Why women make less money than men selling things on Ebay

A new eBay study sheds light on the biases that affect people’s buying behavior.

Beck Diefenbach/Reuters/File
An eBay sign is seen at an office building in San Jose, California

Women, if you're selling something new on eBay, you'll make more money if you get a male friend to sell it, according to a new study.

The findings, published Friday in the Journal Science Advances, revealed that on average, women make about 80 cents for every dollar a man does when selling the identical new product. The gender gap is much less acute on used goods, with women making 97 cents for every dollar on the same product sold by a man. 

Using data supplied by the company, Tamar Kricheli-Katz, a sociologist and legal scholar from Tel Aviv University, and Tali Regev, an economist from the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya analyzed US sales of the 420 most popular products from the full range of eBay categories between 2009 and 2012.

Women outsold men in certain categories, however, including baby products and toys for pets. Women also had higher “star” ratings, indicating better feedback from buyers.

Although Ebay doesn't advertise a seller's gender, the researchers say buyers can figure it out by looking at the seller's username and the other products he or she is selling.

“If I’m selling an iPhone, but also my shoes and a purse, it’ll be relatively easy to identify me as a woman,” says Kricheli-Katz in an interview. “And the more items I sell, the more accurately people can categorise me.”

The disparity, the researcher suggested, reveal more the inherent biases against women in the marketplace, leading buyers to assign lower values to products sold by women than those sold by men.

“We expected to find a gap, but we were surprised at the magnitude, especially because the biggest effect was for new products where women and men are selling exactly the same thing,” says Kricheli-Katz.

“This would be kind of the best example where you would think that discrimination would be at its smallest.” Linda Babcock, an economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told the New York Times. “So we can interpret these data as a lower bound of what we can expect in other environments.”

The study reflects a widely tracked gender gap in salaries in wages among women in the United States, which some studies show are paid only 79 cents on the dollar on average compared with men doing the same job. But unlike workforce wage gap studies, the pay disparities found on a websites such as eBay, can’t be explained by such factors as lack of experience, the researchers said.

Yet some economists question the validity of the gender gap on wages, despite government studies showing that women are paid 22 cents less than men.

Even though states have taken steps to close the pay equity gap, including the California’s Equal Pay Act – that aims to ensure employers aren't discriminatory – some economist take issue with the way the gender gap is measured, saying that it is not an accurate comparison.

"The 77 cents per dollar metric is a comparison of gross income. That is, it compares the income of all men to the income of all women, without regard for other factors. Abigail Hall, a research fellow at the Independent Institute and assistant professor of economics at the University of Tampa, told The Christian Science Monitor. “It’s literally like matching up a waitress with a high school degree and a CEO with two Master’s degrees and saying, 'ah-ha! Their pay is unequal! Look at that waitress-CEO wage gap!' "

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