It’s wild enough that in 2023, men are still making more money than women for doing the same job, but a new study suggests that the seed for that disparity starts as early as the post-college job search. The researchers wanted to examine the behaviors that set the stage for the gender wage gap — and what they found is both deeply frustrating and quite telling.
The small study from the Quarterly Journal of Economics consisted of data from undergraduate alumni of Boston University’s business school and spanned about seven years, after which data was analyzed in 2020. The surveys collected information such as salary characteristics, job offers and acceptance timing. It ultimately identified patterns in male participants’ higher tolerance for risk, overconfidence in salary projections and likelihood of holding off on accepting jobs for offers with higher salaries. These behaviors, they assert, are linked to why men get paid more than women.
“Our study shows that differences in the way men and women search for jobs matter for gender pay gaps in early career,” said the paper’s lead author, Patricia Cortes, in a EurekAlert report on the study. “Gender differences in risk preferences and overconfidence about future job offers result in women having lower reservation earnings, which translates into earlier acceptance of lower-paying job offers.” A person’s reservation wage is the least amount of money they are willing to accept to do a particular job.
“Gender differences in these traits may explain as much as 30% of the difference between men’s and women’s earnings in their first jobs,” Cortes said. Essentially, our genders affect our job search and role acceptance process immensely, because of our gendered experiences, fears and perceptions. On average, research found, women accepted positions about one month earlier than their male counterparts. Could this mean we’re operating out of scarcity syndrome?
Researchers also found that “relative to women, men are more likely to have rejected an offer that is higher than the one that they end up accepting, are less satisfied with the job search process, and regret some aspect of their job search.” (*Cues sad trombone.*)
Let’s get even deeper into this financial disparity layer cake: According to the Pew Research Center, women earned 82% of what men earned hourly in both part-time and full-time positions in 2022 — but the gender wage gap impacted women of color more harshly than their white counterparts. Pew also reported that Latinx women earned 57 cents for every dollar their white counterparts made, while Black women earned 64 cents for every dollar their white peers made.
These statistics are jarring, especially considering that more women in the U.S. hold degrees in the labor force than men. It should also be noted that while these studies help us to get a deeper sense of the earning gap, they are limiting because they examine the trend through the lens of the gender binary.
This study’s findings hit the nail on the head in many ways. As a woman, I know how much confidence matters when it comes to negotiating pay for a job — but we are operating under a totally different system than men. And while it’s a broad deduction, men are less risk-averse because, well, most of them have an armor of privilege.
Women are still, in fact, encouraged to tone down confidence and risk-taking to appear likable, humble and less “bitchy.” The sooner we recognize the attitudes behind these behaviors, the better chance we have of leveling the playing field.