A brief personal observation on the pay gap

New census data indicates that, on average, white men with a four year degree earned, on average, more than any other catagory. Women generally earned less than men, but white women earned less than black and asian women (and slightly more than hispanic women). No one is sure why this is the case.

What’s odd is that that last night I was having a conversation with my wife which has some relevance on this. While one anecdote is hardly the basis for public policy, I’d be interested in knowing whether any of the xtant research has explored this issue . . .

My wife is a pharmacist at a bankrupt hospital. As a result, the hospital hasn’t raised salaries for several years and has tried to cut back on overtime. Since there is a general shortage of pharmacists, disgruntled pharmacists can move on to (literally) greener pastures. Some have, making the load on the remaining pharmacists increasingly difficult.

So my wife tells me that a real moral buster has been that when pharmacists say they are leaving, they get offered more money to stay. And some take it and stay, making the ones whose pay is not raised more annoyed.

This astonished me. As someone who left a high-paying private sector job for public interest land, I understand about not making salary the bottom line. But if someone doing the same work negotiated a better deal for himself or herself, I’d demand the same money or start looking elsewhere.

So I asked my wife why she didn’t demand a higher salary or threaten to leave. Her response was that she did not want to punish her supervisor for something not her fault.

O.K., now I was really confused. What do you mean punish your supervisor? This is a financial negotiation, right? You gave a raise to Pharmacist X, I want the same raise.

After some more conversation, I established the following facts:

1) The pharmacy will not raise pay unless you are leaving.

2) Everyone, male or female, gets offered a pay raise to stay.

3) Only men are interested in changing their minds. Once women decide to leave, and have another offer in hand, they just go.

4)Women pharmacists are much less likey then men to look for another job.

Some more conversation led me to some tenative hypotheses which I would love to see researched.

1) Women, moreso than men, see jobs and job conduct in terms of personal relationships and rewards rather than as a pure financial transaction. Yes, men do care about workplace relationships, quality of work, etc. But they are less likely to view a salary negotiation as a personal matter.

By contrast, from my own limited observations, women are much more likely to view job pay and performance as personal reflections and to regard a small reward as sufficient if it reflects a real merit raise. Similarly, my very limited observation is that women are much less likely to leave or demand an increase in salary if they perceive that their efforts are truly essential to the continued success of the business or of a respected individual. Men are much more likely to use the dependence to leverage higher salary.

2) My limited observation also supports a view that once women decide to leave, however, they are personally invested in that decision. Money may be a part of the decision, but it is not the only deciding factor. Therefore, an offer to increase salary is unlikely to persuade a woman who has decided to leave to stay. By contrast, it may very well persuade a man to stay.

Most of the social research I’ve seen has to do with aggressiveness and a willingness to demand what women think they are worth in the marketplace. But from what I’ve seen, most starting salaries for men and women are comparable. The salary gap becomes an issue over time. I suspect it has less to do with aggression per se and more to do with differences between how many and women regard a collaborative work enterprise.

3) What is also interesting is that fewer women leave then men. Is this a loyalty issue? A fear of change? Greater inertia? The prevalence of advertisements and headhunters that aggressively call pharmacists even at work makes it very unlikely that women pharmacists are unaware of higher paying work elsewhere. So why do women stay longer, particularly when they see male pharmacists get rewarded for threatening to leave?

Is anyone aware of any good research on this. Most of the research I’ve seen takes very little empirical data (the salary gap) and then spins all sorts of social theories. But if we have the wrong _reason_ for the persistence of the salary gap, we are never going to solve it. Instead of assertiveness training designed to make women tough negotiators, it may be better to focus on career counseling that uses benchmarks and encourages women to think of their supervisors as boses rather than friends.

Just wondering . . .


  1. I found myself wondering about that article too. One essential detail not provided is how they accounted for experience — are they comparing men and women (and whites and blacks and Asians) generally, or are they comparing men with X years’ experience to women with X years’ experience and so on?

    Anecdotally, I observe that my husband and I, both in software, tend to be invested in the decision to leave — but this may be a function of the field. Neither of us has ever been offered money to stay; it seems as if it’s just not done in our part of the sector. Also, I at least have the impression that once you’ve demonstrated a willingness to leave, it’s only a matter of time before they push you out (at the next layoff, for instance). So when it’s time to leave you just leave. I haven’t personally observed gender differences in this, but my data is limited.

    I, too, would be interested in seeing more research in this area. Specifically, I wonder if the following two items are true and related: (a) you can increase your salary more through a job change than a raise, and (b) men are more likely to change jobs.

  2. Your points are all very good. I’m never sure if the lost details are a result of the nature of news coverage or because of the nature of the survey. Would be nice to have the time to make a serious inquiry.

    Good seeing you and Dani for Purim!

  3. I tend to assume that more data is collected than reported but that sufficient data probably isn’t collected. Pessimism reigns. 🙂

    I’m glad we got to visit for Purim/Shabbat!

  4. A great deal of what I have achieved in negotiations is a result of urging by my wife. I am grateful, but am still tempted to think of this as "The Macbeth Effect." The implication would be that men make more because they tend to be married to women. It seems like it ought to be possible to compare the salaries and negotiation success of gender A who are married to gender B vs those married to gender A.

  5. To the end comment citing gender a/b etc., it is relevant to note that homosexuals have, on average, higher salaries than heterosexuals in general.

    It is also scary to note that homosexuals on average are one standard deviation of IQ higher than heterosexuals, and transexuals two standard deviations.

    The gendering of the brain seems to suggest that men are better with spatial information, and women better with referential. Within the brain a male moves information between the lobes more efficently, and the female moves information within the lobes individually.

    Whenever you get into gender you sink into overwhelming complexity.

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