PhD candidate, Management and Organization department, Robert H. Smith School of Business
The surge of women into the workforce since the 20th century seems to have peaked out in the 21st century, with the percentage of women in the workforce well below the level of men. The recent book by Sheryl Sandburg “Lean In: Women, work and the will to Lead” has come under criticism due to the institutional constraint most women face while balancing work with personal life. Many are left to wonder, have women been able to close this gender gap at all?
The answer to this simple question is a little more complicated than it seems. In a recent article in The Atlantic, Professor Slaughter recently attributed her move to an academic positionto accommodate her personal commitments. Does this mean that academic positions allow women to dedicate more time to family life? Have women in academic career been able to close the gender gap? A recent study by a group of Smith School of Business faculty including Waverly Ding, Assistant Professor, Management & Organization, examined these questions among scientists and engineers.
The group found that among 50,000 PhD graduates in science and engineering, about 20% of women are in industry while 33% are in academic jobs. Clearly, highly qualified women in the workforce prefer academic job to one in the industry. Does this imply that Professor Slaughter’s argument about having more leisure time in academic career as compared to a job in the industry is true? To answer this question the authors dig deeper and list out the five key explanations of why a gender gap could exist. They then examine each one carefully:
1) Dual Career: Married women who are in the workforce along with their spouse have to navigate additional hurdles related to coordinating their career with that of their spouse. Men, with full time working spouse experience a decrease in earning by 7.4% and 6.6 % in academia and industry. While for women with full time working spouse, this effect is less dramatic; 3.2% and 0.5% in academia and industry. Hence, dual career is not a good explanation for the gender gap.
2) Baby penalty: One key argument of why the gender gap exists is that women take over most of the child rearing responsibilities and having a baby could lead to a negative impact on their career. Men in academia that have children experience increase in earnings. While women face a heavy penalty of 7.1% in academia and no penalty if they are working in the industry (-5.2%). So having children during academic career is detrimental for women’s earnings, while this has quite the opposite impact on women in industry. This implies that there is some underlying factor of women being in academia that they face a heavier penalty. The authors try to investigate what are these factors with the next three explanations of gender gap.
3) Pink Ghetto: Women choose low paying jobs to dedicate more time to personal life. The authors do not find any support for the idea that women segregate themselves into lower paying jobs.
4) Good Ol Boys effect: This is the classic idea of gender gap where men are preferred in a workforce. Women with a doctorate degree, face more institutional hurdles like tenure system rather than gender based discrimination.
5) Tenure system: Institutional differences between academic and industrial jobs. Unlike a job in a firm, academic jobs are dependent on research productivity. For women in academia with a work experience lasting 8 or more years having children creates the maximum penalty in earnings (-9.8%) as compared to a women with similar experience in the industry (-1%)
Reference: Waverly, D., Agarwal ,R., Ohyama, A., (2014). Where is the Promised Land? Gender Gap in Earnings of Scientists and Engineers in Academia and Industry. Working Paper.
About Shweta Gaonkar
Shweta Gaonkar is a PhD candidate at Management and Organizations department at Robert H. Smith School of Business. Her research focuses on founders’ background and its implication on the formation of inter organizational networks. Website: https://sites.google.com/site/shwetagaonkar/
About Waverly Ding
Waverly Ding is an Assistant Professor of Management & Organization at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. Dr. Ding earned her MBA and Ph.D. in business from the University of Chicago. Prior to joining the Smith School faculty, she was an assistant professor at Haas School of Business, the University of California at Berkeley.
Dr. Ding’s research focuses on high-tech entrepreneurship and strategy, knowledge transfer between universities and industrial firms, and the U.S. biotech industry. She has also conducted research relating to labor force in science and technology. Her work has been published in Science, American Journal of Sociology, Management Science, Journal of Industrial Economics, and Research Policy.