saved by the bellDid you know that it is 2011 and women earn only $0.80 for every $1 a man pulls down? What kind of chauvinistic 21st century society are we living in? To quote Jessie from Saved by the Bell, “Men are pigs.”

Maybe not.

While this is true, men may not be the pigs we expect. Statistics like the one above are cited all the time, but are misinterpreted. The biggest problem is people assume that women earn 80% of what men earn for the same job. Not so. Women on average earn less. But women, on average, work in lower paying jobs too. Let’s think of some typical high paying jobs. Doctors, lawyers, President of the United States, etc. These are male dominated careers. Likewise women seem to own the teacher and nurse markets which pay considerably less. And there’s never been a female president. Men also dominate the business landscape which offers lucrative payouts.

If it were that simple we wouldn’t really talk about this though. One could argue that in areas like business there is still discrimination. Women don’t get promoted and so they don’t end up in the high paying jobs. While it’s true women don’t get promoted as often, it may not be due to sexism.

Women are held back professionally by genetics (go ahead, take it out of context). No they aren’t genetically inferior, but they are wired to make babies. Men are not. Since most men and women get married and have children, most women fall into the career trap that is a family. More often than not, this restrains the mother professionally more than the father. Many women stay at home to raise their kids, if even for a few years. This is enough time to set them back professionally, explaining some of the gap.

Even if the mother goes straight back to work, the traditional mother role in a family eats into time that could go into professional development. They aren’t called soccer dads, and mom is typically the one driving the minivan. While mom shuttles the kids from school to practice, dad is out making deals and improving his professional network.

Is that sexism? I don’t think so. I suspect most family dynamics form around these expected roles. It’s pretty much understood that I’ll probably be the primary breadwinner in my family. Likewise, my wife expresses interest in staying home with kids for at least a few years. We aren’t forcing these roles on each other. Perhaps society is, but we both feel like these are the things we want to do. And in most families the roles are probably defined in a similar fashion.

This is one of those topics I find most interesting. No matter what laws are passed to support equal opportunity employment, the different roles of the sexes will always create some level of pay gap. And there are subtle elements too. Men take more risks, in finance this reaps greater potential payouts. Men are also more aggressive in negotiations, so they are more likely to push for greater pay. You could find that a man and woman work the same job but the man makes more simply because he is more likely to ask for a raise.

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categories: business, jobs, personal finance