah, right… And that’s the point. “Closing the wage gap” would actually require going against the will of women. Women sit back and complain about the statistic, but then make the very choices that drive the statistic, and the real point is that it shouldn’t matter.

        I’m fine with working harder to support my wife and kids and she’s fine taking a lower paying job that she’ll enjoy more and will give her more free time, so why are “people” trying to turn this into a problem when its not one?

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      • tmeier says:

        You are describing my life. My job allows me to work as much or as little as I like. My wife’s job demands full time and pays about 30% more per hour so we decided I’d do the majority of child care and housework.
        My wife could be making much more than she does if she were willing to take more responsibility but she prefers to be able to leave work at work and we have more than enough for everything we need.
        I used to have my own business where I gave good employment to six people but decided the hassle wasn’t worth the reward, mostly because of how difficult government makes running a small business. It’s not just women who choose, anyone will if other options are there.

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    • Ian M says:

      This is perhaps off topic but I will say it anyway.
      What strange timing to come accross this.
      My wife and I both have stable middle income jobs. I make about $60k, she makes about $80k. (Note: this has been the case for only the last 4 years of our 14 years of marriage. For the first 10 years or so, our combined income may have been higher than $100k in one of those years. We are used to getting by with far less than we make.)
      We both want to reduce our working hours so we can spend more time with our children. I am in a position to do so, she is not. (She also finds her job rewarding whereas I do not.) My wife fully supports me reducing my hours for the sake of our family. I have just received approval form my manager to do just that. In Sept 2012, I will be fortunate enough to put an end to daycare for our children by reducing my working day to six hours. I feel like the luckiest husband in the world.
      She is the best! Hands down, the best!

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      • Jason says:

        Adding to the preponderance of anecdotal evidence – I join IanM and tmeier as a man who has had the luxury of cutting back work time to take care of my daughter because my wife has a more demanding job. I was a stay-at-home dad for a while and then did a career change into a lower stress position.

        I also want to note that my wife is currently underpaid for her work because she got an interim promotion that her office will “eventually” make permanent and find the funds to pay a competitive salary. I think this happens a lot, especially in fields where women are more represented, including nonprofits, teaching, etc. The article above provides anecdotal evidence from someone who focuses on finance, not a field that is usually expected to support family life, so I think it would be good to take her comments with a grain of salt.

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    • Kate says:

      “and this is true for most single mothers as well, because even single mothers are getting child support and/or alimony.”

      That’s news to this single mother. I get neither.

      Come to think of it, out of my growing collection of single mama friends, none of us get child support or alimony (for a variety of reasons).

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      • Scott says:

        After a long separation (where I was paying support), and recently divorced, I find myself paying a significant amount of my after tax income in the form of alimony and child support to my ex. That is my situation. However, as I’ve come to know other women (dating/conversation) etc., I have been surprised at the number of divorced women who for various reasons do not receive much, if any, financial support from their former spouses.

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    • Michael Peters says:

      While I agree that your anecdote is probably typical you are missing one crucial piece of information. The wage gap is for the same job with the same experience and level of education.

      Your wife taking a lower paying job does not contribute to the wage gap unless she’s also making less than males doing the same job. How would she feel if she took the fitness instructor job making less than the man who just started at the same job with the same credentials. That’s probably not a choice she would be happy making.

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      • Tom says:

        Michael, the “wage gap” statistic is a raw number, it does not account for anything like career choice, education, experience, hours worked etc..

        After adjusting for those (obvious) factors, the wage gap pretty much disappears (as found by the Department of Labor).

        If you are wondering how such a flawed reasoning, that wouldn’t pass peer-review from a 5-yr old, found itself in the public discourse, you are not the only one! And that would be a good question to ask to the mainstream media “reporters”!

        I encourage you to question every pre-conceived notion that you have about gender, because they are pretty much all lies (spread intentionally by man-hating “gender studies” ideologues). You have no idea how deep the rabbit hole goes (see my comment below)… Do your own research!

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      • Enter your name... says:

        It seems that women also choose to work for companies that pay less than other companies. Not “pay women less”, but “pay all their employees less”. Apparently men refuse to work for these lower-paying companies. Presumably they offer something that women prefer as a trade-off (more flexible hours, fewer rude jerks in management, closer location, etc.)

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  2. benjamin says:

    I would be interested to see the difference in wages and percentage of women in senior roles when you look at households with “stay at home” dads, households where women are the primary earners, and single women as a control for the family aspect.

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  3. Tom says:

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    • Matt says:

      Interesting debate, for which Tim Allen had a joke:
      Women have a choice: work full time, work part time. Work full time, be a parent. Work part time, be a parent. Stay home with kids, then work part time.
      For guys, it’s work. Work, or prison.

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    • Molly says:

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      • Tom says:

        Bank tellers and cashiers are low paying jobs because they are easy and safe, not because they are held by women.

