The Gender Gap

Jayson Lusk walked into the meeting with other agricultural economics professors at Mississippi State University. All of them male except one. They were meeting with nutrition professors. All of them female.

The topic of salaries came up and the nutritionists started complaining about how low their salaries were and claimed it was gender discrimination.

“My one [female] colleague looked over at them and said, ‘I’m a woman and get paid a lot more than you do,’” Lusk said. “‘It’s not because I’m a woman—it’s because I chose to major in agricultural economics.’

“There was a deadening silence.”

Do women really get paid less then men? Looking at average salaries at Oklahoma State it might appear that way, but many factors affect salary.

At OSU, men make $94,630 while women make $78,061 on average. That means women make 82 cents for every dollar a man makes.

In nearly every college on campus, men have higher average salaries than women. Human Sciences is the only college where women make more than men.

This issue has been debated for years. In 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act into law saying that employers could not “discriminate … between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work … ”

Lee Adkins, professor and head of economics and legal studies, said the pay gap depends on the generation.

“The younger the cohort you look at the less discrimination you would see. … If you compare 50-year-olds or 60-year-olds, you would see big differences because 30 years ago or 40 years ago when those people were entering the labor force, there really was a bias against hiring women for various things,” Adkins said.

Alexis Smith, assistant professor of management at OSU, said the pay gap increases as people go through their careers. She said men and women entering the workforce today start off with the same salaries, but the gap widens later on.

Stephen Haseley, adjunct professor at OSU, said gender roles pay a large part in determining salary, but some are misconceptions in today’s society.

“The traditional view is of course that the man is the breadwinner for the family, which isn’t true anymore,” Haseley said. “Males are making the financial decisions still, and they still believe that women are not going to have great longevity, and they think that men are the breadwinners, and those are both antiquated ideas and not realistic anymore.”

Smith also said gender roles tend to play a large part in determining salaries. She compared the work at home to be a “second job” on top of the everyday job for women.

“People think more so that men have the family to support, women have the family to take care of,” Smith said.

Lusk, now a Regents Professor at Oklahoma State, said multiple factors affect salaries including, major selection and supply and demand.

“Women appear to be choosing majors in disciplines that are lower paying in a lot of cases,” Lusk said. “That selection effect can explain a lot of the difference.”

Adkins said women tend to choose professions that allow them to take time off to have children and those professions tend to be lower paying.

In the College of Human Sciences and College of Education, the colleges where women make close to or more than men, female professors outnumber the male professors. Those colleges offer majors seen as more feminine, Haseley said.

Spears School of Business has highest salaries on campus. The average professor in the school makes $133,559. The next closest average salary is the College of Veterinary Medicine with an average of $112,662.

Adkins said this is because of supply and demand.

“Accreditation creates some market power for the permanent faculty … because it requires certain qualifications,” Adkins said. “That limits the market of available faculty to a smaller number so that means that supply is smaller and prices go up.”

Another factor affecting salary is opportunity cost. Some areas offer professors more opportunities to work other places so universities are forced to pay them more so they continue teaching.

“[Economics professors] have lots of opportunities to consult,” Lusk said. “We also have opportunities to go work at other businesses so that’s gonna tend to drive up our salaries a little more because we can get hired by companies at a higher rate.”

Opportunity cost paired with supply and demand show the biggest reasons for salary differences. Lusk said if universities paid all professors the same, the teaching quality would decrease in the long run.

“What you’ll tend to see then is you’ll probably lose men to higher paying professions because they’ll find their services are better paid elsewhere,” Lusk said. “You’ll tend to have a better, high quality in women in [other majors]. But on average, I would say it would lower the quality.”

Lusk said women tend to not ask for raises as much as men and that causes wider gaps to appear.

“There’s some research that suggests women are not as prone to negotiation. They’re not as likely to ask for raises,” Lusk said. “They’re not as likely to engage in combative competition to ask their boss for a raise.”

Smith said women tend to be penalized if they are assertive and ask for a raise because it is not expected from them. She said this bias adds to the pay gap but it can be corrected.

“If women continue to not ask [for a raise], it’s going to continue to be a problem,” Smith said.

Haseley said one way salaries are not fair is raises. He said OSU tends to give across-the-board raises, increasing already large salaries by bigger amounts than those getting paid less.

“If a woman is making $50,000 and a man is making $70,000 and they both get a 5 percent raise … the female fails to catch up—will never catch up,” Haseley said. “We have to be equitable. They’re doing the same thing. They’re both professors of a certain disciple, but we use straight across the board percentages and that’s really unfair.”

More men make the financial decisions at OSU than women.

A majority of department heads and deans are men. In the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and Spears School of Business, all of the department heads are men.

In these two colleges, men make more than $10,000 compared to women on average.

Another problem with salaries is only public companies have to release employees’ salaries. Private companies do not have to release salaries. Smith said public companies have to be more concerned about pay difference and ensuring the gap isn’t too wide. She said she was concerned the gap would be much larger in private companies.

“If we had unmitigated access to private industries who don’t have to publicize that information, I wonder what that gap would actually look like,” Smith said. “I wonder if we’re getting the right numbers. If we are more stringently observed in the university setting and we still have a gap, what’s happening when no one’s looking?”