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Democratic National Committee (DNC) women host an Equal Pay Day event with a lemonade stand "where women pay 79 cents per cup and men pay $1 per cup, to highlight the wage gap" on April 12, 2016 in Washington, DC. / AFP / MOLLY RILEY /Getty Images

Closing the gap

The wage gap is a complex problem, but these economists think they have at least 1 solution

By WITW Staff on August 5, 2016

When economists took a close look at the gender disparity in income between male and female graduates of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, they found shocking evidence of just how wide the gender pay gap really is. While men had a higher income right out of school by about $15,000, the biggest gap didn’t come until nearly a decade later. Nine years into their careers, female MBA grads from Chicago were making an average of $250,000, while their male peers were earning an average of $400,000, the study found.

The wage gap is a complex statistic that changes over the course of men’s and women’s careers due to subtle factors, the economists found. The highest-paying jobs reward those who can work the longest, least-flexible hours, and penalize those who have responsibilities outside of the workplace — in other words, frequently, women.

“The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might even vanish if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who worked long hours and worked particular hours,” said Claudia Goldin, an economist at Harvard University who performed the study.

Certain professions such as law have wider gaps because the long hours are more important to the industry. And since many women now work while raising children, they are less consistently available during the traditional 9-to-5 workday than male peers have traditionally been since they often bear the responsibility of having to pick up sick kids from school and manage household chores and kids’ schedules.

There is hope, Godin said. Among industries where hours matter less, like pharmacy or science, the pay gap is much narrower. Those looking for solutions to the seemingly-intractable problem of a wage gap may look at ways to change Americans’ conception of working hours as a starting point.

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