Gender Wage Gap Deconstructed

Earlier this week, we linked to a graph of the wage gap by gender by NPR’s Planet Money that showed the variation in the size of the gender wage graph by occupation. In some professions, women face a much lower average wage than the average wage of men in that job, compared to other occupations that are have more equitable average wage levels between women and men. Before we start marching down the streets (which we totally should do), it’s important to understand the dynamics behind the persistence of the gap in earnings between women and men over time. With the Paycheck Fairness Act in the news, we should all have our angry feminist lady economist talking points prepared.


According to a fact sheet by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, women tend to work in female-dominated occupations and men tend to work in male-dominated occupations. Not coincidentally, female-dominated occupations tend to be paid less than male-dominated occupations. Furthermore, the gender wage gap exists to some degree in all of these occupations. So maybe we should have a serious public discussion about how gender cognitive schema affects how we value certain types of work. A concept put forth in economics by Professor Julie Nelson, this means that we unconsciously connect gender to valuation. At its simplest level, feminine means bad and masculine means good. It plays out in economic theory when we think of something rigid (masculine) being good and something soft (feminine) being bad. In the labor market, it means that jobs that are typically associated with men are viewed as deserving of better pay than those typically associated with women – like truck drivers earning more than secretaries and janitors earning more than home health aides. Of course there are many other factors at play, like perhaps women not being able to negotiate for higher wages and the difficulty in accounting for the value produced economy-wide by the caring professions that women typically do like elementary school teachers and social workers, but that is for a future post.

The Paycheck Fairness Act is a start to the discussion of why there is a persistent gender wage gap in the U.S., but really only a start. If nothing else, it’s great that at least we’re acknowledging that women are paid less in some systemic way and this is no good. Maybe passing the Paycheck Fairness Act will help to start changing our cultural attitudes toward gender-biased valuation of types of work.

But also, let’s get on the streets, ladies.



Categories: Angry Feminists, Economisses, Girl Math, Legislation, These United States, Women at Work

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4 replies


  1. Has the Gender Revolution Stalled, or Hit a Wall? « Lady Economist
  2. Can Breadwinner Moms Just Pay 77% for Their Groceries? « Lady Economist
  3. Feminist Economics Syllabus « Lady Economist
  4. Online Feminist Economics Resources | SOAS Gender Report

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