We all know a wage gap keeps women earning less than their male colleagues for doing essentially the same work. That wage gap persists even as more and more women attain advanced degrees, work in traditionally male-dominated professions and serve as the main breadwinners for their families.
A few groups of women make more money than most of us. Life is good for single gals in large cities, for example. Another, more surprising group is out-earning the masses: lesbians. The gap persists even when number of children is accounted for.
In many states, queer women still face legal discrimination and harassment in the workplace about their sexuality. They earn fatter paychecks than their straight sisters, though. Lesbians get paid about 6% than straight women in similar jobs. Why?
No one really knows. Presumably it’s not a soft spot for the Sapphic sisterhood on the part of employers everywhere. BoingBoing theorizes it might be that gay women negotiate more effectively for raises. There’s another intriguing theory over at The Big Think, where they hypothesize that straight women may put less into their careers because they expect that one day a man will take care of them. As they put it:
…if a woman believes that she will eventually be married to a man who earns a higher income than she does, then she has less to gain from investing in human capital that will give her an advantage on the labor market.
This theory was actually put to the test in a 2009 paper that examined wages for two groups of lesbians: those who had once been married to a man, and those who had not. The never-married lesbians do earn more than the once-married lesbians, which seems to support the theory. But even those lesbians with ex-husbands earned 5% more than straight women, so it doesn’t account for the entire wage premium.
Do you think gender and orientation played a role in your early career choices? They certainly shaped mine. I married young and had kids right away. Around the same time I was starting to take seriously the idea that money was a thing I should earn, I was also settling down with the man who would become my husband. More than a decade older than me, he has a PhD in chemistry and was working at a prestigious university. I took it for granted that he’d earn more than me, and probably always will. Those assumptions seemed specific to our particular relationship, but they also reflect broad biases throughout our culture.
What about you? Has your career been shaped by your relationships, or your expectations of what those relationships might mean for you financially?