The pay gap is painfully real

How about this for a revealing graphic? It’s a plot of average salaries for biology majors in a range of occupations, from airline pilots on the left (almost entirely male) to dental hygienists on the right (mostly female), and the gray dots and pink dots connected by lines show the relative salaries for men and women in the same job. Yikes — it turns out that being a gray dot means you get paid more money, no matter whether it’s a “female” job, or a “male” job.

I had to look hard to find exceptions to that rule. Women who are dishwashers or bank tellers get paid slightly more than their male counterparts. I wonder how much they use that biology degree in those jobs?

It’s a chicken-and-egg problem, says Michelle Ball, a career counselor at the University of Virginia. “Do teachers get paid less because the workforce is largely female, or is it that education is just underfunded and women are willing to go into it anyway?” she asked.

Even in such female-dominated professions as nursing or teaching, men are paid more. And the pay gap is even more severe for women of color: While college-educated white women earn only 55 percent of what college-educated white men do, college-educated non-white women earn even less.

I think we can answer that question from the graph: the proportions of men and women in a workforce doesn’t seem to matter at all, women will get paid less. How much less, and how badly screwed are people of color?

How can we change this? One cause of the difference is that the labor of raising a family falls almost entirely on women’s shoulders. We could fix that by changing the culture and having men share more of that labor (sheeyah, right), or employers could recognize that and adjust their practices to take it into account.

The labor of raising a family, then, is one of the biggest sources of divergent career paths for women and men who attain the same degrees. A recent U.K. study found that universities with generous maternity leave policies employed twice the number of women professors as those without, and a 2009 Center for Work-Life Policy survey found that among college-educated women who had left their careers, 69 percent said that they wouldn’t have done so if their companies had offered more flexible work options.

There are a whole lot of smart, ambitious women graduating from our biology program every year. Maybe employers should think more about what it takes to attract the best and brightest?


  1. jack16 says

    As a biologist you must know that that the “Chicken and Egg” conundrum does not exist. Since the ancestors of chickens laid eggs the egg came first! Try saying ambiguous.


  2. carlie says

    The title of the Bloomberg article is “Women lose out to men even before they graduate from college.” I just sat and stared just at the headline, more defeated and depressed than I’ve been in awhile. What’s even the point? How do we even advise students in this type of environment? Just.. fuck, man.

  3. iknklast says

    Some of the smartest students I’ve ever had in Biology are working at the local grocery store – but only if they are women. I never see my male students in places like that after they graduate (though many of them are working there during college). The ones that I see in the grocery stores are predominantly Agriculture graduates; our local Ag companies are saying they need more talented people and are having trouble attracting them. That may be because they are leaving some extremely talented people by the side of the road simply because they are women.

    I imagine their thinking (those hiring) would be something like this: I’m not a sexist myself, but I know this person would have to work with farmers, and farmers won’t take advice from a woman on what seed to buy (or what fertilizer regime is the best, or what the quality of their soil is….and so on).

  4. bargearse says

    iknklast @ 3

    I imagine their thinking (those hiring) would be something like this: I’m not a sexist myself, but I know this person would have to work with farmers, and farmers won’t take advice from a woman on what seed to buy (or what fertilizer regime is the best, or what the quality of their soil is….and so on).

    I work in the agricultural industry and I’ve heard that exact argument more than once from senior managers. The good news is most of those instances were early in my career, haven’t heard it for a while and the last guy I heard try it was publicly slapped down hard for it.

  5. says

    In regard to your question about how badly people of color are screwed, don’t people of color on average earn less than women in general? Both men and women of color?

  6. Les Dawson says

    Having a child is absolutely a matter of choice. If a woman has weighed the options and decided that she wants one (or 2, 3…) then she can go ahead and do so. Why should others within her company then have to subsidize her lifestyle choice by not only covering her extended absence, but also by then raising her post-child salary to what it might have been without the absence?

  7. carlie says

    Les – because men aren’t penalized in that way, that’s why. Family-friendly policies don’t just benefit people having babies, they benefit partners of people having babies, people who are caregivers to others with acute illnesses or chronic problems, etc.

    The real question is why do we allow companies to operate under business models that treat people like pieces of unbreakable machinery instead of human beings with lives? Why is that the default assumption? Here are other versions of your argument:
    Why should companies have to subsidize lifestyle choices by allowing workers to ever have days off? Why should companies have to subsidize lifestyle choices by allowing workers to ever go home?
    Why should companies be forced to subsidize lifestyle choices like “not being exposed to toxins at work” or “wanting to wear PPE around heavy equipment”?

    Seriously. “1890 sweatshop factory owner” isn’t a good look on you.

  8. says

    Yeah, funny how men’s decision to have a child isn’t penalized at all. Maybe if we had mandatory paternity leave — you are required as a decent human being to spend time with your wife and child — there’d be less stigma attached to women’s decision.

