It’s a common refrain in comments sections across the land: The pay gap is nothing more than a manifestation of the fact that women prefer low-paying occupations. Well, guess what? When women move en masse to a male-dominated field, paychecks wither.

At the New York Times, Claire Cain Miller slices the pay gap several different ways, looking at the many, many places subtle biases could be seeping into your salary. Research says that which fields women enter is one factor—but that choice isn’t necessarily made in a vacuum. “Some of it undoubtedly does represent the preferences of women, either for particular job types or some flexibility, but there could be barriers to entry for women and these could be very subtle,” said Cornell economist Francine D. Blau.

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Perhaps the most depressing study cited comes from a trio of researchers at NYU, UPenn, and the University of Haifa in Israel, who crunched census data from 1950 to 2000. They concluded that “when women moved into occupations in large numbers, those jobs began paying less even after controlling for education, work experience, skills, race and geography.” How could this possibly be?

And there was substantial evidence that employers placed a lower value on work done by women. “It’s not that women are always picking lesser things in terms of skill and importance,” [NYU sociology professor Paula] England said. “It’s just that the employers are deciding to pay it less.”

England added that once a bunch of women get into a field, “It just doesn’t look like it’s as important to the bottom line or requires as much skill,” and, “Gender bias sneaks into those decisions.” She and her co-researchers found example after example. Designers, housekeepers, biologists—the list goes on.

A striking example is to be found in the field of recreation — working in parks or leading camps — which went from predominantly male to female from 1950 to 2000. Median hourly wages in this field declined 57 percentage points, accounting for the change in the value of the dollar, according to Professor Levanon. The job of ticket agent also went from mainly male to female during this period, and wages dropped 43 percentage points.

So much for that bright idea to solve pay inequality.


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