        How many female garbage collectors, roofers, pavement workers, computer scientists or financial analysts do you see? Very few.. Those female cashiers could train and apply for those jobs despite the risk, the heat or the psychological isolation of staring at a computer all day long! For some reason, they prefer their undemanding and safe jobs, and they are mostly women.. what does that tell you about the “wage gap”?

        It tells me that:
        You are intellectually dishonest and looking to grab as much privilege using any convenient excuse. And obviously a woman.

        Regarding nursing: males make more than females because they work more hours. As a matter of fact, may women who go to med school will never practice medicine seriously because they don’t want to work the necessary hours to be a doctor. What does that tell you about the “wage gap”?

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      • rationalrevolution says:

        The original poster’s comments were of course absurd and insensitive, but you aren’t fully correct either.

        “But: how many male bank tellers do you see? Right. How many male cashiers do you see? Also correct. Almost none. These are “pink collar” workers — tacitly assumed to be women’s jobs. They pay less.”

        Correct, you know why, because the men who would be doing those jobs are working construction, long haul trucking, commercial fishing, on the farm, car sales, coal mining, warehouse work, mechanics, etc.

        So why aren’t women doing those jobs?

        Well, because its a heck of a lot harder work, a lot more dangerous, requires more physical strength, or involves skills that women aren’t interested in, for whatever reason. You can question why women aren’t as interested in being mechanics, that’s a valid issue, but ask yourself, are women really interested in a world where 50% of mechanics are women, do they really want to be mechanics, or do they just want to complain about the fact that mechanics earn more than cashiers?

        The additional difficulty of those jobs is why they merit higher pay. Women take lower paying jobs in part because they are easier jobs to do (though I’d argue that teaching and nursing are not at all easy, but they require less physical strength than something like construction, etc., plus those jobs typically pay around $40K-$60K anyway.

        You want to know why there are so many women cashiers, teachers, nurses, bank tellers, etc., then go ask them. Are you saying that we should be forcing women into construction and long-shoring and coal mining and being mechanics against their will? Are you denying that men are biologically physically stronger than women on average?

        Men also account for like 98% of workplace fatalities as well, for good reason….

        Women don’t go into jobs like trucking and construction and coal mining because those jobs SUCK. People hate those jobs. No one likes those jobs. They get high pay BECAUSE THEY SUCK! The fact that men dominate those jobs isn’t really a benefit for men, especially when much of the money that men make in those jobs they end up handing over to women! Men take those ****ty jobs in order to have money to spend on women!

        Go find a woman bank teller. Tell her that there is a job opening in logging that she can take right now today, with no experience required, all she has to do is apply, they want a female worker. The pay will be $40 an hour, but will require long times away from home, heavy lifting, back breaking work, she’ll need some of her own equipment, and will be in a setting that’s highly prone to injury.

        Let’s assume that her current income is around $18 an hour. I bet that 98% of women making $18 an hour as a bank teller wouldn’t take a logging job that paid $40 an hour. I’ll bet you any amount of money that that’s true, and even if they did and they actually got paid, of the ones that took the job only like 2% would stay on more than a couple of weeks.

        The reality is that men to a lot of really ****ty jobs, and the pay goes with the work.

        Are you a mechanic? Why not?

        And this goes back to my original post above. A big part of the reason “why not” for may women, is because they can rely on, or they have the expectation of being able to rely on, the men who do those ****ty jobs supporting them.

        That’s not discrimination against women, that’s women taking easy jobs because they can rely on getting money out of the men who do the hard jobs without having to actually take those hard jobs.

        Let’s be serious, that’s reality.

        Don’t get me wrong I don’t believe that that accounts for 100% of the “wage gap”. I do think that there are cases where women don’t get equal pay for equal work, and that’s wrong, but I totally don’t buy the argument that the jobs dominated by women should be getting paid more, or that the fact that 90% of cashiers are women and 98% of coal miners are men is a problem to be solved.

        Yes, coal miners are paid more than cashiers, they should be. Yes cashiers are mostly women and coal miners are mostly men. Nothing is ever going to change that, because the reality is that women have no interest in being coal miners, no matter how much the job pays, for completely understandable biological reasons. Coal mining is hard f*ing, dangerous work that no person in their right mind would ever want to do. Women don’t do that job because they don’t have to. Men take the jobs because they have to IN ORDER TO BE ABLE TO SUPPORT WOMEN AND CHILDREN!

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  4. Quentin says:

    Yes, women make different career choices than men, for a variety of reasons, and in many cases they are making a conscious choice to make less. However, it must be acknowledged that there is still evidence that women are paid less than male counterparts even with the same job responsibilities. Furthermore, yesterday’s post about teachers assuming girls are less capable at math demonstrates that it’s possible some women never chose some high paying professions in the sciences because of subtle discrimination they faced long before work-life balance was an issue.

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    • alex in chicago says:

      Please see Thomas Sowell’s Economic Facts And Fallacies, Chapter 3: Male-Female Facts and Fallacies.

      If you compare unmarried (never married) women to unmarried men, the women actually have higher earnings.

      How does your subtle discrimination explain that?