  9. Kevin Henderson says

    According to the link, occupational path for women (Biology): 1) Not working, 2) Doctor, 3) K-12, 4) Nurses, 5) Misc. Manager. For men (Biology): 1) Doctor, 2) Not working, 3) Physical Sciences, 4) Dentist, 5) Secondary Edu. Those career paths can explain the disparity in income.

    Are women being forced to make choices that put them in jobs that pay less? If married to a male, are the husbands of the women forcing them to choose jobs that pay less? If so, why would a husband do that?

  10. Les Dawson says


    1) Where does “your wife” come into this? Are you wanting to legislate that only married couples can have children?

    2) So now we are going to legislate for leave for two people per child? Other than what is medically necessary for recovery from the birth for the woman (clearly falls under medical leave), any additional, mandated leave should be given “to the child” as it were, to then be split between the two parents and used however they wish. And as for your comment “you are required as a decent human being to spend time with your wife and child”, well, that is just Puritanical meddling. Why the hell should the State be sticking its nose into family arrangements?

  11. iknklast says

    Kevin – when I was in my doctorate, one constant was that women rarely did post-docs. Whoever was paying the bills for the man (in my school, mostly their wives) supported their decision to continue earning less for several years while they got the necessary requirements to go on. I didn’t see any man get through their program while I was there; they were all busy doing research, traveling, writing papers, and parents/wives footing the bill. The women moved through at a faster pace, but this meant they had to sacrifice all those papers, research projects, and just get the dissertation research and a handful of papers from that…because parents/husbands, if any, were like, when are you going to get finished?

    I don’t know if this is the norm. I don’t want to extrapolate from one data point. It could be something about the environment of that particular area (it was in Texas), or it could be something common among women. Still, most of the women ended up with less of the goodies that would get them full professorships, and more of the background that would top them out as community college instructors, where teaching schedules are often too brutal to continue research and eventually move your way to the higher paid fields.

    In addition, I was an intern for an office doing wetland restorations during my masters. Every man who came into that office as an intern was offered a full time position when the internship ended. NOT ONE SINGLE WOMAN WAS HIRED FULL TIME. When my internship was up, there was a job available. I applied, and should have been the number one applicant because that’s how the system worked. The job posting disappeared, I received a letter that they were not going to be filling the position, and I moved on and found another (less satisfying, clerical level) job somewhere else. TWO DAYS after I left, the job was reposted. It was safe now. They hired a man who had years less education than I did, essentially zero experience (he had worked as a member of our field crew for 9 weeks), and did not meet the minimum requirements. But…he was a man. They hired women as interns and temps, because when people looked at the gender balance, they often don’t seem to look further than counting the number of men:women. So we looked good on paper, but none of those women had a future there. None of them had full benefits. None of them had a retirement. None of them had anything but hassle, because we were given the crap jobs and insulted by our peers. I had one guy sabotage his own project because he refused to allow me to train him, so he simply didn’t show up for the training. When the boss asked him about it, he said “there is nothing I can learn from a woman”. He remained in his position, and I got reprimanded for not managing to overcome his distaste for women, and for not anticipating that and preparing for it….

    Putting everything down to “women can choose what they want to do” is way too simplistic and overlooks a lot of reality. If I had my choice, I would still be restoring wetlands in southeastern Oklahoma. If I had been male, I would still be doing that. They would have moved heaven and earth to hire me even if no jobs were available, as they did for several others, most of whom put in much less actual effort at their jobs than the women being passed up. Why? Because…woman. I don’t know…maybe if I’d joined my bosses prayer group he kept inviting me to….nah, I’d still be a woman.

  12. anbheal says

    I’m guessing that when you say “average”, it’s mean versus median? Because I have a hard time believing that the average American man makes 95 grand a year. Add the modern CEOs into the mix, and sure, it might well be $250K “on average”, their $23 million per year tilting the mean upward. But I know a lot of college grads and grad-degree folks, clearly middle class to upper middle class, and most of them would be pleased at $95K. Sprinkle in the rest of humanity, and $95K can’t be a real figure for “average” white men’s income. Unless, ya know, wages had kept pace with productivity gains since Reagan took office.

  13. says

    #9: Note that the chart directly compares men and women in the same jobs, and men are consistently paid more.

    #10: the only Puritanical meddling here is this culturally enforced notion that only men should work, and that men must work.

  14. anbheal says

    @7 carlie — yeah, but it was my lifestyle choice to go skiing and break my leg, why should my co-workers have to pay for the cast via health insurance??? Oh wait, never mind, I bet that’s Les Dawson’s argument as well.

  15. Porivil Sorrens says

    Lmao, says a lot about a person, that they cant imagine why the state might have a vested interest in ensuring that children are brought up in healthy homes.

    If businesses aren’t willing to act towards the public good, I fully support the government forcing them to. The more regulations, the better.

    (I actually support the dissolution of privately-owned businesses as a whole, but that’s another conversation.)

  16. Kevin Henderson says

    Iknklast – That sounds pretty terrible. There are many stories similar to my experiences but they have more to do with the ambitious/aggressive people getting rewarded over people with greater merit. Regardless of race or gender. My wife is an engineer who often got paid less than women who worked less and made more errors and simply did not care but they were more ‘career oriented and extremely ambitious.

