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NCFM Adviser Richard Driscoll, PhD, “Behind the Gender Pay Gap”

September 3, 2015


psychologist and authorBehind the Gender Pay Gap

At the recent Iowa State Fair gathering, candidate Carly Fiorina was asked if she for equal pay for equal work. She answered yes, of course, and turned to singe Hillary Clinton for advocating equal pay but not practicing it with her own staff. The equal pay issue promises to be a hot one, and it will continue well beyond the presidential election.

Almost all of us have surely heard that women are paid somewhere around 78 cents for every dollar that men earn. On the surface, the obvious point is that women earn less than men for the same amount of productivity, which sounds blatantly unfair and screams out for justice. But the actual reasons women earn less may not be prejudice at all but simple market features, which are too easily overlooked.

In Why Men Earn More, Warren Farrell identifies a game-changing 25 reasons: including men working more hours on jobs (while women work more at home), having more hazardous jobs (construction, farming, military), more overnight travel, harsher working conditions, and more technical tasks, for starters. He concludes that men’s jobs lead to men earning more money; while women’s jobs lead to women having better lives. Other analyses have arrived at much the same conclusion.[1] [2]

So far, these reasons are mainly personal choices. Are there other reasons?

Women are being encouraged to enter the so-called STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) but remain a minority there. Harvard president Lawrence Summers wondered aloud if males might be innately more talented in these fields, and feminists and the so-called liberal faculty considered the question so improper that Summers chose to resign rather than continue against the angry opposition.

A 2012 study in Science tracked the careers of several thousand University scientists over almost 20 years, and found what we would expect it to find. 13% of the men scientists earned or contributed to patents, as compared to just 6% of the women scientists.[3] Thus, on this one broad measure, the average man scientist produced about twice what the average woman scientist produced.

According to Gallup polling beginning in the mid-fifties, Americans have shown a consistent preference for working for men over working for women. A recent 2014 poll finds that 33% of us would rather work for a man vs. 20% would rather work for a woman.[4] So among those with a preference, that is a relatively strong 65% who prefer men bosses. (46% says it the gender does not matter).

All this can be considered as bias, and usually is, but more plausible explanations are available. If you were hiring an engineer, and all you knew is that candidates with green eyes tended to be about twice as productive as those with blue eyes, would you not be tempted to give preference to one with green eyes? Would that be bias, or common sense?

Given that complimenting men on anything is now considered bias against women, is there nonetheless any reason to suspect that men tend to be easier to work for? A share of those who prefer men bosses say that women tend to be more easily offended and more emotional when things go wrong, while men tend to be less emotional and clearer about what one must do to resolve the situation.

Equal pay for equal productivity is clearly sensible, but it requires us to figure out what makes pay unequal and what we mean by equal productivity. Is that too much to ask?


Richard Driscoll, PhD, is a psychologist and author of Would You Meet Me Halfway?”


[2]. Marty Nemco, Why Men Earn More.

[3]. Paul Basken, Women scientists lag far behind men in patents, study says. The Boston Globe. Aug 4, 2006

[4]. Rebecca Riffkin, Americans still prefer a male boss to a female boss. See also: www/

National Coalition for MenPay gap? How about child support, alimony, spending 85% of every discretionary dollar… how do those things apply; or, do they?

Very little of the “pay gap” is do to blatant sex discrimination, and it works both ways.

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