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The Enduring Gender Gap in Pay

The Enduring Gender Gap in Pay
April 5, 2011

The gender gap in faculty pay cannot be explained completely by the long careers of male faculty members, the relative productivity of faculty members, or where male and female faculty members tend to work -- even if those and other factors are part of the picture, according to research being released this week at the annual meeting of the American Education Research Association.

When all such factors are accounted for, women earn on average 6.9 percent less than do men in similar situations in higher education, says the paper, by Laura Meyers, a doctoral candidate at the University of Washington. The finding could be significant because many colleges have explained gender gaps by pointing out that the senior ranks of the professoriate are still dominated by people who were rising through the ranks in periods of overt sexism and so are lopsidedly male, or that men are more likely than women to teach in certain fields that pay especially well.

Meyers found not only that gender-neutral characteristics do not explain away the gaps, but also that they may play out in some ways that benefit men more than women when it comes to faculty salaries -- even for women who are on similar career trajectories to men. A few other studies, praised by some and doubted by others, have also found pay gaps after adjusting for a range of factors -- and the Meyers work may add credence to them as well.

Meyers based her research on the 2004 National Study of Postsecondary Faculty, which includes extensive data on faculty members at two-year and four-year, public and private (nonprofit) colleges. Of all the faculty members in the survey, women earn an average full-time salary of $56,100, more than 18 percent less than the male average of $68,900.

Some of that gap is explained, Meyers notes, by the sorts of factors that have been used in the past to explain disparities. But her paper notes a variety of situations where men and women do not appear to fare the same financially -- even with comparable levels of experience, institutional homes and disciplines.

For instance, part of the gap is explained by women being more likely than are men to teach at institutions that value teaching over research -- and pay favors those at research universities. But women gain less of a pay bump than do men for working at research universities, even when controlling for other factors, Meyers found. This leaves women "essentially at a loss when trying to improve their salary through research orientated positions," she writes.

Some of the paper explores the applicability of "comparable worth" theory to academic jobs. That theory holds that some jobs are devalued precisely because women hold them, not because they requires fewer skills or less experience than do comparable jobs that tend to be held by men. Here, Meyers found "a significant and negative connection" between increases in the percentages of a discipline's faculty members who are women, and salary relative to other disciplines. (While the paper cites these and other trends as evidence that comparable worth theory may well apply, it cautions against expectations of applying the theory in lawsuits over salary gaps.)

By using information in the database about how faculty members use their time, Meyers also suggests that some activities that both men and women perform seem to have different results. For instance, men who spend significant time on professional service activities that are not based at their institution (say, working with a disciplinary group) do not see any negative impact on their salaries. Women, however, see a consistent, negative impact on their salaries from similar contributions to their professions.

Meyers argues in the paper that the presence of unexplained pay gaps by gender -- and of differential treatment of men and women who make similar choices about their careers -- should be cause for concern.

"Understanding and responding to gender wage gaps in the academy is critical for policymakers who are interested in ensuring that all faculty members are compensated in an equitable manner," she writes. "That fact that female faculty continue to experience a wage gap even after controlling for disciplinary and institutional characteristics, individual factors, human capital, principal activity and demographic factors is problematic. Faculty members should not be paid differently based on their gender."

 

 

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