What to Say When You Hear, “Women Just Choose Lower Paying Jobs”

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What to Say When You Hear, “Women Just Choose Lower Paying Jobs”

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Talking points for exhausting conversations.

46 percent of men believe the issue of equal pay isn’t a real concern and has been made up “to serve a political purpose”, according to a 2019 survey.

They argue that men “choose” well-paid careers — like those in the STEM — while women gravitate toward lower-paying careers like early-childhood education and social work. The implication being that being paid less is a choice driven by professional preferences.

It’s one of many go-to talking points that attempt to explain away gender pay gaps, like women “opting out of workforce leadership” or “failing to ask for more”. And like those other lines of reasoning, the argument of “occupational segregation” – aka, women simply “choosing” lower paying jobs – perpetuates pay gaps by excusing away the persistent inequities that contribute to them.

So here are a few points talking points use in your next conversation with someone who believes women “choose” to be paid less:

Women are paid less than men in almost all occupations.

In other words, the gender pay gap exists within occupations, not just between them. And that’s true in both male- and female-dominated fields.

A 2020 analysis found that among chief executives, the highest paid of the largest 20 occupations among men, women face a wage gap of 24.4 percent. And among maids and housekeepers, the lowest paid of the largest 20 occupations among women, women face a wage gap of 10.6 percent.

“Even in these very low paid jobs there is a substantial wage gap,” reports the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. But it’s not just low paying jobs that perpetuate the gender wage gap. In fact….

Women in some of the highest-paying professions face some of the largest pay gaps.

One recently published study found that female doctors earned on average $2 million less than male doctors over a 40-year career span – even after adjusting for factors that might otherwise explain observed differences in income, such as hours worked, clinical revenue, practice type and specialty.

According to another recent analysis of US Census data, these findings are borne out across other high paying industries as well. In finance for example, the gender pay gap is estimated around 35 percent. And in the legal field, it’s around 24 percent.


As more women enter previously male-dominated fields, the pay drops for everyone.

An analysisof 50 years of US Census data found that pay drops when professions move from predominantly male to predominantly female.

It’s one of the strongest rebukes to the idea that women “choose” low paying jobs and one of the clearest demonstrations of a job being low-paid because there are more women in those occupations. Across sectors and income levels women’s work is consistently undervalued.

It’s clear that sexism and discrimination continue to play an outsized role in maintaining the gender wage gap. A gap that grows even greater when it intersects with other forms of bias.

By perpetuating the myth that these pay gaps are simply a matter of “preference”, that men and women are fundamentally different in their desire for, interest in and pursuit of high paying careers, we overlook the very real barriers women still face in closing the gender wage gap.

For more like this, check out…

What I Learned About the Gender Gap as a Woman Working in Manual Labor

What to Say When You Hear, “Women Aren’t In Leadership Roles Because They Opt Out”

What to Say When Your Boss Thinks You Have an Inclusive Workplace (But You Don’t)

What To Say When You Hear, “Gender Inequity Isn’t That Bad Anymore”

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Image: Adam Gault/Photodisc via GettyImages

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