What Is the Cause of the Gender Pay Gap?


By: Amanda Hirsch

Copy Edited by: Kevin Qiao and Maggie McPherson

Research Edited by: Sean Cotnam

Format edited by: Arthur Carlton-Jones

On average, for every $1.00 a man makes, a woman makes $0.79.[1] This is an issue in the United States that does not go unrecognized. It is constantly brought up in politics, studied by experts, and petitioned by citizens. However, the reason behind it is not understood. It is important for citizens to comprehend where this gap comes from, so we can make changes to narrow it.

Before the 1960’s, job ads in the newspaper would specify whom they wanted for their jobs. They would say explicitly whether they wanted a male or female employee, and the male would almost always be listed for the higher-skill job. These listings would also include different spots within one organization, just offering the man a higher salary than the women for the same positions. On June 10, 1963, the Equal Pay Act was passed, making it illegal to pay women lower rates for the same job strictly because of their sex.[2]

Unfortunately, the problem was not solved in 1963. Over the past decades, the United States has failed to close the gender pay gap between men and women due to the industrialized discrimination against women in the workforce. The perspectives of economists, experts, and the rest of society all vary on how this discrimination translates into distinct causes of the gap.

The Technical Cause

Economists use the human capital theory to explain the gap. This is a calculated system that revolves around the idea that education, training, and work experience can increase productivity. Economists use this idea to rationalize the wage gap by breaking down the change in variables of women’s work and how the variables affect women’s salaries.[3] Many argue against this theory and state that it does not take social norms and individual variables into account because it is based on such a large-scale calculation.


Many women believe their work is simply devalued. Society builds social norms that their work is worth less than men’s, which is translated into the decisions employers make. A shocking two-third of workers in low-wage jobs such as child care and health aides are women.[4] This is not necessarily because these are their dream jobs, but because when more women move into a field, the reputation and wages of that field decline.

Women’s Choice

Many think that the gap is simply caused by women gravitating toward less-respected jobs. Some women do this because they are in denial of the discrimination; however, some simply choose a lower-wage job because they want to. Other women end up choosing these jobs because of the gender socialization they grew up with–that they should be nurturing and caring.[5]

Lack of Accommodations

Unfortunately, many jobs are not flexible when it comes to accommodations regarding part-time hours and maternity leave. The United States is one of the only countries that does not offer paid maternity leave. If women need to go on maternity leave or work part-time to care for their children, jobs often lower their income and/or position. Because of this, women tend to choose lower income jobs that offer intermittent leave.[6]

The Bottom Line

The gender pay gap exists because women’s jobs are devalued. Once women enter job fields, those fields’ pay go down, and the jobs gain weaker reputations. It is very difficult for women to leave these jobs once they are in them. This cycle widens the gap because women are consistently being paid less and losing respect, while men remain in high skilled jobs with growing incomes. Even if women are working in high salary jobs, there is still a lack of leadership positions for them. Despite the job or the position in it, women’s work is devalued and viewed as less skillful than men’s, ultimately widening the gap.

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