A New Theory For Why Women Earn Less


Overworked manPicture this: Your manager assigns you a challenging new project, and you log countless hours after everyone else has left the office in order to get it done before the deadline.

When raise-and-bonus time rolls around, your boss remembers how overworked you were—and rewards you for the effort.

Wouldn’t that feel good?

Based on new research, this scenario may be more common for men than women—and could offer a new explanation for the wage gap between sexes.

In their paper, sociology professors Youngjoo Cha and Kim A. Weeden suggest the gap has persisted for so many years because men are more willing to be overworked than woman—and are compensated for it.

Setting out to prove their hypothesis, Cha and Weeden reviewed 30 years of data from the Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Current Population Survey. They found that in 1979, women earned 70% of men’s salaries. By 1991, it increased to 75%, and then remained relatively stable at 76% from the late ‘90s through 2009.

RELATED: Is This the Answer to Closing the Gender Wage Gap? 

The “overworking” trend followed an upward trajectory during the same time period. In the early 1980s, 13% of men and just 3% of women worked 50 hours a week or more. Fast-forward to 2000: 19% of men and 7% of women worked 50 hours or more. The researchers assert that over time, employers started to expect more hours of work from employees, but were willing to pay a premium for it—which is why men have consistently earned more.

Cha and Weeden estimate that the “overwork effect” has been significant enough to counteract wage-equalizing factors, such as women earning more college degrees than men.

So why do fewer women embrace long hours like their male counterparts? The researchers suggest it’s because women are still expected to shoulder most of the burden for housework and child care. “[E]ssentialist beliefs about female caregiving continue to be a dominant cultural ideology even among people who endorse gender egalitarianism,” write Cha and Weeden.

Still, if you’re paid less than your male colleagues, you don’t have to suffer in silence. Start by reading our guide to getting paid what you’re worth or our how-to on asking for a raise.

  • sallysue1

    Umm well one thing to consider is maybe men are more likely to be in fields where you can work overtime or longer hours. I think more women work in public sector where you can’t earn overtime or work more hours than what you are assigned. Also if the wage statistics are based on salary then it seems like bonuses and overtime pay aren’t a part of that.

  • Tabitha S.

    Can journalists please stop using the word prove when talking about research! Data from studies does not prove hypotheses, it SUPPORTS hypotheses.

  • lisa

    I agree, women are less likely to work in fields that require a lot of overtime hours. This study doesn’t prove that women are less likely to work less hours than men are. For example, I work in a male dominated industry and there are weeks that I have worked 70-80 hours per week. My female friends in other careers don’t work these kinds of hours, not because they don’t want to, but because it doesn’t go with the territory.

  • Lauren P

    One way to test this hypothesis is to compare single woman salaries with single men salaries… this would control for family obligations…