Some Evidence of Discrimination (wage gap series, part 9)

(This is one of a series of posts on the wage gap.)

In this post, I’ll address a very simple question: what evidence is there that economic discrimination against women currently exists in the USA? Reading the works of conservatives like Christina Hoff Sommers, one gets the impression that economic discrimination against women might not exist at all, nowadays. Unfortunately, that’s not true.

This post won’t even come close to describing the hundreds of academic papers and news reports which have found evidence of discrimination against women. Instead, I’ll be looking at just a few examples that clearly demonstrate that economic discrimination against women, contrary to the claims of the anti-feminists, is a real problem.


What happens if two otherwise identical people, one male and one female, apply for the same job? This is one of the clearest ways of showing discrimination. If discrimination never happens, then otherwise identical men and women would get identical results in the job market.

Of course, in the real world, no two people are ever identical. But researchers can fake it. For instance, economist David Neumark[1] conducted an “audit study.” “The purpose of an audit study is to provide much more direct evidence on discrimination than is provided by other empirical methods.” Male and female job applicants, chosen for similar characteristics, and trained to act in similar ways, applied in pairs for waiter positions in restaurants in Philadelphia. The applicants used fictional resumes that had been designed to show equal qualifications for a waiter position.

The results? 85% of the job offers from high-price restaurants (where wages are correspondingly high) were made to male job applicants. In contrast, 80% of the job offers from low-price, low-wage restaurants were made to women. This is clear evidence of sex discrimination in employment – evidence which might explain how it is that waitresses in the United States are paid only 75% of what waiters make.

Job Applicants Without Sex

[Note from Barry, added in 2019: The research I referred to in this section has recently been called into question. I’ve put the entire section in italics, and added this note, to indicate that I’m currently uncertain if I can stand behind this section.]

Another interesting question is, what would happen if employers hired people without knowing their sex? If the anti-feminists are correct and sex discrimination doesn’t exist, then this would make no difference – employers would hire the same people whether or not they knew the sex of job applicants.

Of course, since employers quite reasonably want to interview people before hiring them, it generally never happens that people are hired without the employer knowing their sex. An interesting exception to this rule is major symphony orchestras. Most major symphony orchestras now practice “blind auditions,” in which musicians audition for a spot in the orchestra from behind a screen. Symphony directors choose which candidates to hire without knowing the sex of the person auditioning.

The economists Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse, in a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research,[2] asked an interesting question: do female musicians have a better chance of being hired when the judges don’t know their sex? Using data from actual audition records, they found that blind auditioning “increases by 50%” a woman’s odds of getting past preliminary auditions, and by several times increases the chance that a woman will win the final round of auditions. As much as 55% of the increase in women in symphony orchestras since the 1970s is due to the use of blind auditions.

Pay Differences Among the Highly Paid

Anti-feminists often complain that feminists don’t account for important economic factors – such as “occupation, age, experience, education, and time in the work force”[3] – when comparing male and female pay. Curiously, however, the anti-feminists themselves ignore many studies that account for all these factors and more, and still find a wage gap. Moreover, they often include economically irrelevant factors – such as comparing only the wages of very young women and men, as if discrimination among people ages 33 and up isn’t something we should be concerned with. (To read more about this, click here.)

One of the best studies of the sort the anti-feminists urge, considering as many economically relevant factors as possible, was done by the economists Robert Wood, Mary Corcoran and Paul Courant.[4] By looking at a very specific and detailed sample of workers – graduates of the Michigan Law School – they were able to examine the wage gap while matching men and women for many other possible explanatory factors – not only “occupation, age, experience, education, and time in the workforce,” but also childcare, average hours worked, grades while in college, and other factors.

The result? Even after accounting for all that, women still are paid only 81.5% of what men “with similar demographic characteristics, family situations, work hours, and work experience” are paid.

Department of Labor Audits

Federal contractors are periodically examined by the Department of Labor to see if they are complying with federal laws requiring equal treatment of female and male employees. According to the National Committee on Pay Equity, the DOL still needs to order companies to halt their unequal treatment of women. The NCPE website gives some examples:

  • Texaco, which agreed to pay $3.1 million to 186 female employees who were found to be systematically underpaid compared to their male counterparts.
  • Trigon Blue Cross Blue Shield, which paid $264,901 in back pay to 34 women managers who were paid less than male managers of equal qualifications and seniority.
  • US Airways, which agreed to pay $390,000 in back pay and salary adjustments to 30 women managers who were paid less than their male coworkers.
  • Corestates Financial Corp., which agreed to pay nearly $1.5 million in back wages and salary adjustments to women and minorities. The Labor Department found instances in which employees with more seniority or better performance reviews were paid less because they were women or minorities.

