The Married Lady Economist Pay Penalty

Female professor giving lecture to the university classOf the thousands of papers presented at the Allied Social Science Association meetings last weekend (the hugest economics conference in the country and perhaps the world), one hit particularly close to him for me. Wendy Stock of the University of Montana and John Siegfried of Vanderbilt presented their findings that male economists experience a pay bump when married, whereas female economists experience a pay penalty when married. While I may not be the typical married female economist given that I have little ambition for an academic career after I finish my dissertation, it still depresses me to know that my lady colleagues are more likely to face less-than-equitable conditions on the academic job market if they try to combine those ever elusive dual goals of career and family.

Women earn less than men in nearly every occupation, regardless of whether it’s a female-dominated or male-dominated occupation. Being an economist is no different. Although the reasons that lead to these conditions may vary by occupation,  two common factors underneath it all is gender socialization and pay discrimination. One reason cited in the study for the pay gap among married economists is what the authors euphemistically refer to as “compromise” in a two-career family. The academic job market is difficult to navigate, where, unless you are a superstar, many need to balance choosing a location versus choosing an institution. So many of my brilliant friends have ended up in less-than-exciting locations in order to work at the best institution that offered them a position. This is even harder for a two-career married family, where one partner frequently follows the other and hopes for a joint-placement, but may end up teaching or working at an institution with a less than perfect fit. Guess which partner in a heterosexual relationship end up being the follower in these situations? Where my girls at? They are following their male partners, often resulting in decreased bargaining power or job fit, which both result in low pay.

I decided before even starting my PhD that I did not want to go into an academic career. Economics is one of the few academic fields whose doctoral students can go into many fields after graduation, including a fair amount of non-academic options. In addition to my interest in the work economists can do outside academia, I can’t deny that gender also played a role. Not going into academia means that I won’t have to face the grueling tenure-track process during years that are traditionally devoted to settling down and starting a family. My partner is not an economist or even an academic, so it’s not like I could swing a joint appointment if I looked for academic jobs. If I asked him to compromise in a two-career family, it’d mean unemployment for him instead of poor job fit. Academia is also very competitive, and after a lifetime of socialization as a woman, I often find intense competition exhausting to deal with on a regular basis. I could not be a wolf on Wall Street nor a wolf in a university economics department. But at the same time, my hesitance about facing the trials of female married academic economists might help me avoid the pay penalty experienced by many lady economists. Either way, gender socialization is prevalent in economics where success is supposedly based on merit and quantitative ability, just like too much of our society, and leads to women getting the short end of the stick despite intelligence, hard work and ambition.


Categories: Economisses, Women at Work

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