Lower Wages OK, Women Say, if Husband Has ‘Good’ Job
January 3, 2012 – Despite the strides women have made in the workplace, mothers of children under the age of 18 may still accept a lower wage because their husbands have “good” jobs, according to a study by a Georgetown economics professor.
Conversely, married men with children tend not to accept lower salaries, regardless of how “good” their wives jobs are, says Luca Flabbi, assistant professor of economics.
Discrimination is still rampant – he says half of employers in the United States have paid women less than their male counterparts at some point and there remains a 20 percent difference between men and women.
But individual choice is also a factor.
“Societal norms play into the how married couples behave, but we need to have a clearer understanding of all the factors that can cause income inequality,” he says. “We are trying to explain this whole differential.”
While he is still conducting his research, his data suggests that married women accepting a lower salary due to their husband’s work status accounts for another one-third of the wage gap.
A third element to the puzzle lies in the choices women make in college and in the workplace.
“In education, [women] study more, they acquire more at college, but they choose different majors,” he said.
Women, he adds, are still looking for amenities other than high wages.
“Usually people describe a job as a wage, but we know that there are many elements that make a job more or less desirable,” he said.
On surveys, women typically rate job flexibility as a higher priority than male respondents.
“Women with a college degree are willing to pay more to gain this flexibility,” Flabbi said. “This may be suggestive of the fact that women acquire more education and specific majors because they gain flexibility later on in the labor market.”
Flabbi believes that women may prefer flexibility because they tend to bear more responsibility in the home.
In professions where women are still in the minority, Flabbi suggests that it is only a matter of time before women catch up to their male counterpoints.
But he notes that policymakers could help shorten the gap.
He hopes that the evidence from his research on discrimination, households, and employment preference will show a more complete view of the market.
“The starting point was to understand how things were working, but then at the end, to arrive at some policy implications,” he said.