EEOC lawsuits are also worth considering. According to HR Magazine (May 2005), “At least 24,000 sex discrimination complaints have been filed with the EEOC each year since 1998, and the dollar figure for settlements during the same time period has nearly doubled. In 2004 alone, the EEOC resolved more than 10,000 sex discrimination complaints in favor of the charging party and recovered $100.8 million in monetary benefits for charging parties and other aggrieved individuals (not including monetary benefits obtained through litigation).”

Women get less credit for their work.

It’s long been believed by feminists that women often need to accomplish more than men in their field to be given the same credit. A recent study of scientific credit, published in the journal Nature, seems to prove the feminists right.[6]

What the Nature study did was examine productivity (measured in terms of publications in scientific journals, how many times a person was a “lead author” of an article, and how often the articles were cited in scientific journals) and sex. Publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals is often considered to be the most objective and “concrete” sign of accomplishment in the sciences. These factors were then compared to how an actual scientific review panel measured scientific competence when deciding which applicants would receive research grants. Receiving grants like these are essential to the careers of scientific researchers.

The results? Female scientists needed to be at least twice as accomplished as their male counterparts to be given equal credit. For example, women with over 60 “impact points” – the measure the researchers constructed of scientific productivity – received an average score of 2.25 “competence points” from the peer reviewers. In contrast, men with less than 20 impact points also received 2.25 competence points. In fact, only the most accomplished women were ever considered to be more accomplished than men – and even then, they were only seen as more accomplished than the men with the very fewest accomplishments.

Other studies have found similar results. [7]

Discrimination against female consumers.

Most research on economic discrimination has been concentrated on work and working. However, there are other kinds of economic discrimination which should be considered, such as discrimination against consumers. In her book Why Women Pay More, Frances Cerra Whittelsey detailed many examples of women being charged more than men for the same products and services (for example, for dry-cleaning a plain cotton shirt).

Whittelsey’s book in some ways implies that part of the problem is that women may not negotiate as well as men (for instance, she includes some good advice on how to negotiate prices when buying a car). Professor Ian Ayres, of the Northwestern University School of Law, used audit testing to examine this question.[8] Testers of different sexes and races were trained to use a single, uniform negotiating strategy for all car negotiations. Professor Ayres measured both initial offers, before any negations had begun, and final outcomes of negotiations.

The results? White men consistently got far better deals than white women, black women or black men – even though all of them used the same negotiating strategy. According to Professor Ayres, “white women had to pay forty percent higher markups than white men; black men had to pay more than twice the markup; and black women had to pay more than three times the markup of white male testers.” A black woman walking into a car dealership, and negotiating just the same as a white man, ends up paying $900 more for her car.

Footnotes: [1] Neumark, David (1996). “Sex Discrimination in Restaurant Hiring: An Audit Study.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 1996, pages 915-941

[2] Goldin, Claudia and Cecilia Rouse (1997). “Orchestrating Impartiality: The Impact of “Blind” Auditions on Female Musicians.” NBER Working Paper number W5903, issued January 1997.

[3] Quote from page 12 of Furchtgott-Roth, Diana and Christine Stolba (1999). Women’s Figures: An illustrated guide to the economic progress of women in America. Washington, D.C.: The AEI press.

[4] Wood, Robert, Mary Corcoran and Paul Courant (1993). “Pay Differences Among The Highly Paid: the male-female gap in lawyers salaries.” Journal of Labor Economics volume 11 (3), pages 417-441.

[5] Quoted from the National Committee on Pay Equity, at

[6] Wenneras, Christine and Agnes Wold (1997). “Nepotism and Sexism in Peer-Review.” Nature, volume 387, May 22 1997, pages 341-343.

[7] Wenneras and Wold, for example, cite similar results found by Goldberg (1968), Trans-Action, volume 5 pages 28-30; Nieva and Gutek (1980), Acad. Manag. Rev, volume 5 pages 267-276; and O’Leary and Wallston, Review of Personal Social Psychology volume 2 pages 9-43. Also, see Johnson, Dan (1997). “Getting Noticed in Economics: the determinants of academic citations.” The American Economist, volume 41 (1), Spring 1997, pages 43-52.

[8] Ayres, Ian (1991). “Fair Driving: Gender and Race Discrimination in Retail Car Negotiations.” Harvard Law Review, volume 104 (4), February 1991, pages 817-872.

This entry posted in Economics and the like, Gender and the Economy, The Wage Gap Series. Bookmark the permalink. 

21 Responses to Some Evidence of Discrimination (wage gap series, part 9)

  1. 1
    --k. says:

    Kudos on a well-done series. Any plans to put this together on its own mini-site, or PDF it for download?

    When you climb out from under the wallpaper and paint, that is.

  2. 2
    Tishie says:

    This is my favorite one, I think! It’s just so irrefutable, but maybe that’s also because I’m combining it with the other eight. :D

  3. 3
    Sara says:

    To add to this post’s comments about women in symphony orchestras, here’s a great article that describes shocking gender bias in orchestras in Europe.

