For many groups of women, the wage gap is far worse than the national 80 percent average you often hear about. We already knew, for example, that women of color and moms are especially underpaid. And thanks to a new study featured in Harvard Business Review, we also now know that the further along women are in their careers, the less money they make compared with men.
The researchers analyzed Census Bureau databases from 1995 to 2008 to see how men’s and women’s salaries changed over time. Right out of college, the wage gap was relatively small, but it went up to 55 percent by the time workers were in their 40s. There was a smaller gap between the wages of men and women who didn’t graduate college, at around 30 percent, but this gap was established over the course of just five years after high school and largely reflected men’s salaries becoming stagnant after that early increase.
Why is this happening? A large part of the wage gap increase for men and women who switch companies seems to be due to their different familial roles. Married women saw smaller salary increases when switching jobs, which the authors think is because families are more likely to move for men’s jobs. In that case, women may have to take whatever job they can get to be near their partners. Another factor—contributing to a third of the gap’s widening—was women working in lower-paying industries.
More than anything else, the widening wage gap could be chalked up to men’s salaries growing faster than women’s within the same workplace. While the authors don’t say why this may be, other data show that women hold fewer leadership roles at their companies and negotiate offers less often than men. Both these issues likely result from gender bias that leads employers to penalize women for negotiating and promote them less often.
These new findings seem to contradict popular career advice telling women to “lean in” to their careers in order to overcome workplace sexism. Instead, it appears that the longer women persevere, the more they’re penalized. Once again, we have proof that women’s choices don’t cause the wage gap and won’t get rid of it. Instead, it requires changes in workplaces, family roles, and overall gender norms.