Why Do Women Make Less Money Than Men? Are We Training Them to Earn Less?

That women generally earn less than men is a well known fact. 

Many people attribute the income difference to the fact that women are more likely to leave the job field to become caretakers, either for their children or their parents.  In fact, Time reported that “over a period of 15 years, according to a 2004 study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), a full 52% of women in their prime earning age range of 26 to 59 go through at least one full calendar year earning nothing at all, compared with just 16% of men.”

Of course, that absence in the work place can account for some difference in pay, especially when women stay out of the workforce for several years while their children are young.

However, women leaving the work field to care for others is only part of the story.

When Does the Wage Gap Between Men and Women Begin?

CNN Money recently noted that a report by the American Association of University Women which “analyzed data from a Department of Education survey of 15,000 graduates conducted in 2009” concluded that “women who worked full-time jobs one year after receiving their diplomas earned 82 cents for every dollar men earned.”

This study was for those only one year removed from college, presumably well before women leave the job field to become caretakers, yet they earned a significant amount less than their male peers.

What Causes the Initial Pay Gap?

There are several reasons why women are generally paid lower rates than men.

Choice of major.

Women traditionally avoid math and science and instead choose English and other liberal arts degrees.

Even among women who choose hard science and math majors, they generally gravitate to nurturing jobs.  According to Time, “The most-educated swath of women, for example, gravitates toward the teaching and nursing fields.  Men with comparable education become business executives, scientists, doctors and lawyers–jobs that pay significantly more.”

The difference can be astounding.

According to the Huffington Post, “Petroleum engineering majors, for instance, are 100 percent male-dominated, whereas women account for 97% of early childhood education majors.  The average petroleum engineer’s yearly salary is around $120,000.  The average preschool teacher makes about $35,000.”

Ability to negotiate.

business_woman_suitWomen are often thought to be peacekeepers, and, unfortunately, that skill does not help them in regards to salary.

Women are less likely than men to negotiate a higher salary, which is another reason why men earn more than women before women leave the job force.  Add in the current economy, where jobs for recent graduates are scarce, and many women are just happy to have a job offer.

“Sara Laschever, who along with Linda Babcock also co-authored ‘Ask For It:  How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want‘ found that men not only negotiate for more money out of the gate, but they also ask to be promoted with far greater frequency.

In general, men ask for things for themselves four times more frequently than women do” (Huffington Post).  If women start behind salary-wise at the beginning of their careers, it becomes nearly impossible to ever catch up with men.


While many companies have made strides to eliminate discrimination, it still has a presence which sometimes shows up in the salaries men and women are making.

Another aspect of discrimination is that women are often uncomfortable pursuing the jobs with the top salaries. “‘Why do you think [male-dominated industries] are sex-segregated?’ says Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women.  ‘Very often women aren’t welcome there.’

Real or perceived, discrimination in certain sectors could discourage women from seeking employment there.  A dearth of role models might, in turn, influence the next generation of girls to gravitate toward lower-paying fields, creating an unfortunate cycle” (Time).

How to Help Our Daughters Earn More

While many college students are saddled with student loan debt, that burden can be heavier for women who make thousands of dollars less than men immediately after graduation.  In addition, many women eventually become single mothers, and their children would fare better if they were able to make as much money as men.

We need to undo some of the lessons of the past and teach our daughters skills that will earn them more money.

Choose a major that leads to a higher salary.

There is nothing wrong with getting a B.A. in English, but if your daughter wants to earn a good salary, you would be wise to encourage her to study math and the sciences.  She could always use her English skills to get a job as a technical writer.

College shouldn’t just be about studying what interests our daughters most, but also what will earn them a decent living after college.

Teach them to negotiate and stand up for themselves.

The more you can teach your daughter the skills of negotiation and to ask for what she needs, the better she will be at asking for a higher salary in the beginning, and later, a higher salary and a promotion, just as men do.

Teach her to negotiate at the grocery store and ask for a lower price for an item that is near its expiration date.  Let her watch you negotiate and try her hand at negotiating some of her own purchases.  Having small successes this way will help her gain confidence to negotiate bigger financial transactions.

Teach them that they don’t have to be the caretakers.

There is nothing wrong with a woman deciding to stay home for a few years to raise her children or to even put her career on hold indefinitely as long as she understands the financial repercussions.

However, women don’t automatically make the better caretakers.  Teach your daughter that either parent can choose to be the caretaker, or that both parents can continue their careers while raising their children.


We may not be able to completely erase wage discrimination, but by understanding what causes it as well as teaching our daughters how to rise above it, we should see the margin of difference in salary between men and women narrow.

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Published or updated February 5, 2013.


  1. Jane Savers @ The Money Puzzle says:

    I am in a lower paying health care job. I do not think I was encouraged to pursue anything in school. There was always the expectation of a husband with a good income. The women I know who live the most comfortable lives have chosen husbands who earn a high income.

    In my sons’ high school there was a real push to keep girls in math and science or to try trades. Lots of guest speakers and parent education nights but attitudes change very slowly and the attitudes of the parents have to change as well as the attitudes of the children.

    Late 40’s single mon struggling to make it on an income of less than 50k per year.

  2. Russel James says:

    I think it all depends on the person. If you want something you can get it with hard work. However, discrimination still exists, which is very sad. I think it might be harder for women working in a big company as opposed to working in a small one where everyone knows everyone. The close team environment would actually not allow discrimination.

    • It is sad that it still exists.

      I think it depends on the company culture. I used to work for a company that had a lot of female executives yet another company in the industry was still very much a boys club still.

  3. Julie @ Freedom 48 says:

    I think naturally, mens and womens priorities differ. As much as I love my job, my #1 priority is to start our family and raise happy and healthy children. I think my husband’s top priority is to provide for his family and ensure everyone is taken care of. So long as we earn a comfortable income, live a comfortable life, and save a reasonable amount for retirement… I have no desire to climb the corporate ladder and earn the big bucks.

  4. Interesting article!

    Recently I quit my job to pursue writing/blogging full-time (my third full day on the job!). When I spoke with my boss about this, one of the things he said (and I don’t know if this is backed up by any statistics) is that men with stay-at-home-wives/mothers earn more in income.

    Have you ever heard of this?

  5. I have seen that women don’t get as good of prices when negotiating. My father always did the bartering, because for some reason people don’t take women as seriously as men. Maybe it’s just that they tend to be less assertive. I agree, train your daughters to stand up and negotiate for what they want. That will get them the farthest in life.

What Do You Think?