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    • Rob says:

      Yes, women MUST be not going in to electrical engineering because there is subtle discrimination. I am guessing that the term “subtle” means “nearly nonexistent” because all of the research out there that tries to make this link can’t prove anything. We have a huge shortage of electrical engineers (engineers in general), a job that pays very well, and yet for some reason women are only choosing not to do it because they must be getting discriminated against.

      There are some things that just ARE. Men and women are different; our brains are different. Yes, there are great women engineers just as there are great men engineers, but on the whole, due to completely natural factors, men have more interest in this area. It’s not a bad thing.

      Might I also add that the higher rate of women becoming doctors is contributing to our doctor shortage, because yes, many eventually choose to work many less hours than male doctors. When I pointed this inconvenient fact out to my sister (a doctor of 15 years married to a doctor), who is looking to start cutting her hours, she admitted that she sees this all the time at her hospital. Maybe its time we need affirmative action for males in medical school?

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      • Quentin says:

        Subtle discrimination consists of society telling girls that girls just don’t become engineers. It’s attitudes of parents, teachers, and peers, and depictions of engineers in the media. Among children who have a parent who is an engineer (even if it’s the parent of the opposite gender) and for whom being an engineer is “normal”, the gender gap between girls and boys who choose engineering is much smaller. I don’t think there is one bit of scientific evidence for the notion that female brains are less suited on average to engineering.

        Yes, many professions, such as health care, are experiencing changes due to the preferences of the increasing numbers of women who work in them. The employers and employees will need to adapt based on the various incentives and market pressures they face. I’m sure they will manage just fine without affirmative action for men.

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      • EE_geek says:

        As an electrical engineer, I would have loved to have more girls in class. They often get more help from the TA’s. I went to MIT for grad school and the female engineers there were on average just as good as the male ones. The smartest people on any classroom were usually guys, but so were the dumbest ones.

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  5. Gustavo says:

    Can someone comment on Professional Tennis wages at major tournaments? Winners or men and women’s tournaments get paid the same. But women play 3 sets vs 5 sets for men. Is this fair? Or is there a component of reverse discrimination against men.

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    • csdx says:

      You’re probably trolling, but in any case: number of games played in a games in a set is not the right metric to use. If you really want to measure ‘work put into tennis’ counting hours training + playing is more accurate, which given that hours put in by top atheletes of either gender are probably equitable.

      Though ultimately it’s what the market supports, if both women’s and men’s tournaments can support the high payouts, that’s because they’re making that much money. In many other sports, women are paid less, does that mean it’s unfair, or that their organizations are just less profitable? What’s next, comparing a 90 minute soccer game to a 100 meter dash?

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    • Molly says:

      Actually, I agree this is not fair. I also think different standards for, say, female and male firefighters is not fair. I want any firefighter who is saving my life to be able to carry me or my husband out of the burning building. If a woman can’t do it, she can’t do it!

      And on another, related note: Title IX is another stupid invention. More men than women want to play sports, and women have no equivalent to football! Pay the same amount to men’s and women’s basketball, sure, but to spend equal on sports is lame! All it’s done is gut men’s sports in college. But I digress.

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  6. Chris says:

    The article makes a very interesting point, but that’s not to say that discrimination doesn’t exist. Employer-paid health care premiums cost much more than a male of the same age. They may require maternity leave. Returning after maternity leave is a significant variable. It’s too simplistic to think that these don’t factor into the age gap, but again, very interesting point that some of the gap is volitional.

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    • m.m. says:

      Hmm. You bring up an interesting point–when is something discriminatory, and when is it an actuarial truth? When it comes to healthcare, women are likely to cost the insurer more and thus pay higher premiums. When it comes to life insurance, men are more likely to die within the insured term, and therefore are charged higher premiums.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        That depends on the age of the people you’re looking at. It’s true that women in their child-bearing years use more healthcare services than young men, but men in their 50s are usually more expensive than women in their 50s. (Bypass surgery is more expensive than having babies.)

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  7. James says:

    It’s not just women who make these choices. I could make two or three times as much as I do now if I chose a “role” that involved living in Silicon Valley and commuting 20 minutes to an hour a day, But I prefer to live in the mountains, and telecommute.

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  8. I’m a woman, and a senior undergrad at Chico State. I’m double majoring in Economics and Public Relations, with a minor in Journalism and Business Administration. People always ask my WHY I would do that to myself and WHAT kind of career I want post-college, and headhunting is ALWAYS my first response. It breaks my poor girly heart to know these women are turning down my dream job, when I’m studying like a machine and battling guys in suits in discussions. By the way, I’d probably say YES to ANYTHING at the moment :)

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    • Matt Gordon says:

      Yes, but considering your age (senior undergrad), you’re probably not yet married.

      And then look at “alex in chicago”‘s point – unmarried women actually make more money than unmarried men

      And finally look at the situations described in the original post: women choosing to work less because of their family.

      So, considering you’re likely young, unmarried and don’t yet have a family, your story is perfectly consistent with the whole discussion.

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