    Some excerpts:

    In a cross-national study, gender researchers Allmendinger and Hackman established percentages for the representation of women in orchestras in the following countries: 36% for the USA, 30% for the United Kingdom, and 16% for both East and West Germany. They also found that women were concentrated in lower-paid orchestras, and that they were notably less present in major orchestras. Far from leading the way, gender integration in orchestras is lagging behind the progress being made in the rest of society.

    These social forces allow some of Europe’s most preeminent musical institutions to categorically forbid membership to women. One is the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, which openly states that ethnic and gender uniformity gives it aesthetic superiority. The orchestra is an excellent case study, because the prevailing gender culture of Austria registers little protest to these views.


    Five years later, in 1983, these seating concerns were brought to life by clarinetist Sabine Meyer, who became the first woman to enter the orchestra, and who was hired only through the intervention of General Music Director Herbert von Karajan. In spite of its “masculine composure,” the orchestra exploded into turmoil, and after nine months, she left. It also ended Karajan’s 40-year relationship with the orchestra. Meyer suffered extreme harassment, such as seating herself at rehearsals only to have the men slide their chairs away from her. Their “emotional unity” was disturbed. The German musicians’ union supported the orchestra, noting the all male ensemble had the “democratic right” to choose whom it wanted.

    It is now thirteen years later, and the orchestra has 121 men and six women in full-time regular positions-the women being five tutti strings and a harpist. There are also four women with probationary contracts.10 In the many interviews the orchestra gave during the Sabine Meyer incident, the men expressed views about uniformity identical to those of the Vienna Philharmonic. For example, some claimed that it is impossible for women to really play in unison with men because they have different bodies.

  4. 4
    acm says:

    editorial query: is there supposed to be a verb in the first sentence of this post?

    what evidence is there that currently economic discrimination against women in the United States?

    just leaves me wondering what I missed…

  5. 5
    Ampersand says:

    Whoops! Thanks for the catch, Acm. I’ve made a correction.

  6. 6
    Cory says:

    Has there ever been a study that asks questions about negotiating pay? Is it possible that part of the reason for women getting paid less is the fact they accept less? As a man, I believe that women are hurting my profession because they are accepting lower offers. Could they be accepting lower pay because they are bringing in a secondary income? These are just questions that maybe someone should research. I have seen many cases where 30k a year for a woman suits her needs because she is secondary to her husband or equal to her husband (double income) This is not always the case for men. Many men are still trying to earn a living for a family with a spouse at home. If we go up against a female with the same skill set and education that will take lower pay…do the math. So, to all women out there that think your getting messed over…ask for more pay at time of hire. Do the research on how much you really should get paid. Maybe the problem is not exactly discrimination in all cases, maybe its how your playing the game.

  7. 7
    David P. says:

    I think cory is probably on to something there. Another thing i wonder about is if a woman is hiring into a predominantly male environment (ie: where there are mostly men working at the place, not as in construction or something) if the person who is hiring wouldnt be a little more reluctant to hire a female because by default, shes kind of the odd person out.

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  15. 8
    theorganizer77 says:

    I think the way that work is delineated, and the manner in which positions are created, within many organizations, is based on the male-model. Many jobs could be restructured so that they are more women-friendly.

  16. 9
    Chained Divinity says:

    I’m definitely, definitely convinced that men get more mmoeny than women for certain jobs. Kudos on that.

    However, I found a few flaws in all this, at least for the purposes of calling “male privilege”. For one thing, many of these studies talk aboutpay gaps in specific lines of work, but that doesn’t make all work cultures the same–it migh very well be that men working in traditionally “feminine” fields get paid and respected less than the women.

  17. 10
    Charles S says:

    Chained Divinity, here is a nice report listing ratios broken out by occupation (from 2005, just the first thing I found in google).

    The only occupation in which women are paid better than men is dining room and cafeteria attendants. Woman are paid worse than men in the female dominated fields of nursing, primary school teaching, and home cleaners, to give 3 examples.

  18. 11
    Chained Divinity says:

    Meant to respond to this way earlier, but…

    Hum. Well, there’s the rather noticeable sum of jobs that show “No Data Available” with regards to women’s pay, so…

    Enh, for now I agree with Cory on this. *shrug*

  19. 12
    Benny says:

    Hi Everybody

    First time visitor. on a trawl of the web to try and make some sense of all the conflicting data on the gender wage gap topic and your page came up.

    Look at the dates of publication. The most recent study you reference is 13 years old. the oldest is 20 years old. You are aware things change over time, right? Progress on pay equality might be slow but they aren’t that slow. Every study you cite is completely irrelevant today, especially with the all the economic chaos we’re experiencing.

    Try again I’m afraid.

  20. 13
    Ampersand says:

    Benny, check the date of the post. This post was written in 2003.

  21. 14
    Benny says:

    LOL! My bad.

    I guess I just read the comments from Aug 2012 directly proceeding mine and blundered into that one.