Money

Why Women Earn Less: A New Theory

Sociologists find a link between salary discrepancies and men's willingness to be overworked

Picture this: Your manager assigns you a challenging new project, and you log countless hours after everyone else has left the office in order to get it done before the deadline.

When raise-and-bonus time rolls around, your boss remembers how overworked you were—and rewards you for the effort.

Wouldn’t that feel good?

Based on new research, this scenario may be more common for men than women — and could offer a new explanation for the wage gap between sexes.

In their paper, sociology professors Youngjoo Cha and Kim A. Weeden suggest the gap has persisted for so many years because men are more willing to be overworked than woman — and are compensated for it.

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Setting out to prove their hypothesis, Cha and Weeden reviewed 30 years of data from the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey. They found that in 1979, women earned 70 percent of men’s salaries. By 1991, it increased to 75 percent, and then remained relatively stable at 76 percent from the late ‘90s through 2009.

The “overworking” trend followed an upward trajectory during the same time period. In the early 1980s, 13 percent of men and just 3 percent of women worked 50 hours a week or more. Fast-forward to 2000: 19 percent of men and 7 percent of women worked 50 hours or more. The researchers assert that over time, employers started to expect more hours of work from employees, but were willing to pay a premium for it — which is why men have consistently earned more.

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Cha and Weeden estimate that the “overwork effect” has been significant enough to counteract wage-equalizing factors, such as women earning more college degrees than men.

So why do fewer women embrace long hours like their male counterparts? The researchers suggest it’s because women are still expected to shoulder most of the burden for housework and child care. “[E]ssentialist beliefs about female caregiving continue to be a dominant cultural ideology even among people who endorse gender egalitarianism,” write Cha and Weeden.

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Still, if you’re paid less than your male colleagues, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Start by reading our guide to getting paid what you’re worth or our how-to on asking for a raise.

Tags: careers
   
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