Why Do Women Earn Less Than Men? Evidence from Bus and Train Operators

From a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Labor Economics (ungated) by Valentin Bolotnyy and Natalia Emanuel, both excellent labor economists.

We show that a gender earnings gap can exist even in an environment where work tasks are similar, wages are identical, and tenure dictates promotions. The 11 percent earnings gap in our setting arises from female operators taking fewer overtime hours and more unpaid time off than do male operators. Consequently, we observe that gender neutral policies can have differential effects on the two sexes.

We find that female operators value time, as well as schedule controllability, conventionality, and predictability more than male operators. Male and female operators choose to work similar hours of overtime when they are scheduled months in advance, but male operators work nearly twice as many overtime hours when they are scheduled on short notice. Moreover, male operators game the overtime system more than female operators: when faced with an undesirable schedule, male operators take unpaid time off, but also work more overtime during the rest of the week, resulting in an increase over base income.

Thus, the 11% wage difference wasn’t a result of employer discrimination. One might say the wage gap was a result of “systematic sexism” in family roles but if so is the sexism hurting women, who earn less, or men, who spend less time with their families? If all partners were unisex wouldn’t it still make sense for one partner to be more work-flexible than the other due to increasing returns?

One positive lesson is that employers who can increase schedule controllability might be able to make workers better off and lower wages making employers better off. It’s not clear, however, if such bills are left on the sidewalk but it’s not impossible.

It’s interesting that similar results were found for the gender wage gap among Uber drivers–men made more but not because of employer discrimination, which isn’t even possible in this context, but because on average there are small differences in how men and women drive, men drive a bit faster for example.

Photo Credit: FCPS.

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