    For us, as a couple, I call it a choice to choose happiness and self-satisfaction over peer dominance and agressiveness.

  17. conradhicks says

    Yeah the only way I can see to resolve issues like this is to make male and female maternity/paternity leave equal and government funded, otherwise companies (especially smaller companies) will hire a man over a woman who may have a child and increase their costs. I worked in Norway for a while and they have a system similar to this, the parents are both eligible for a two-week leave and then they have approx. 11 months to split between them paid at 100%. I don’t see anyway you can make up for career promotions etc for either parent though, suggesting someone takes best part of a year off and then returns to work on a salary based on what it might have been without the leave is ridiculous. It is a choice at the end of the day- you don’t return from sick leave to a promotion do you. Fact is if you take time off to raise children (male or female) then its hardly fair on members of staff who don’t take the time off that you return to a promotion or equivalent pay rise is it?

  18. methuseus says

    Men absolutely do need to pull their weight in a relationship. Paternity leave should be the norm, as should maternity leave. I’m currently doing a lot so my wife can make it through school right now. I could probably do more, and my wife does tell me at times. More men need to be supportive of their spouses.

  19. chris61 says

    @18 conradhicks
    1. government (i.e. taxpayer) funded maternity and paternity leave. but

    I don’t see anyway you can make up for career promotions etc for either parent though, suggesting someone takes best part of a year off and then returns to work on a salary based on what it might have been without the leave is ridiculous.

    Sounds reasonable to me.

  20. says

    Even if you take time off, if you change employers you should catch up based on what you are capable of in the future. We seldom work for one company our whole lives which is where that mindset came from.

  21. conradhicks says

    @Chris I can’t tell if you’re agreeing or disagreeing with the second bit? I don’t see how you can be considered for a promotion if you’re not in work (and may not be for the best part of a year)? Seems a sure fire way to build resentment. Or have I misunderstood? Finding the right balance is tricky.

  22. chris61 says

    @22 conradhicks
    I agree. People who take extended leaves (for whatever reason) are always going to find themselves falling behind those who don’t.

  23. gary99 says

    Men are more productive than women and that’s why they earn more.

    Sorry you don’t like it, PZ, but that’s the reality.

  24. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    Gary99, no citation or link, therefore your assertion is dismissed without evidence…

  25. chigau (違う) says

    gary99 #24
    Men are more productive than women and that’s why they earn more.
    What do you mean by productive?
    Productive at what?

  26. Rowan vet-tech says

    Gary, care to explain how I, as a registered vet tech with 3 years licensed and an additional 9 years of experience was getting paid the same as the newly hired kennel attendant who was a guy?

    Even though I was doing things like dentistry, radiographs, inducing-monitoring-recovering anesthesia, etc? Both of us worked 40 hours a week.

  27. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    They work longer hours, get more stuff done etc.

    Repeated assertion without evidence, therefore dismissed as misogynist bullshit.
    Try showing what the evidence really says, not what your fallaciously believe it says….
    Example, Women are more productive.

  28. blf says

    There seems to be a steam shovel digging furiously here, very probably powered by a fear of cooties.

  29. chigau (違う) says

    What do you think will happen when PZ notices that you are here?

  30. Rob Grigjanis says

    gary99 @24: That certainly wasn’t my experience when I moved from academia to the corporate world. The men managers were very territorial, and reluctant to share information. The most work I got done (and saw being done) was in sections managed by women. There were exceptions on both sides, but that seemed to be the general situation. Women tended to encourage cooperation, and be cooperative. Men, not so much.

    @34: What questions? You were making unsupported assertions.

  31. HappyNat says

    gary99 @28

    get more stuff done etc.

    Stuff like shitpost on the internet. Men do have that covered

  32. says

    Even after taking in account differences in jobs, positions, efficiency, and hours worked, there’s STILL at least a full third of the gender wage gap that cannot be explained by any of the previous.
    Moreover, there’s many factors that contribute to the aforementioned differences in jobs/positions/etc. For example: there’s a hiring bias against women in STEM fields, which is a factor why women cannot or don’t want to enter STEM fields.

    On another note, your assertion – that men simply are better than women at working – is about ALL jobs. That’s quite the extraordinary claim – and therefore, it requires extraordinary evidence. Failing to provide that evidence makes your claim crumble to dust, as Nerd of Redhead has repeatedly told you.
    Additionally, even IF your assertion was true, you haven’t been able to explain WHY. For example: assuming that what you’re saying is true, do you think it’s because of social factors, or biological ones?

  33. says

    Anyone else notice how the one claiming men are more hard working isn’t putting any work in? Unless it’s just so hard making those short assertions about half the species that they only have the energy to hope we believe them just because they say so.

    Way to represent greg99

  34. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    When I read the other thread I was wondering why Les Dawson was banned after what seemed like at most a couple of mildly annoying comments.

    Then I read this thread, and dawn broke over Marblehead.