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”?


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!



But why don't you ask her to work in a high salary job and you can change career or just stay home with your kids?

Joe J

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


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.


Anyone who looked into it knows that the wage gap is only due to women's own choices: career paths, flex-time, benefits, time-off etc... it is not due to discrimination and it possibly never was.

Those who have spread the "wage gap" myth (I am looking at you, "gender studies" bigots and the spineless "mainstream" media) should be held accountable for their lies (and yes, it was absolutely intentional and calculated, at least on the part of bogus researchers). This lie has created animosity between men and women, burdened businesses with expensive regulations and created a tilted playing field in favor of women.

We should learn from the "wage gap" myth, and revisit many of our gender assumptions that were shaped by feminists and other "gender students", for they have lied to us repeatedly. Guess what?Gender is not a social construct (as proven by brain scans of infants), women have not been oppressed historically (at any given time, look at the "gender roles" that were piled on men, and I can guarantee you won't want to trade places with them), both men AND women couldn't vote for thousands of years (democracy is only a couple hundred years old), fathers are the most positive influence that a child can have (check the outcomes of fatherless kids which are frighteningly abysmal, regardless of income), a woman's standard of living does not go down after a divorce (if you compare it to her standard before she got married), rape is not about power (as demonstrated by rape victimization statistics by age (and even body shape), which happen to match women's top fertility), domestic violence is not about control (as demonstrated by its association with mental illness), half of domestic violence is perpetrated by women (as demonstrated by hundreds of victimization studies, including those carried out by the gov't), a very significant number of rape accusations are false (the 2% figure was a feminist hoax, the few studies on the topic come to 40-60% of proven false accusations; I am sure the Duke players, David Copperfield, Domique Strauss-Kahn, Julian Assange, Kobe Briant and all those poor guys freed by the Innocence Project would agree)...

How do you know a feminist is lying? Her lips are moving :-)



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.


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.

alex in chicago

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?


Unmarried women make more than unmarried men on average because they are getting educated in much larger numbers than men now. Does his book show that the unmarried educated women are getting paid the same as their unmarried male counterparts with the same education?

In spite of more women than men getting bachelors degrees, they are still getting only 10% of BS degrees in electrical engineering. Women are going to medical and law school in large numbers, but not engineering. The subtle discrimination I'm talking about is the societal factors that are telling women that they can succeed in law school but not engineering.


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.


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?


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.


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.

Enter your name...

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.)


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.

Rachel Coulson

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 :)

Matt Gordon

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.

Rachel Coulson


Not literally anything. As in no baby, now, and no decision now.

Male or female, wage gap or no wage gap, the pressure to choose between working and parenting is what's questionable about the situation.

Joe Dokes


I'm not trying to be critical, but you say all those things now, but in the future when you have a family, and a partner or husband your tune may and probably will change.

Having been employed nearly continuously since the age of 15 and now married with two children, the flexibility I enjoyed in my twenties is a distant memory. I would love to change jobs and branch out and try something new, but given the economic realities and my desire to maintain a middle-class lifestyle has effectively condemned me to staying in my current position for the duration.

One of the big disadvantages two income families have is that neither worker has the flexibility as they would have if their spouse didn't work. For this reason, men in two income families wages lag behind those of single income families.

Also, one fo the realities of life is the marriage is a partnership and the feelings and aspirations of both people have to be considered. Thus, don't look down your nose at women who refuse to relocate in order to move up the corporate ladder. They have often made a rational decision about what is best for their family and marriage. In addition, as a husband, I can tell you that many of my economic decisions since getting married have taken into consideration the aspirations of my wife, at the expense of my career. The same is true of my wife. Simply put marriage requires compromise, unless you plan on your spouse not working at all, as you climb the economic ladder, you'll find that your ability to move about to be severely restricted. In my particular case, my wife wanted to relocate, but my job wouldn't allow it. This turned out for the best, as her entire industry was turned upside down with the advent of digital photography, and her career no longer exists.


Joe Dokes


Sophia Yen MD MPH

Men taking a greater part in childcare or equal part - she said is not changing anytime soon. It's attitudes like that that perpetuate the 2nd shift (women "working" to do kid stuff after work). I am telling young women if you want equality - make sure your husband knows that he will be sharing the kid duties/worries. Jobs need to be flexible and family friendly for both men and women.

Also, research has shown that men never take the 1st job offer, they always ask for more. Women just say "ok." We need to teach our young women the same skills.

And we need corporations to have more women on their boards. I find it difficult to believe that Facebook could not find a single qualified woman to serve on their board? and that Apple can only find one - the head of Avon?? Check out where we try to show young men and women, that women can do it...


Working for a larger salary (with longer hours, more stress, and less personal gratification) is a choice not everyone likes. Not only is it common in marriages for one person (generally the women) to sacrifice income for other gratifications. My observation is that the same is true of many men who have enough unearned income to live well. Making more money is not paramount.


