Thursday, March 04, 2004

Pay inequality 

I noticed a very lively thread on Democratic Underground, which asks "How are women discriminated against?" A lot of the discussion revolves around the pay disparity--widely quoted statistics show that women earn 78% of a man's pay in similar jobs, on average.

I'm glad this came up somewhere, because I've been looking for a reason to bring up a Kiplinger's interview I read yesterday. It is titled "It pays to haggle for that first check," and it's in the April issue of the magazine. The interviewee is Linda Babcock, a Carnegie Mellon economics professor and author of Women Don't Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide. I have not read the book, but in the interview, Dr. Babcock says,

In my study of Carnegie Mellon graduates with master's degrees, I found that 57% of men had negotiated their first salary compared with 7% of women. On average, men who bargained were able to increase their salary by 7.4%.
She goes on to say that with a lower starting point, even if percentage increases in pay are the same as men's, women will, of course, earn less over a lifetime. Beyond that, senior managers may assume that someone earning a lower salary is less qualified for promotion, and the effect of the initial lack of negotiation would ripple through a woman's career.

Granted this is a small sample, consisting of graduate students from one university. But is there something about Carnegie Mellon students in particular that would make these figures differ very much from the ones you would find at other schools or across the nation as a whole? I don't know the answer to that question, but I doubt a national study would find that men and women negotiate their salaries in equal proportion.

And I don't know nearly enough about this to conclude anything, nor do I think that salary negotiations explain the whole problem. But it's certainly an intriguing place to look.
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