Flex Work’s Potential Role in Gender Pay Gap

One Harvard University economist suggests greater flex-work opportunities could aid women's cause in their pursuit of equal pay.

As women continue the struggle for equal pay, one Harvard University economist suggests greater flex-work opportunities could aid their cause.

“The gender gap in pay would be considerably reduced and might even vanish if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who worked long hours and who worked particular hours,” wrote Harvard economist Claudia Goldin in her recent report, “A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter.”

Current numbers show that, on average, a woman earns 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. 

Goldin found that men and women begin employment with fairly similar earnings, but gender disparities in payment levels develop soon afterward. The gap widens yet again when workers enter their 40s.

Pigs Blue and PinkNot surprisingly, one explanation offered is that young children reduce the participation of women in the workforce. Women with children work 24 percent fewer hours per week than men or women without children, the report shows.

However, young children have a lesser effect on women who work in the technology industry, which is generally associated with greater gender equality in earnings than other industries, according to the report. This is in part explained by more willingness among tech industry companies to let their employees work part time or to work more flexibly. 

“Total hours worked are generally a good metric for time on the job,” Goldin wrote. “But often what counts are the particular hours worked. The employee who is around when others are as well may be rewarded more than the employee who leaves at 11 a.m. for two hours but is hard at work for two additional hours in the evening.”

Max Mihelich is a Workforce associate editor. Comment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Mihelich on Twitter at @workforcemax.