Last week a quiet article in the Washington Post almost slipped right by me in my preoccupation with the latest bank buyouts and the off-again, on-again presidential debates. But the economic news in this article is worth a second glance.
According to a study recently published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, “Men with egalitarian attitudes about the role of women in society earn significantly less on average than men who hold more traditional views about women’s place in the world.” The study looked at people in four groups, men with traditional gender beliefs, men with egalitarian gender beliefs, women with egalitarian beliefs and women with traditional beliefs. (For shorthand, the authors of the study used “women belong in the home” as a definition of a traditional belief.)
The wages of these groups pretty much followed that order, with traditional men making the most and traditional women making the least. Egalitarian men made slightly more than egalitarian women.
“Sure,” I thought to myself, “men with traditional gender ideas are corporate executives and women with traditional gender ideas are stay-at-home-moms. Of course it shakes down like this.” But the study looked at people in all four categories who, regardless of their beliefs, held similar jobs with similar organizations and had similar educations and experience and were working similar hours. This is about differing pay for the same work, not differing choices about work itself.
The study posits a few theories about how this could happen, some of which include employer attitudes and the possibility of discrimination against feminists of any gender. I was tempted to throw my support behind the theory that men with traditional gender ideas feel most entitled to make lots of money and women with traditional gender ideas feel least entitled. The men at the top are probably negotiating harder for better pay than the women at the bottom or anyone in between.
maybe so, but personal experience sheds light on other possibilities, too.
I once took a half-time job in an office for $20 per hour and was thrilled to get it. It was almost double what I was making in my retail job at the time. After six months of work, I was asked to train a new hire in the same job. He and I became great friends. Though he was twice my age, he was two years behind me in the same graduate school program and we had previously known of each other, but not known each other well.
One day over a sushi lunch splurge we were commiserating over how hard it was to live in the city on our pay. “Yeah, he sighed, $25 per hour at half-time just isn’t enough to make ends meet.” Subsequent investigation led me to find that he had not negotiated for better pay than me. He had been offered more at his interview. All I could determine was that my employer assumed a middle-aged white man wouldn’t work for less than $25 per hour, while he assumed I’d happily take $20.
I’d like to say I told my coworker about the discrepancy and we both stormed the boss’s office demanding justice. But I didn’t. I acted like a girl, got embarrassed and spent three weeks worrying about what to do. By the time I had worked up the courage to confront my boss, my coworker and I had been downsized out of our jobs anyway.
Lesson learned? Ask for more, girls. And feminist men? Talk salaries with your female coworkers. The Powers That Be want salary talk to be taboo for one reason: divide and conquer. Traditional-minded women: Wherever you’d prefer to be, if you are working outside the home, make sure you are fairly paid. You deserve every penny that man next to you is getting, most especially if you are sacrificing what you’d rather be doing to make ends meet in your family.