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Why Women Earn Less

Photographer: Asim Hafeez/Bloomberg
Updated on

There are many ways to look at the explosive issue of why women earn less than men: Are you comparing men and women in the same exact job, at the same company? Or aggregate figures skewed by the fact that more women work in schools and hospitals and fewer advance to the top ranks of lucrative professions such as banking? What the numbers lay bare depends on how they’re assembled. Yet in almost all cases, they provoke outrage, like the revelations about the gender pay gap in Hollywood, professional sports, at the BBC and among Uber drivers. In the U.K., a new law requiring large companies to disclose their pay gap is putting real numbers on wage inequality. Advocates say the flood of data will push women’s wages up. Skeptics say it’s a simplistic way to look at a stubborn problem.

Companies with 250 or more workers in Britain were required to unveil a blunt, uniform assessment of what women earn versus men by April 4. Some of the widest gaps appeared at banks such as HSBC Holdings Plc and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which pay women in their workforce less than half of what men earn on average. That’s largely because women are under-represented in senior roles. A new German law gives workers the right to compare their pay with up to six colleagues of the opposite sex who have the same job. The U.S. has moved away from requiring more reporting. President Donald Trump’s administration reversed an Obama-era rule change that would’ve compelled companies to report pay information to the government. But some companies are doing it anyway: Under pressure from activist shareholders, several large U.S. banks, including Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co. disclosed figures that revealed — after adjusting for factors such as job title and geography an identical 1 percent gap. That led some critics to question the data. In the U.S., the typical job-to-job gap, for workers of equal education and experience, is about 5 percent. In France and Germany, it’s about 3 percent.