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Why Do Men Continue to Earn More Than Women?

Have you ever noticed how women often work hard, work equal hours, and are just as capable as men yet still seem to make less money? This is the sad reality for many women in the United States. Women face discrimination due to their gender and as a result, a large pay gap has developed. For women and men of all races, on average, women working full time make 82 cents for every $1 made by men (Census Bureau). This gap continues to widen even more when you break it down by race: Black women make 62 cents and Latina women 54 cents to every $1 made by a White man (Census Bureau). Many of the occupations dominated by men tend to pay more and often shun women from entering the field. Take America’s most successful business corporations for example. Each year when the list of the top 500 richest corporations comes out rarely do we see these companies being led by women. As of 2020, out of the 500 companies, only 37 of them were led by female CEOs (Fortune). Fortune.com stated that the 2020 list set a new record of women CEOs… a whopping 37/500. Clearly we still have a very long way to go until women are equally as successful and represented as men.

Inequality of pay by gender and race 


I have always wondered why the gender gap has gotten to be so large in our country. It could be that some women might choose to go into lower-paying occupations, are not drawn to certain jobs, or take time off to care for their children. But this does not explain why the pay gap exists when women are in the same occupation as men, work just as many hours, and have received the same education as their male counterparts. It is frustrating to see how hard women work yet are still not recognized for their achievements. This discrimination is due to gender bias. Gender bias is behavior that shows favoritism toward one gender over another (iResearchNet). In our society, men are held in higher regard than women and are rewarded for this in their pay. Gender bias is key to understanding the gender pay gap.

Clearly, this is not a discussion based on merit or capability but has more to do with how society perceives men and women. Women’s attributes and characteristics are seen as drastically different in comparison to men. The biases and stereotypes that women encounter while trying to reach higher status jobs are what holds them back from being able to achieve their goals. Have you ever been told that women tend to be more nurturing and warm and men to be more aggressive and agentic? This is an instance where gender stereotypes can affect how men and women are seen in society. Especially in the workforce, these stereotypes devalue a woman’s capability and the right to be assessed as equal to her male counterparts.

Erica Carranza and Deborah Prentice (2002) looked into the categories of traits attributed to men and women based on stereotypes. They asked college students at Princeton University, seemingly very smart and educated young people, to rate lists of traits according to the desirability in our society for both a man and a woman. Questions included “how well do the following traits describe you?” and “how desirable is it in American society for a man/woman to have these traits?” (Carranza and Prentice, 2002). Carranza and Prentice found that participants rated men higher than women for desirable traits such as business sense, leadership ability, ambition, assertiveness, competitiveness, and aggressiveness. All of these traits, as you might have guessed, are typically very masculine traits. Participants rated women higher than men in more feminine traits such as friendly, helpful, warm and kind, interest in children, and sensitive. We as members of society have linked certain traits to be attributed as masculine and others feminine.

There is a simple cognitive explanation for why this attribution occurs. Our memory is constructed in a network of cognitive concepts such as objects and ideas that are all connected by links in what we call an associative network (iResearchNet). Our associative networks help us to link two concepts together. For example, when we think of school we often will associate homework to school therefore homework and school are linked together in our associative network. In this case, when we think about men and women we have associated certain traits to belong to each. We believe that men and women should act and behave in certain ways that correspond to their genders. I, as I’m sure you would too, would probably rate these traits similar to the Princeton students. No matter how well educated or informed you are we are still subject to conforming to gender stereotypes. Not all of this is of our conscious doing. There are unconscious psychological factors that cause these stereotypes to form.

