Economic Woman

Econometrics, gender, equity and more.

More on negotiation, the wage gap, and self-help nonsense

with 3 comments

During my long hiatus, I received an email about negotiation and the wage gap (emphasis mine):

I attended a session last week in which the basic premise was, “A woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man makes and here’s how to fix that”.  The presenter then went on to discuss negotiating a young woman’s first salary out of college since that forms the basis for all subsequent salaries.  OK, that makes sense in context. However, when I asked what other factors contributed to the disparity, the presenter basically said that there weren’t any except women not valuing themselves enough to negotiate good salaries.

That didn’t make sense to me, so I did a bit of Googling and kept seeing the same statement without a lot of critical analysis.  Your blog was one of the few that seemed to take it on and one post I noticed said you would have more to say.  However, I didn’t spot anything after that.  Do you know of any articles, blog posts, whatever that addresses the issue of what other causes there may be for the 77/100 problem?

The facilitator of this workshop probably meant well, but he or she was teaching something false and quite possibly harmful. As regular readers know well, the wage gap is not entirely due to  negotiation – it’s also the result of straightforward discrimination, occupational differences between genders, the housework and childcare that working women are expected to take on, the cumulative effect of time off for maternity leave and childrearing, and much more. It is true that women are less likely to negotiate a higher starting salary, but women are also more likely to be penalized for negotiating.

A lot of people like to argue that women can overcome sexism through personal action, like developing better negotiation skills. This can be an empowering message, but it’s not really true – becoming more assertive in isolation from the rest of the culture will only get you so far. Addressing the wage gap, if that’s something we want to do, requires big policy changes and new cultural norms.

Too often, messages of personal empowerment become about blame. (Barbara Ehrenreich really skewers the self help movement on this point in Bait and Switch.) If all you need is a positive attitude, then you don’t have child care/a promotion/help around the house because you don’t want it badly enough. Want harder! Stop talking about social change!


Written by Allison

27 May 2009 at 11:14 am

3 Responses

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  1. Another factor in that statistic that you left out is the fact that women choose lower paying jobs like nursing and teaching that have a better work/life balance. This directly relates time off needed to bear and raise children, however, I don’t believe this is sexism.

    It’s biology. Yes, paternal leave could make it so men and women take off of work when they have children, and take other steps to make men and women split work and tasks at home more equally without a stigma, but nothing anyone can do will change the fact that women physically have babies. Men cannot.

    I say this as a feminist. Having children is not a handicap, it is part of what makes us women. Maybe we will always earn a little less than men and hold less leadership roles. As long as that is a result of choice, as I believe it currently is, women should not have to feel like the weaker sex as a result.


    2 September 2009 at 10:39 am

  2. Right, statementsoffashion, I chose to be a high school teacher so I could have better work/life balance, and that’s why today I worked from 7:30 am to 4 pm, went to yoga, ate dinner, and then did more lesson planning 7 p.m. until 9:30 pm. The first two years I taught? Forget yoga and dinner.

    There’s no reason why modern society can’t recognize that maternity and paternity are completely valid reasons to take (perhaps years of) time off work and not financially penalize people who do so.

    My job (the teacher thing) has a salary step system in which years of teaching and/or years of work related to teaching will put you on a higher step. How about child rearing as related work?????????????


    21 September 2009 at 10:43 pm

  3. The 77/100 pay gap is a lie. Men work longer hours, harder, and deadlier jobs. The myth is deconstructed here:
    This isn’t sexism, this is social engineering. And you’ve fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.
    That being said, it’s easy to understand how some simpler-minded people can become confused with statements such as these:
    “One year out of college, women working full time earn 80 percent of what men earn, according to the study by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation, based in Washington D.C.

    Ten years later, women earn 69 percent as much as men earn, it said.

    Even as the study accounted for such factors as the number of hours worked, occupations or parenthood, the gap persisted, researchers said. ”
    Now, why didn’t the study account for those factors to begin with? Hours, occupations, and parenthood are all important considerations – a lawyer who works 55-hour workweeks should not be compared to a social worker who works 30 hours a week.
    The study was designed to infuriate and confuse – its purpose is to instill hatred into men and corporations alike.


    6 December 2009 at 12:13 pm

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