Heather Boushey "talks with economist Claudia Goldin about the gender wage gap and some of its implications
A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter“—and I love the title of that—you argue that the gender wage gap cannot be explained by differences in productivity between men and women. Instead, when we look at occupations, we see that there is a price paid for flexibility in the workplace. ... Can you tell me a little bit more about this result?
Claudia Goldin: So the key finding is that there is a gender wage gap. But the question is why? We know from lots of people’s work that we used to be able to squeeze a lot of the gap away due to differences in education—differences in your college major, whether you went to college or not, whether you have a Ph.D., an M.D., whatever. We were also able to squeeze a lot away on the basis of whether you had continuous work experience or not.
Today, we are not able to squeeze much away. In fact, women on average have more education than men. The quantities [of women with college degrees] are higher, and even the qualities [of degrees] aren’t that much different anymore. And the extent of past labor force participation is pretty high. Lifecycle labor force participation for women is very, very high. So we can’t squeeze that much away anymore.
What’s also really striking is that, given lots of factors such as an individual’s education level, many occupations have very large gender gaps and some occupations have very small gender gaps. Looking at occupations at the higher part of the income spectrum, which is also the higher part of the education spectrum — so occupations where about 50 or 60 percent of all college graduates are—we see that the biggest gaps are in occupations in the corporate and finance field, in law, and in health occupations that have high amounts of self-employment. And the smallest gaps are found in occupations in technology, in science, and in lots of the health occupations where there is a very low level of self-employment.
That’s sort of a striking finding.
Then when we dig deeper and look at particular occupations—in law, for example, and in the corporate and finance field—we see a couple of things. We see that differences in hours have very high penalties even on a per hour basis. Differences in short amounts of time off have very high penalties, unlike in other fields. And many of the differences occur at the event of or just after the event of first birth. So there is something that looks like women disproportionately, relative to men, are doing something different after they have kids.
When we look at men and women in the finance and corporate fields who haven’t taken any time off and among the women who don’t have kids, we find that the differences are really tiny. So those are the differences that are coming about, not surprisingly, from the fact that women are valuing predictability, and flexibility, and many other aspects of the job that many men are not valuing.
So, looking at data for the United States, we find that this change from being an employee, a worker, and a professional, to being an employee, a worker, a professional, and a parent has a disproportionate impact on women.
Now one might say, isn’t that because the United States has really lousy coverage in terms of parental leave policy, and in terms of subsidized daycare? Well, there are two very interesting papers, one for Sweden and one for Denmark. Both countries have policies that are just about the best in the world...
And women are moving into occupations that have more flexibility, but they are working fewer hours and getting less per hour. And the same sorts of things are going on even in countries that have incredibly good parental leave policies, subsidized daycare, schools that appear to us to be better, and what we think of as social norms that are better. ...