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April 4 2018

Study: Women Gaining Ground in High-Paying Fields Once Dominated by Men

by Charlotte Hays

A cherished talking point is in jeopardy!

The much-debunked but nevertheless often-cited statement that there is a 77 cent gender wage gap, based on sexual discrimination, between what men and women earn is facing a reality check from a new working paper.

The study is by three economists and it finds that women are moving into higher paying jobs in fields that were previously dominated by male professionals. Fortune magazine sums up the study:

Women are gaining ground in historically male-dominated fields—thanks in part to their interpersonal skills, new research has found.

According to the Wall Street Journal, which cites a new working paper by three economists, certain high-paying occupations—including doctor, software engineer, and financial adviser—have begun requiring more interpersonal skills like collaboration, empathy, and managing others. To provide evidence that women tend to have more sophisticated interpersonal skills like empathy and collaboration, the economists cited research from the fields of psychology and neuroscience in their paper, the Journal reports.

“That’s been favoring women in high-paying jobs,” Henry Siu, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the University of British Columbia, told the Journal.

The overall trend isn’t new: From 1980 to 2000, women saw gains in high-paying fields, and while those gains slowed from 2000 to 2014, women still out-performed men, who saw their opportunities for highly paid work decline during those years, the Journal reports.

The authors of the paper made a not entirely successful attempt at wit in giving their work a title ("The 'End of Men' and the Rise of Women in the High-Skilled Market") but the findings are fascinating. An increased emphasis on skills perceived as associated with women is one factor in the reported shift in the labor market.

From the executive summary:

We document a new finding regarding changes in labor market outcomes for men and women in the US. Since 1980, conditional on being a college-educated man, the probability of working in a cognitive/high-wage occupation has fallen. This contrasts starkly with the experience for college-educated women: their probability of working in these occupations rose, despite a much larger increase in the supply of educated women relative to men. We consider these facts in light of a general neoclassical model of the labor market.

One key channel capable of rationalizing these findings is a greater increase in the demand for female-oriented skills in cognitive/high-wage occupations relative to other occupations. Using occupation-level data, we find evidence that this relative increase in the demand for female skills is due to an increasing importance of social skills within such occupations. Evidence from both male and female wages is also indicative in an increase demand for social skills.

I can imagine that this good news will be bad news to those who find the 77-cent wage gap an indispensable talking point.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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