• Mama PhD

    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.


Math Geek Mom: Equal Pay Day

Lingering inequities.


April 6, 2017

When I recently taught hypothesis testing in my Statistics class, I pointed out to the students that, while in some situations, we may want to be able to reject a hypothesis by finding evidence that a mean is either higher or lower than a hypothesized value, it is often the case that we approach our test with an idea of which direction in which we expect to see deviation. For example, I told them, does anyone think that, when we test to see if women’s wages are different from men’s, that we expect to see that women’s wages are higher than men’s? Almost everyone saw my point.

I thought of this interchange when I learned of Equal Pay Day that was held this past Tuesday. This is the day on which a woman who worked full time last year will actually catch up and earn what a man working full time earned the previous year. Note that the year ended for the man on December 31st, but currently ends for a woman on April 4th.

Always frustrated with the existence of a wage gap between groups of workers, I pulled out my old Labor Economics textbook and skimmed it for some explanation as to why this gap persists. I couldn’t help but notice that some of the reasons listed for such a gap included reasons that might well exist in higher education, especially when examining the issue of how little adjunct professors are paid.

Women might be overrepresented in low paying occupations and underrepresented in high paying ones.

Indeed, I wondered, how many of the adjunct positions at our college are filled by women?

Even in the same occupations, women tend to earn less than men. This might be because they invest less in higher education, due to a smaller focus on careers.

However, as anyone who watches admissions patterns at colleges knows, these days, women are better educated than men

Women average fewer hours of market work per week.

Presumably, this is so that they can take on extended childcare duties.

Women may interrupt their work history more than men.

This last reason given for why women are paid less led me to a study by the Pew Research Center. As you might guess, it seems that women are less likely to value advancement in their careers and more likely to value flexibility that would allow them more time with their families.

Intrigued by some of the explanations of why women might be paid less than men, I had my Statistics students test some of these hypotheses, using (an old version) of the GSS data set. This data set is collected to monitor the changing attitudes of citizens of the United States, and includes many interesting questions that are put to use by Statistics teachers all over the country. I love the fact that it has, over the years, included such off-beat questions as “do you like country music?” and “what is your zodiac sign?” Alas, the zodiac sign is correlated with very few things, other than the month a responder was born.

While not serious empirical work, I had the students test to see if, in this data set, men work more hours than women. Indeed, they did. However, when looking for differences in education, there was no difference. Which made me wonder; were the men working more than the women because they were being paid more for their time?

Within higher education, as within all sectors of the economy, I know that people often make choices that reflect their personal preference for work/life balance. This may end up costing those making the decision, as very competitive academic settings may be less welcoming to those juggling parental duties. As long as women are seen as the primary providers of parenting, I suspect that such a divide in pay will continue to exit.

I know that I have made career choices based on my desire to parent, and so I want to leave my readers with a question. Have you made such labor market choices that may have affected your pay, either in the short run or in the long run? And if so, are you happy with those choices?





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