Parenting is the single biggest source of a double-standard, at least in the US. I've been a parent for 3 years now, and the sorts of things I do that get comments like "Wow! You're such a good father" are the sorts of things that are just expected of mothers.

Even the language used is gender-biased. I've never been called a "good parent" always a "good father/dad" and I am judged not against parents in general, but other male parents, for which standards are laughably low. It feels quite condescending as if people are saying "You're a good parent, for a man"

On the other side the standards for women are ridiculous. If you aren't working (at least part-time), cleaning, cooking and picking up and dropping off kids at all sorts of activities, while also interacting with them at home, you are a "Bad mom" If my wife puts on a movie for the kids so she can get something else done around the house it's "I know I'm a bad mom for putting them in front of the TV so much, but I just have so much to do!" If I sit on my ass watching a movie with my kids while she is at night classes it's "You're such a good dad to watch the kids in the evenings!"


Arjen Davis

One thing that I find strange in the comments here is that they say that women get paid less even for jobs that require the same education as men.

I heard this argument too many times by people who supposedly went to school. People don't get paid for their education, people get paid for their contribution; for their dollar value. A job is not charity. You don't get paid more because you are a Phd. You get paid more because as a Phd you bring more value than a high-schooler in doing research for example; if the person with a GED knows more about construction, that person will get paid more in construction, simple.

This is why high tower windows washers make more money than bank tellers. Windows washers are more valuable...even though you don't need to know how to read to the job.

Ehud Dooley

I will say something that people may find controversial, but it is quite basic.

Women are more equipped with child care. Nature made it this way. Women carry the child for 9 months, and has the basic nutrient that the child need: breast milk. It is just nature for mammals to have the female taking care of the infant. One great advantage of that is the bond formed between the mother and the child; the father will never have that.

I think instead of making women feel less of themselves because they are mothers, we need to elevate that position. Why can't a woman bring their child to work (office work)? Women with child under 3 should get more vacation time. Childbearing women should get tax breaks. Basically, society should pay women for carrying our future.

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Jaime Gold

I agreet that women often give up the chance at a better job because of family commitments. It's strange to me that men don't do the same. I guess there is a stigma associated with a man choosing his family over his career. In my house my husband and I both work full time in careers that we both enjoy. We split the child rearing somewhat evenly, but if I had to guess I'd say he does more than I do. He helps the kids bathe, makes the lunches, does the grocery shopping. I walk to the bus stop, pick them up in the afternoon, and help with homework. Yet, when it comes to our jobs, while I am reticent to take an assignment out of town or make other commitments that take me away from my kids, he isn't. Bosses and colleagues are okay with and even expect mothers to have limitations. Fathers don't get the same luxury.


Last week's Time story on widespread youth unemployment (worldwide) quoted a Danish study about the longterm effects of delays in entering the job market, specifically that a 10month delay resulted in 11% less pay 15 years later.

Since in the country, women (demographically speaking) are more likely to have absences from the job market due to staying home with kids, this exact effect should result as well, and it has nothing to do with gender.

In other words, it is exactly an effect of the choices made by women. I would bet this would/can explain a significant portion of the one-number wage gap, which lumps all women versus all men (which again, is about the dumbest analysis ever)


Colosi's clients would not love to hire senior women. They would love to hire them on the terms the clients propose. If you really want the best employees of either sex, figure out how to provide the working conditions those employees are able to demand. It may not even be that expensive, especially since it appears women are more willing than men (as a general rule) to accept less pay in exchange for better working conditions.

PJ McFarland

You're assuming all women have children, so all women deserve lower pay than men. Even childless women have to pay your "cost of preferences."


Then women must accept the consequences of their decision. Nobody is forcing us to have kids, and nobody is forcing us to deny ourselves the opportunities to accept jobs further up our career paths. If we choose to accept, for example, a lower paying job, just to be closer to home or spend more time with our children, we cannot blame society for the consequences. If we decide to to then get back into the workplace after say 5 years of raising children, we simply cannot expect any company to choose us over the countless experienced graduates who are willing to put in the 12 hours that we choose to rather spend with our children.

Also, with the divorce rate as it is, I don't want to put myself in a position where I have to at least partially rely on a partner's income. Neither am I going to lie - I love spending money on myself.I have been working for 10 years now, and have invested wisely. I have my mortgages and bills just like any other normal adult, and I enjoy having quite a bit of extra money every month to spend anyway I please. I have fought hard to liberate myself economically - for me, having children is not worth the sacrifice. I have earned the right to enjoy being child-free and be responsible only for myself, and therefore I have chosen not to have children. I have amazing relationships, and I nurture and cherish them all the time. But when I come home, I enjoy spending time nurturing my mind, my talents and my soul.

Something to think about: Men succeed and earn women because they put themselves first and are not ashamed to be selfish. If we don't put ourselves first, who will? The wages gap between men and women will narrow only when we learn this.