Gender pay gap could get worse

In jobs with the highest share of males there has been no change in 60 years
- Dr Grace Lordan
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Girls born in 2000 are aspiring to do jobs that are paid 31 per cent lower than males, according to new LSE research. Boys born in 2000, on the other hand, have higher aspirations than previous male generations in terms of income, to the point where the gender pay gap could actually become larger than it is at present if these aspirations are fulfilled.

The study concludes that a persistent lack of women in highly paid jobs in areas such as science, technology, engineering, finance and politics is due to girls internalising social norms, rather than a result of their innate preferences. This conclusion emerges from the researchers finding that time, rather than childhood factors, is what has altered the tendency for males and females to choose different types of jobs.  Social movements or campaigns are essential to encourage girls to aim higher, it suggests.

The researchers’ analysis of occupational sorting for children born in 1958, 1970 and 2000 found that over time increasing numbers of women pursue traditional male jobs, such as law, accountancy and pharmacy, but that in jobs with the highest share of males (over 80 per cent), there has been no change in the 60 years. These jobs are often the “golden pathway” to powerful “C suite positions”, such as CEO and COO roles, the paper says.

Boys’ current aspirations, from those born in 2000, are increasingly geared towards jobs with “significantly higher levels of competitiveness and larger incomes” compared to previous generations and their current female peers, resulting in the possibility that the gender pay gap could actually become larger than it is at present. The paper acknowledges, however, that not all boys will achieve their ambitions. This raises a big question of why males are failing to opt in increasing numbers for traditionally female occupations such as social work, nursing and primary school teaching. This underlines the asymmetric gender distribution.

The paper's author, Dr Grace Lordan of LSE’s Psychological and Behavioural Science Department, said: “More and more we actively encourage our girls to pursue occupations that are currently dominated by males. However, boys are rarely encouraged to pursue occupations where females have had higher shares. The asymmetry of the gender revolution needs to be considered. This becomes more important given that we expect jobs that are traditionally female to expand over the next decades – for example, the nursing and caring professions.” 

The paper analysed the career paths and aspirations of 53,000 children born in 1958, 1970 and 2000, from both average and high ability groups.

It found that a female born in 1958 chooses an occupation where the share of males are 45 per cent lower on average as compared to their male peers. This compares to 41 per cent for females born in 1970, and 34 per cent for females born in 2000.

There is no difference in the probability that females born in 1958 or 1970 will choose a job that has a share of males of 80 per cent of higher as compared to their male peers. For females born in 2000, females are 46 per cent less likely to choose occupations with the highest share of males as compared to comparable males.

The paper says: “It may be tempting to conclude that the flatness in the gender gap in the tendency to sort into occupations with the highest share of males, particularly for children with the highest academic ability, reflects innate preferences. However, we note that over time both genders have significantly changed their tendency to sort into occupations that are high on people, brains and competitiveness content. Some of this will be determined by labour markets…but we also view these changes as highly suggestive that preferences are socialised, rather than representing innate differences by gender.”

It concludes: “This study raises questions on what can really be achieved by individuals at a local level, by parents to move the needles on gendered sorting in the absence of a more general societal movement or a tipping phenomenon. For example, if a mother encourages their daughter to be an astrophysicist, but the society she is growing up in sends different messages, the efforts may be lost on the average girl. It is possible that these messages may be dominated by, for example, STEM toys being mainly targeted to boys, the media covering females and males at the height of their careers differently, a child’s schooling experiences varying by their gender and the images society has for its leaders still being male."

The paper's co-author, Dr Warn Lekfuangfu, commented: “Childhood variables remain essential factors in influencing the position the child would end up within her peer group. But our work points to the importance of the role of societal shifts in determining the sorting patterns we have seen over the last number of decades in the UK across the generations, and also those that remain today.”

Dr Lordan added: “With the big ongoing efforts to encourage girls to study STEM subjects, we were surprised there was not more movement by girls towards these careers. It is possible that gender norms downstream have already shaped preferences by the time we meet these girls.  Social movements or campaigns are needed to challenge these social norms.

"Also, we expect equality for females, but our analysis has revealed that the traditional male paths are either unchanging, or in the case of income and competitiveness, being aspired to more often by boys born in 2000. Everyone focuses on gender equality with respect to moving females into traditional male roles. Few pay attention to the changing trends – or lack of – for  professions of males.”

Cross Cohort Evidence on Gendered Sorting Patterns in the UK: The Importance of Societal Movements versus Childhood Variables by Grace Lordan of LSE’s Psychological and Behavioural Science Department, LSE’s Centre for Economic Performance and IZA, and Warn N.Lekfuangfu of Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok is a working paper published by IZA Institute of Economics.