Rewarding Women More Like Men Could Reduce Wage Gap


Addressing the shortage of women in STEM-related fields such as computer science is not enough to close the gender gap in both representation and pay, according to Cornell University research. Treating women more like men, especially on pay day, is more important than representation alone.

In two recently published papers, Sharon Sassler, professor of sociology, and colleagues examine the field of computer science (CS) and how women who major in and work in the field fare. Though women’s representation in STEM fields generally has increased in recent decades, their presence in the CS workforce – which accounts for about half the jobs in STEM fields – remains low, and the gender wage gap in computer science persists.

“It’s not the composition of women in STEM – it’s the returns that they experience for the very same attributes as their male counterparts, such as degree attainment,” said Sassler, co-author of “Factors Shaping the Gender Wage Gap Among College-Educated Computer Science Workers,” which was published in PLOS-ONE.

In a study of data over a recent 10-year period, women employed in CS jobs earned about 86.6 cents for every dollar that men earned – better than the overall labor force average (82 cents), but still not equitable.

“We keep saying that if we encourage more women to study and enter into STEM fields, the wage gap will go away,” Sassler said. “But it’s not going away.”

When the researchers controlled for age, degree field and level of attainment, occupation and race, the wage gap narrowed by about 34%, to 91 cents for every dollar a man makes. But the gender wage gap remained.

“And it shows up pretty quickly – by the time women reach their mid-20s, well before women with college degrees start having kids, on average,” Sassler said. “All these arguments about, ‘Oh, it’s because women have families,’ that doesn’t appear to be what’s going on.”

The wage gap could be due, in part, to the types of jobs women working in computer science hold. Women are more likely than men to work as computing and information science managers or as computer analysts, while more men work as software developers or network architects – jobs with among the highest average wages, contributing to the pay disparity. But differences in occupations accounted for only about a third of the gender wage gap, the researchers found.

Most of the gender wage gap, according to the researchers, results from women receiving different returns on their characteristics – as partners, parents and workers.

Sassler also is corresponding author of “Cohort Differences in Occupational Retention among Computer Science Degree Holders: Reassessing the Role of Family,” which was published in Sociological Perspectives. That research found that women with degrees in computer science are far less likely than their male counterparts to be employed in STEM occupations, particularly in computer science jobs. Again, they find that family factors such as marriage or parenthood aren’t associated with differences in employment in computer science jobs among women, though fathers are more likely to leave computer science jobs than childless men. 

The researchers found that not only is computer science a field that contains persistent barriers to women’s participation, but that those barriers have become even higher among computer science graduates in this millennium.

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