ADVANCE Weekly Roundup: Chicken or the Egg: Is pay in a field low because women enter it or because women tend to prefer lower paying jobs?

We recently acknowledged March 15th as equal pay day, the date when women’s pay for the prior year finally equals what men earned. In other words, women must work 2-½ months longer to make the same amount and Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous women have to work even longer. Why? A popular explanation is that women are attracted to lower paying fields. This is a logical fallacy. Research in 2016 found that “when women moved into occupations in large numbers, those jobs began paying less even after controlling for education, work experience, skills, race, and geography.” These include STEM fields, such as biology.

Conversely, as fields attract more men, pay increases and the field gains prestige (e.g. computer programming) as noted in this and another extensive analysis. In academia, as women increased from 14% to 42% of faculty, the average salaries of new assistant professors fell by 8% in that field according to England et al 2007. Additional research has tracked attitudes, showing that as the number of women increases in a field, that field becomes labeled as “soft” (Summary, Light 2022) and “men become markedly less interested in pursuing a career in that field of study” (England 2007). This research culminates in “substantial evidence that employers placed a lower value on work done by women.” At Tech, we can counter this pervasive societal gender bias by directly examining how we value (with communication, recognition, and compensation) the work of our talented women faculty.

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