Why Are Women Frequently Settling for Lower Salaries Than Men?

Belkis Megraoui

更新日期 January 16, 2020 更新日期 January 16

I admit, I’ve been guilty of this too. I have found myself, on numerous occasions, quite contently negotiating a rather insignificant sum when asked about my minimum salary expectation in job applications.

The reason? I can’t tell you if it’s my somewhat humble nature, or if I, to some extent, undervalued myself slightly because I’d just graduated and therefore shouldn’t expect more than the minimum starting wage. To me, the latter seems very plausible. I desperately want to assure you that this is also the case with other female graduates, who seem to be pricing themselves a little lower than their male equals – but I would probably be slightly misinforming you.

The sad truth

Gender pay gap

Research shows that students of both genders are pessimistic about their graduate starting salaries, and this is particularly the case with women. Save the Student’s recently published National Student Money Survey 2018 discovered that “while men feel slightly more positive about earnings than a year ago (when they predicted a starting salary of £23,139), women still price themselves a full grand under the average, and four grand less than male graduates.”

This is despite the overwhelming number of female university applicants in comparison to male applicants – as reported by The Independent, recent statistics from UCAS showed that almost 100,000 more women than men are applying to universities in the UK – 367,300 female applicants in contrast with 269,660 male applicants, which leaves an exact gap of 97,640 students.

Are these statistics shocking to me? Unfortunately, not really. Growing up, many women would probably tell you that society has often tried to shove the idea into their heads that no matter how successful they’d like to become when they’re older, they probably never will earn as much as their male counterparts.

Is this because men are the traditional breadwinners and women supposedly aren’t? Or is it that dreaded assumption that all women are expected to ultimately take the part-time route because they are going to become mothers one day, and thus will require more domestic time to attend to their maternal duties and responsibilities? Or maybe it’s just that somehow, men are more capable of doing the very same job that we can and love to do, and thus remain more deserving of a grander reward? At least that’s what society likes to tell us – (curse you, society). Luckily, I have a mindset that has always rebelled against this type of notion – so I’m all well and good?

Not exactly. There still is that undoubted, subconscious belief lingering in the back of my head.

Am I alone in this?

Luckily (but also regrettably) not. According to a study reported in a 2017 article by CNN, female UK students expect to make a confounding 14 percent less than their male peers when applying to their first jobs, while women in their 20s are paid five percent less on average. Why has that become such a thing? It could be because we have unknowingly succumbed to the ever-present gender pay gap. 

Robert Joyce, associate director at the Institute of Fiscal Studies, admitted that since there are more educated young women in the UK than there are men, we can safely rule out the explanation that the early-career five percent “wage difference is not due to education” – rather, it is simply owing to discrimination, as young female starters in the workforce are facing a generous gender pay gap even before they have children or spend any time away from the office to start a family – of course, how dare we merely expect to receive as much money as our male colleagues for the same role.

However, there is hope…

Gender pay gap decreasing

Well, the good news is, the gender pay gap is gradually getting smaller – further statistics by the Resolution Foundation have reported that although women born between 1981 and 2000 have salaries that are five percent lower on average, women born between 1966 and 1980 were paid nine percent less than men when they were beginning their careers in their 20s – ladies, let us take a moment to express our gratitude.

Amanda Goodall, a Senior Lecturer at Cass Business School in London, said that progress has been made because young women today are better equipped than their predecessors to effectively negotiate salaries. Maybe that gives women of my generation a glimmer of hope, in that they now own the privilege to be able to have a say in what they can and can’t earn?

…and bad news

Yet, I wouldn’t get too excited if I were you. Unfortunately, despite all our attempts to stick our heads out of the dark ages, women can still expect to suffer underpayment throughout our careers. – Wait, is that my lifetime I am being told? Laura Gardiner of the Resolution Foundation said that, “Small hourly pay gaps quickly grow into large lifetime pay penalties that can leave women…worse off over the course of their careers.” (I think I’m about to lose all my inhibitions and manners at this point.)

Gardiner also adds that having children still comes with a rather unfair price to pay: “Training, progression and promotion are much harder to come by when working part-time, which many women with children either choose to do or feel they have to because of high childcare costs.” That’s nice, discourage more women from enjoying motherhood in their lives, why don’t you.

Do subject choices play a part in this?

Women in STEM

In October 2017, the UK government’s Office for National Statistics reported that men are more likely than women to work in higher paying jobs, such as managers, directors and senior officials, while women in the very same professions are getting paid an hourly wage that is 16 percent less on average.

