NEWS

Gender Pay Gap May Be Internalized Before Entering the Job Market, Study Shows

Woman opening a paycheck

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Key Takeaways

  • A recent study showed that expectations for pay are internalized differently in men and women, even before they start working.
  • Men's estimated earning expectations exceeded the reality of comparable graduates by 13%, while women's expectations exceeded the reality of comparable graduates by 11.2%.
  • Even when provided with the reality of wages for similar graduates, men still anticipated higher earnings, while women were more likely to decrease their expectations.

Gender-based discrimination has been illegal in the U.S. since 1963, but wage gaps persist as marginalized genders know all too well. According to a recently published study in PLOS ONE, there was a gender wage gap demonstrated among the anticipated earnings for Swiss students surveyed.

Especially as it pertains to the impact of the pandemic on women's careers, this research needs to prompt tangible action as the struggles of marginalized genders are likely to increase when the global economy is in turmoil.

Not only are marginalized genders earning less, but they are often working more, according to a study that assessed the time spent with patients among physicians. Clearly, the gender wage gap needs to be taken seriously.

Understanding the Research

Based on a survey of 865 students from the Business School at the Bern University of Applied Sciences, and the Faculty of Economic and Social Sciences at the University of Fribourg, gender wage gaps are internalized.

Researchers note that inclusion of the personal and professional responses in their statistical analysis reduced the effect of gender on earning expectations by about 30%, but a statistically significant effect remained.

The use of binary gender for this study is a weakness, as is the lack of data on the race of participants surveyed, given how the impacts of gender-based discrimination can often be intensified when also BIPOC.

Gendered Personal & Professional Factors

One of the researchers, an economist, and Professor at the Business School at the Bern University of Applied Sciences, Ana Fernandes, PhD, says, "Men and women have different wage expectations because they see themselves doing different things in their future and value different aspects of their future professional and personal environments." 

Ana Fernandes, PhD

Men and women have different wage expectations because they see themselves doing different things in their future and value different aspects of their future professional and personal environments.

— Ana Fernandes, PhD

To contextualize what this means, Fernandes explains why these preferences over workplace attributes, choice of future occupation, and personal preferences, such as the intended number of children and the degree of labor market attachment with children need to be considered.

Fernandes says, "One of the results reported in our study is that males display overconfidence when shown information about real-world wages. Further, other literature shows that women are more risk-averse, less competitive than men, and lacking in self-confidence. These beliefs are independent of such factors as academic achievement. Girls should be taught from an early age, that they are as able academically as boys and that their own self-doubt and lack of self-confidence often hold them back."

Imposter Syndrome Mediated by Gender

Hopkins-trained psychiatrist and Regional Medical Director of Community Psychiatry, Leela R. Magavi, MD, says, "Readers can apply this information although more research is needed to understand the cultural impact. It would be interesting to compare surveys conducted in disparate countries."

Leela R. Magavi, MD

Toxic work culture and feeling unvalued or disrespected at work can exacerbate imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome can disproportionately affect minority groups.

— Leela R. Magavi, MD

Based on her own practice, Magavi encourages women in particular to own their accomplishments rather than solely inferring that luck or others helped them. She shares that most men often deduce that their accomplishments are due to intellect or talent, but this is not the case for countless women who attribute their victories to extraneous factors.

Magavi says, "Many women experience imposter syndrome, which is a psychological phenomenon where individuals doubt their skills and talents and persistently worry about being exposed. Toxic work culture and feeling unvalued or disrespected at work can exacerbate imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome can disproportionately affect minority groups."

What This Means For You

As demonstrated by this study, gender continues to have a significant impact on inequitable outcomes even before university students graduate. For this reason, outreach efforts to marginalized genders need to begin at young ages to address the problematic status quo that propels such pay gaps.

Like many realities in the US, despite being considered illegal, gender-based discrimination continues to persist.

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  1. Fernandes A, Huber M, Vaccaro G. Gender differences in wage expectationsPLoS One. 2021;16(6):e0250892. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0250892