Want to make a real dent in the gender pay gap? Address the occupation gap.

The gender pay gap may not be as big when accounting for characteristics outside of base pay, says a new study. But a pay gap still exists between what men and women are paid around the world.

Dirk Lammers/AP/File
Fourth-grade teacher Jessica Ries leads a soccer-style cheer to prepare her Hayward Elementary School students for a writing assessment test in Sioux Falls, S.D., Feb. 4. Ms. Ries is one of many teachers working two jobs in South Dakota, a state that ranks last in teacher pay. A study from Glassdoor found that the traditional separation of professions into predominantly male and predominantly female careers exacerbates the gender pay gap in the United States.

A new study released Wednesday confirms the existence of a gender-based pay gap, although the disparity may be more due to individuals' choice of occupation than outright gender bias in the workplace.

Better understanding of the societal mechanisms that influence the traditional sorting of women into lower paying industries could be the key to unlocking the wage gap, according to a report released by Glassdoor, an online forum for the discussion and review of businesses and employers.

For the study, Glassdoor’s chief economist, Andrew Chamberlain, analyzed thousands of salaries posted by full-time workers to the job website.

Mr. Chamberlain’s investigation yielded similar results to what previous studies of the gender pay gap have found: in the United States, men have a 24.1 percent pay advantage over women, who make around 76 cents to every dollar a man makes. Results in other countries were similar, with the lowest gap in France at 14.3 percent. Australia’s male pay advantage was calculated to be 17.3 percent and Germany and the United Kingdom came in at 22.5 and 22.9 percent, respectively. 

Those results point to an obvious edge for men in the workplace, but Chamberlain goes on to say that the base numbers didn’t tell the whole story. Using a variety of factors including workers’ age, experience, location, job title, and more, the gap evened – although men still hold a significant advantage. The “adjusted” pay advantage in the US based on those characteristics was only 5.4 percent with a comparison of 94.6 cents to every man’s dollar. Other countries’ adjusted gaps had similar wage comparisons in the 90-cent range, with adjusted male pay advantages ranging from 3.9 to 6.3 percent.

Chamberlain told Reuters that “It is still a highly significant and large gap,” but the results point to factors outside of the workplace as being the main forces behind the concept of a pay gap.

Chamberlain also found that, in the US, two-thirds of the 24.1 percent gap could be explained by the differentiating factors while the remaining third was unexplained; the difference could be due to legitimate gender bias in the workplace, or other unobserved worker factors. The other nations saw a similar breakdown of the explained and unexplained gap.

Chamberlain suggests addressing the traditional occupational sorting based on gender could make a big difference in narrowing the pay gap. It is common for women to be sorted into traditionally lower-paying jobs through institutional pressures and the acceptance of social norms, which if eliminated could even the proportion of men in industries like caregiving or education and women in science and technology fields.

“For a whole bunch of reasons, through the education system and the workplace, women are being pushed into different kinds of roles,” Chamberlain told Reuters. “This is the single largest factor we see contributing to today's gender pay gap.”

He also said that increased pay transparency could help women make more. Studies have shown that women are less likely to negotiate their salaries than men, which means making pay information more accessible could help eliminate the gap through pay mediation.

“Many companies are scared to talk about the gender pay gap because they feel like they're being accused of discrimination,” Chamberlain told The Los Angeles Times. “I'm hoping that this study will help move them beyond that.”

This report contains material from Reuters.

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