The statistics also revealed that one of the reasons there is an overall gender pay gap – which is 18 percent in favor of men – is the fact that there are three times as many women working part-time than men. Is that it? Not quite. A pay gap of nine percent remains for full-time working women in every major occupation group, including those dominated by female workers – say what?

Additionally, even though women hold nearly half (45 percent) of full-time “professional occupations” including scientists, engineers and health professionals, their hourly wage is, on average, 11 percent lower than that of their male co-workers. That is pretty darn unfair, if you ask me.

There is also no doubt that young women at universities are more often than not choosing to study subjects that, in comparison to STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics), tend to lead to lower-paying jobs. Last year, the BBC reported that some of the discrepancies in the gender pay gap can be explained by differences in subject choices, where women are more likely to go for courses such as education, creative arts, humanities and English language/literature – while men tend to gear more towards subjects like computing, engineering and architecture.

Why are women underrepresented in STEM?

It could very well be argued that many women are discouraged from entering the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, because of the common gender-based stereotypes that surround those subjects.

As reported by The Guardian recently, women make up a mere 14.4 percent of those working in STEM in the UK, despite occupying almost half of the overall workforce. One of the main reasons for this revolves around the fact that, quite simply, fewer girls than boys are choosing to study STEM subjects. Why? Let us explore…

Science may have something to do with it.

Apparently, science has a little something to answer to this. The Guardian’s report reveals that as we’ve learnt from biological accounts, boys tend to be better than girls at spatial tasks, whereas girls are more inclined to perform well in verbal recall tasks. Although you would be relieved to know that these are minor differences, and their impact on STEM ability is quite futile.

Naturally, girls have been found to perform just as well, if not better than their male peers in STEM classwork, but their level of performance sees a decline in tests and exams. The reason for this is partially due to girls being more anxious about tests than boys – but could this also be a result of the stereotypical expectations that are imposed on young girls? 

Society may have a lot to do with it.

A study by Luigi Guiso, Professor and Chair of Macroeconomics and Finance at Goethe University Frankfurt and his colleagues explored how boys perform in mathematics compared to girls. Overall, the maths scores for girls averaged 10.5 points (two percent) lower than the mean average for boys. But here’s the catch – this difference varied depending on the country. For instance, in Turkey, boys outperform girls by 22.6 points, whereas in Iceland, it is the girls that outperform the boys by 14.5 points. When the countries were classified according to gender equality, the research discovered that the mathematics gender gap disappeared in the more gender-equal countries, such as Norway and Sweden.

Fascinating, right?

But let’s not get too ahead of ourselves here. Even with these numbers at hand, there is still a higher proportion of men than women in STEM-related careers, even in gender-neutral countries like Sweden. Why is that? Well, a study of 1,327 Swedish secondary school students was able to discover why boys are more attracted to STEM subjects than girls: Girls reported feelings of “social belongingness”, which means that they felt more comfortable studying in classes that had more of their own gender. “Self-efficacy” (the belief that one has the capacity to succeed in a specific field) was another very significant influence; girls scored lower with “self-efficacy” in STEM, which demonstrates that they conform with the stereotype that girls are less capable than boys in these subjects.

So why is this happening?

In a nutshell, I think society is to blame for all the troubles women face, including their professional aspirations – (yeah okay, drama queen). I admit, prior to my delving into writing this piece, I had assumed that biology and (a very basic understanding of) so-called ‘societal norms’ were indeed the main culprits as to why so many women are expecting lower salaries than their male counterparts.

Now I know that that is simply not the case; with the gender pay gap still in existence, it has many of us almost surrendering to the idea that our academic and professional abilities are inherently different to those of men.

Of course, we’ve now established that the effects of science and biological predispositions are rather trivial in this case. Studies such as Luigi Guiso’s, which proved that women in gender-equal societies are much more likely to achieve mathematics grades that are as high as, if not higher than those of their male peers, have also proven that differences in academic abilities among the two genders are indeed determined by the social stigmas and gender-based stereotypes that have been plaguing us since the Big Bang.

So, what do you think? Do you agree that it’s all down to society, or do you stand by the notion that women are just ‘naturally’ different to men when it comes to their subject choices and salary expectations? Let us know in the comments below.

本文首发于 2018 July , 更新于 2020 January 。


A former content writer for TopUniversities.com, Belkis published a range of articles for students and graduates across the globe. She has a zeal for history and a natural flair for the arts and sports. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in English Language & Communication with Journalism from the University of Hertfordshire and is a native speaker of the Arabic language.




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