Harvard economist: Gender is at the root of the pay gap -- not jobs

The GOP needs to stop claiming that women are paid less because they "choose" low pay

Published April 23, 2014 6:06PM (EDT)

  (<a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/gallery-635842p1.html'>Shots Studio</a> via <a href='http://www.shutterstock.com/'>Shutterstock</a>/Salon)
(Shots Studio via Shutterstock/Salon)

A labor economist from Harvard University has concluded, after a significant amount of research and data analysis, that the gender pay gap is real. (She's in good company.)

Do you think it will convince the Republican Party to change its mind about the existence of wage disparities between men and women within the same profession?

Yeah, me neither. But the rest of us can look at the conclusions Dr. Claudia Goldin garnered from her research and understand that -- contrary to a popular Republican talking point about women "choosing" lower pay -- a majority of the gender pay gap is a product of pay inequities within occupations, not salary disparities between different professions and fields.

“There is a belief, which is just not true, that women are just in bad occupations and if we just put them in better occupations, we would solve the gender gap problem,” Goldin told Claire Cain Miller at the New York Times.

More from the Times:

Rearranging women into higher-paying occupations would erase just 15 percent of the pay gap for all workers and between 30 percent and 35 percent for college graduates, she found. The rest has to do with something happening inside the workplace.

Take doctors and surgeons. Women earn 71 percent of men’s wages — after controlling for age, race, hours and education. Women who are financial specialists make 66 percent of what men in the same occupation earn, and women who are lawyers and judges make 82 percent.

Here's the other interesting thing Goldin found: When it comes to narrowing this gap, "Lean In" just doesn't cut it.

While encouraging men to take a larger role in household and caretaking responsibilities is a good thing, Goldin argues that it's policies that allow for greater worker flexibility that go the longest way toward closing the pay gap.

“The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours,” according to a paper Goldin wrote this month in the American Economic Review.

You can read the rest here.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at kmcdonough@salon.com.

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