Certain traits are associated as more masculine therefore excluding women from seeing themselves in that way

We need to better understand how gender biases form cognitively to see why these stereotypes are so deeply rooted in our society. We rely greatly on prior experiences and knowledge to form our understanding of the world around us. This is how we form schemas and more specifically gender schemas. Schemas are networks of information that we use as building blocks for our long-term memory (James et al. 2004). They help us to navigate our environment and remember the basic principles of society. Have you ever thought about where you learned the proper etiquette for something as simple as buying food at a grocery store? We know based on our past experiences at the grocery store that we go through each aisle, pick our food, and then wait in line to pay. We know not to knock over any food we don’t want on the ground or go screaming through the aisles because that is not normal behavior. We have a script, expected behaviors, for almost everything in our life such as grocery stores, restaurants, school, and even the workforce.

Gender schemas are networks of information surrounding our prior experiences with gender. We form our gender schemas when we give meaning to our everyday experiences (Welch-Ross and Schmidt, 1996). Researchers found that we start to develop our gender schemas at the age of six (Welch-Ross and Schmidt, 1996). As a child, I loved watching shows about fairies and princesses while my brother often stayed in his room and built massive ships and planes out of Legos. Based on their own experiences children will start to attribute certain activities, traits, and behaviors that they have witnessed to either a man or a woman. These prior experiences will form a network of information that will create our gender schemas. So, as a result of living in a society that tends to favor men over women, we will encode this into our memory. We associate masculine traits with power and success and feminine traits with warmth and kindness. These ideas are reinforced as most White men in the U.S. hold positions of power and women are still widely seen as caregivers. Most of our government and top businesses are all run by men and after centuries of this we begin to believe that men must be more fit and suited for these jobs. These experiences and ideals have been encoded into our schemas and associative networks since the inception of this country and therefore continue to reconfirm that men are seen are strong and more fit therefore favored over women.

Because of these deep-rooted gender biases and stereotypes women are often held back from finding success in the workforce. Self-promotion is key to finding success in most businesses and often leads to hiring and promotion decisions (Moss-Racusin and Rudman, 2010). Yet the characteristics that we have attributed to women like being warm, friendly, and sensitive do not correlate with the skills needed to be a self-promoter. Men are often seen boasting about their achievements and negotiating until they get what they want. Women, on the other hand, do not behave in this manner out of fear of what psychologists call the backlash effect. The backlash effect is a women’s fear of social penalties when trying to be a self-promoter (Moss-Racusin and Rudman, 2010). Statistics have shown that only 7% of recent female graduates negotiate a higher salary in contrast to 57% of their male counterparts who also negotiated (Moss-Racusin and Rudman, 2010). As you might expect, as a result most men have higher starting salaries than women who are in the same occupation. Out of fear of social rejection women often do not display any characteristics outside of their gender identity such as being assertive, ambitious, or aggressive. Moss-Racusin and Rudman found that the fear of backlash increased a woman’s conformity to gender norms.

Women often end up conforming to gender stereotypes

As a woman, I have found myself being hesitant to speak up during class or assert myself into a conversation when it is dominated by men. These are the results of the backlash effect. Women will prevent themselves from being confident and promoting themselves out of fear of it being taken the wrong way by the people around them. The consequences of society placing stereotypes on its members can result in a multitude of setbacks and discrimination. For women, it results in the gender pay gap. If women’s gender identity was not associated with certain feminine traits then it would be more socially acceptable for women to fight for their pay and be treated as equal to men. However, most people in society do not see women in this way and therefore women are forced to take a submissive and lesser role in comparison to men. Our unconscious development of gender schemas and our associative networks have encoded gender stereotypes into our memory and therefore has produced gender biases in our society. Men seem to have the more desirable traits to perform well in business thus earning them favoritism and a higher wage.

At this point you might be a little worried for women’s future in our society. However, the future of women’s rights is not all doom and gloom. Recently we have elected the first female Vice President. Kamala Harris will soon become the second most powerful person in our country. Women continue to fight for equal representation and pay. Women in power, such as Kamala Harris, give other women a new sense of empowerment and show young people that anyone is capable no matter their gender. Hopefully, women will continue to try and break away from the stereotypes and biases that hold them back.



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