A study conducted by Ohio State researchers with cooperation from the Census Bureau and the American Institutes for Research has shed new light on the pay gap between men and women in science and engineering fields. Researchers found that the chosen field of study, marriage and children were key factors in the disparity between men’s and women’s paychecks.
The study cooperated with four American universities and confidentially analyzed the payroll data of science and engineering doctoral alumni in the first year after graduation.
The study found a 31 percent pay gap between men and women, said Bruce Weinberg, co-author of the study and an economics professor at OSU. A doctoral graduate’s field of study correlated with 20 percent of the pay gap, while the other 11 percent was correlated with a woman being married or having children.
“Women are more likely to be in biology and health, and men are more likely to go into computer science, for example,” Weinberg said, “and the compensation is higher in those fields that men go into.”
For single women in the same fields as their male counterparts, there was no pay gap detected. But if a woman was married — even without children — researchers found that she would typically make less.
Weinberg said he had a possible explanation, but added that he couldn’t definitely state what why the gap existed.
“It’s a little unclear what that could mean; it could mean something different for different people or employers,” Weinberg said. “If an employer sees a woman getting married or having children, they might move her into a set of assignments where the compensation is lower, or she’s moved into less high-powered work than a man or a woman who isn’t married, and that could snowball.”
Abigail Erwin, a fourth-year in mechanical engineering and a member of Women in Engineering, echoed Weinberg in saying that some of the determinants behind the pay gap are hard to explicitly measure.
“In many cases, it is true that it is not outright discrimination that intimidates us from entering these fields,” Erwin said in an email, “but, yes, the lack of friendliness to women at all, let alone family friendliness.”
Erwin also stated that women shouldn’t feel reluctant to take a raise or promotion because of a pregnancy. She added that paternity leaves should be offered, as well as simpler solutions such as companies carrying lab coats and steel-toed boots in women’s sizes.
Regarding the trend of women ending up in lower-paying fields, such as academia, and men ending up in higher-paying industry jobs, both Weinberg and Erwin were unsure of what conclusions to draw.
“We have a trend, but no explanation,” Weinberg said. “Do men want to go into industry, and women want to go into academia? Or is it the case that everyone wants wants to go to industry and women are left out?”
Erwin said that the nature of the different fields of work is also a complex issue itself.
“I have noticed, though, that a lot of the ‘lower’-paying jobs are service jobs: teaching, nursing, working for government offices,” she said in her email. “So it seems that women have tended to accept the role of nurturer and the men have accepted the role of earner. That is definitely something that culture, gender norms and society have taught us.”
Weinberg said he hoped to examine the pay gap further in the future.
“Industry jobs pay more, in that way they’re desirable,” Weinberg said. “But the academic jobs … the expectations are that you’re continuing your training. So after three years, do (women) move into industry, does that wage gap close? Or alternatively, are they not able to break free of the post-doctorate research route and aren’t able to get their earnings up?”
Although the study only followed four American universities when it was published, Weinberg said he plans on continuing the study, and now that 21 more universities are working with the researchers, he said he hopes to answer more complicated questions about the pay gap in the future.