The Gender-Related Wage Gap You Haven't Heard About

We all know that women earn, on average, less than men in equivalent positions. But it turns out that there’s another wage gap related to gender: Men who have egalitarian attitudes toward gender roles earn less than men with traditional attitudes. This is the finding of an article that was reported last year in the Journal of Applied Psychology. I recently became aware of this article as part of the research I’m doing for a book about nontraditional careers. (You can find a summary of the study at the Washington Post site.)

The researchers, Timothy A. Judge and Beth A. Livingston (both at the University of Florida), based their findings on responses they collected from a subset of young people enrolled in the 1979 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (NLSY79), a panel study administered by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor. Many of their findings were not at all surprising: for example, that people who were more educated, were more intelligent, and who had spent more time living in cities, outside of the South, and in the Northeast were less likely to hold traditional beliefs about gender roles. Those raised in a religious household and in the South were more likely to hold traditional beliefs.

The surprising findings were that men with traditional gender-role attitudes earn more (an average of $11,930 per year) than egalitarian men. They earn an average of $14,404 more than traditional women. You may be thinking that these differences result because the tradition-minded men are in male-dominated jobs, but in fact these wage comparisons are based on workers in the same kinds of jobs, with the same levels of education, working the same number of hours per week. The largest earnings difference was between the traditional men and all three other groups (i.e., egalitarian men, egalitarian women, and traditional women).

Why are the tradition-minded men earning so much more, if the four groups of workers are truly comparable? One possible explanation the researchers posit is that the traditional men negotiate their earnings more aggressively; their expectations are higher, so they end up commanding higher wages. The converse would then be true for the traditional women and, the researchers speculate, these women’s low expectations end up dragging down average wages for all women, including those who are egalitarian.

Another explanation they suggest is that employers may be tradition-minded, less comfortable with nontraditional men and with women workers, and therefore likely to pay them less.

I speculate that perhaps part of the difference may be caused by some specific aspects of the traditional men’s work that the researchers did not capture—for example, these men may be attracted to high-paying work specializations not identified by the occupational classification used in the study or to a worksite climate that is hospitable to their traditional outlook.

If this phenomenon is caused by the choices of the traditional men—for aggressive salary negotiations or for certain work specializations—then there’s hope for nontraditional and female workers to make similar choices and earn better pay. However, not all workers will be able to be equally aggressive and not all will be able to get into the high-paying specializations. On the other hand, if the difference in pay is caused by employers’ attitudes, there is less that an individual can do to counteract the tendency, but the long-term trend of increasingly egalitarian attitudes will eventually benefit all nontraditional and female workers.

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