What is behind the “gender pay gap” that bothers people committed to absolute equality between men and women? Is it the result of discrimination against women on the part of employers? Or is it simply a product of the career choices women and men make and the different hours they work? Maybe neither. New evidence from a long-running study in the United States indicates that it might not even be a gender gap in the first place, but a values gap: a gap between men who believe women and men have different roles in society — and everyone else.
The study, published in the September issue of the Journal of Applied Psychology, is based on information collected by a federal government survey. The Labour Department’s National Longitudinal Survey of Youth began tracking 12,000 people in 1979 when they were 14 to 22 years old. These workers are now 43 to 51 years old. The researchers divided them into four groups according to their evolving views on whether a woman’s place is in the home and whether it is better for men to be the only breadwinners: men with traditional attitudes, men with egalitarian attitudes, women with traditional attitudes, and women with egalitarian attitudes. They then compared the average salaries over 25 years for people in each group doing the same kinds of jobs, with the same levels of education and putting in the same hours per week.
The differences they found were substantial. Men with traditional attitudes about gender roles earned $14,404 more than women with traditional attitudes. But they also earned $11,930 more a year than egalitarian men, and $13,352 more than egalitarian women. In other words, the bulk of the gap is between two groups of men who are similar except in their attitude to gender roles.
The researchers suggest two explanations. Traditional-minded men might negotiate much harder for better salaries, especially when compared with traditional-minded women. Or, employers might discriminate against women and men who do not subscribe to traditional roles. The latter theory would need some explaining in today’s environment where equality laws and a shortage of skilled workers would make employers blind to gender-role values. But the former theory seems plausible: men who are supporting a wife and probably children are certainly motivated to maximise their earnings, as other studies have shown. ~ Washington Post, Sep 22