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The Gender Pay Gap Really Exists and Here's Why

Updated on April 17, 2017
According to a study, in 2013 women earned 78 cents for every dollar earned by men
According to a study, in 2013 women earned 78 cents for every dollar earned by men

There's often an argument over whether a gender pay gap exists. Or it's argued that yes it exists but there are perfectly reasonable explanations for it. One argument being that men are more likely to enter high paying professions than women.

But a study by researchers at the Yale School of Public Health and Vanderbilt University Medical Center found that even in a female dominated field like nursing, women make less than men. Male nurses made on average $5,100 more per year than female nurses. The largest disparity was among nurse anesthetists. Male nurse anesthetists made $17,290 more on average per year than female nurse anesthetists.

One of the researchers said there may be multiple reasons including women leaving the workforce to raise children, an attempt to diversify nursing by attracting more men, and men being better at salary negotiation. However she also said another reason may be a:

“lingering bias that a man is more of an expert because he’s a man.”

And there is evidence to back up this claim that men may get paid more because they're thought to be more competent than equally qualified females.

What Does The Gender Wage Gap Actually Look Like?

Corinne Moss-Racusin, from Skidmore College, carried out research that looked into gender bias in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. Researchers sent out identical resumes to faculty at academic institutions. The only difference was that some resumes had the name John and others Jennifer. They asked more than 100 STEM professors to assess the resumes, randomly assigning some Jennifer's resume and others John's resume.

"Despite having the exact same qualifications and experience as John, Jennifer was perceived as significantly less competent. Because they perceived the female candidate as less competent, the scientists in the study were less willing to mentor Jennifer or to hire her as a lab manager. They also recommended paying her a lower salary. Jennifer was offered, on average, $4,000 per year (13%) less than John."

And it wasn't just men who were at fault. Even female faculty preferred John's resume.

Bias against girls is common in elementary, middle and high schools
Bias against girls is common in elementary, middle and high schools

And these biases start long before women reach the workforce. The feminist blog titled their article on a bias related story Girls Outscore Boys on Math Tests, Unless Teachers See Their Names. The story referred to an Israeli study that compared the math scores of boys and girls in 6th grade through high school. The students were given math tests that were graded by teachers who knew their names and by people who didn't know the identities of the students. The boys did better when graded by teachers who knew their names. The girls did better on the anonymously graded tests. This differences in grading did not occur for subjects like English and Hebrew.

"The researchers concluded that in math and science, the teachers overestimated the boys' abilities and underestimated the girls', and that this had long-term effects on students' attitudes toward the subjects."

The assumption that boys are better and more competent at math likely meant the boys earned more partial credit for mistakes than girls did.

John Oliver humorously addresses the gender pay gap

This is true in Science teaching as well. A study by the National Association for Research in Science Teaching found that:

"Teachers call on boys more often than girls, ask boys more higher-order questions, give boys more extensive feedback, and use longer wait-time with boys than girls...Girls are rarely chosen to give a demonstration or help with an experiment....The proportion of teacher attention given to boys increases as the students move from elementary to junior and senior high school."

Again, these biases are found among both male and female teachers. These biases aren't always consciously held. Often teachers and employers are unaware that they are favoring males over females or white people over people of color. Educators and employers need to trained to recognize and overcome their biases to ensure they're treating everyone equally. And this is good for business. According to the US News article Proof grows that female executives bring bigger profits, but businesses still slow to act:

"In a survey last year of 366 companies, consultancy McKinsey & Co. found that those whose leadership roles were most balanced between men and women were more likely to report financial returns above their national industry median."

Companies with diverse customer bases benefit when they have diverse employees and executives.

Another reason for the gender pay gap is that employers who see men as assertive or go-getters when they ask for a raise or a higher starter salary, may see women as demand or pushy.

"Contrary to conventional wisdom, researchers say it can hurt women to ask for more money. That's because when women do request either a raise or a higher starting salary they are more likely than men to be perceived as greedy, demanding or just not very nice."

And again, it's not just men who are guilty of holding these kinds of biases.

"...both male and female supervisors can have these negative feelings about women when they ask for more money. And that can hold back women's careers—either because they don't get as much money, or because they do but they endure the repercussions of not being very well-liked."


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    • Learn Things Web profile image

      Learn Things Web 2 years ago from California


      That's a great point. It isn't logical at all.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      Hi, and the bias is also not logical, purely for the fact that, if a girl gets the job, surely they believe she can do it? so why pay her less? if they think she can't do it, then why employ her in the first place? makes no sense! great article, and yes makes me so mad!