Marriage & the Gender Pay Gap

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I won’t waste time in rehashing the overwhelming study data and anecdotal evidence that details the gender pay gap. What we do know is that women were paid 78 cents for every dollar a man was paid among full-time workers in 2013. We also know that women are less likely to ask for a raise than their male counterparts. Only one in four professional women asked for a raise over a 12-month period ending in 2013, according to a recent study .

One critical aspect of the gender pay gap that hasn’t received enough attention, however, is the fact that women earn roughly 90 percent of what men are paid until they reach the age of 35. After that benchmark, the pay gap dramatically increases on average. It’s no coincidence that age tends to be when marriage and children are the focal point of women’s personal lives.

A study of 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates by the Harvard Business Review details the trends that fork the career path for the sexes. The researchers debunk one prevalent theory – that many professional women leave work to care for their children only to return years later behind the curve – in noting that only 11 percent of the women involved in the study left the workforce to become stay-at-home moms.

The primary issue, it seems, is the role of the sexes when it comes to relationships and children. The study quotes one HBS alumna, in her mid-30s, as saying a significant factor is “deep-rooted attitudes that a woman should be the primary caregiver, so it is ‘understood’ that her career may have to take a backseat for a while as similar male colleagues move ahead at a more rapid pace.”

Upon leaving HBS, Generation X and Baby Boomer female subjects expected their careers to rank equally with the careers of their partners, while a majority of the male subjects expected their careers to take priority. As it turns out, reality failed to meet the women’s expectations, while surpassing the men’s expectations. Same goes with child-rearing responsibilities. Fifty percent of the Gen-X and Baby Boom women expected to take primary responsibility for raising their children, while the reality is that roughly 70 percent assumed that role. Roughly 80 percent of men expected their partners to take primary care of the kids; 86 percent of partners actually are.

The study concludes by making two critical points. First and foremost is that companies need to remove assumptions from their hiring processes. One subject told researchers that she had considered not wearing her wedding ring to job interviews to remove preconceived notions about her life stage. The second being that there is a significant gap not only in pay, but also in what men and women expect from their careers out of college and where they ultimately end up.

Professional women can learn a thing or two from female CEO types like Xerox’s Ursula Burns.

Disclaimer: I’m not a woman (and quite frankly, I’m frightened by most of the women I know) so accept the following commentary as coming from an uneducated source. It seems to me, however, that the current SAHM vs. Working Mom adversarial dynamic has in part stymied the ability for women to level the playing field. Women in the workforce are constantly reminded of their perceived failures as a mother by not staying at home with their children, while SAHMs are severely limited in future career prospects by removing themselves from the game for so long. Both are legitimate issues for the female sex, but instead of directing those concerns outward to improve the corporate landscape and make it more accommodating, the two groups often direct their ire at one another. By splitting the vote, in political lingo, the competition occurs within the fairer gender while men stay out of the way.

And while I’m aware the notion exists that men don’t care as much about the family dynamic and therefore remove themselves from the guilt that so often plagues working moms, the opposite is actually true. The difference, in my opinion, is that I’m able to go to work with a focus on providing for my family down the road. My kids are alive and well right now, in the present, and so my attention is on continuing that trend for the foreseeable future. There is minimal guilt draping my shoulders because I have an evolutionary desire to move forward. That probably speaks to why job loss hits so many men so incredibly hard.

My wife, on the other hand, is more concerned with the day-to-day activities of parenting and running our household. She’s far more capable at handling those responsibilities successfully and therefore I’m more willing to defer – which is admittedly a point of contention at times – but our approach to life and family works for us. I handle more of the long-term planning, while all too often stepping over toys in the hallway, and she keeps the rest of us engaged in daily life. Even though our roles seem rather defined, we’ve never divvied up responsibilities. Our collective goal is to provide for our family, so if that means long weekends as a solo parent for her when I’m traveling or a steady string of mornings with the kids for me so that she can get to the office early, then that’s what it takes.

It’s more about teamwork than anything. Gender roles be damned.

It also helps that I view my wife as my equal. For those of the masculine persuasion determined to carry on with the status quo, I have two words for you: good luck. As more scientific studies are devoted to the topic, the more we find that women hold an edge over their male counterparts when it comes to working in groups; i.e. collective intelligence. A team of MIT scientists recently found that “the average social sensitivity of group members, the equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, and the proportion of females” were the most important elements of smart groups. In other words, women are better at detecting tone and reading the mind, if you will, in addition to sharing ideas and brainstorming. Women already earn the majority of advanced degrees in our country and the correlation between income and education is well-documented.

When you add an inherent ability to provide more value in group settings… well, then maybe the men of business, those old curmudgeons of tailored suits and a disdain for the fairer sex, are right to cling desperately to the days of overt sexism. It may be their only hope.

photo credit: andertoons via photopin cc

Greg

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