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Why Do Women Choose Lower-Paying Jobs?


NPR reporter Lisa Chow majored in applied mathematics. She got her MBA. But when choosing a job, she picked one in journalism, not exactly the most lucrative option. Why do women, even the ones who earn a STEM-related degree, tend to opt for jobs with lower pay?

(Photo credit: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons)

We’ve documented the disparity in depth here at PayScale, analyzing its connection with wage inequality. You can read those reports here. Basically, though, we found that women do get paid about as much as men, it’s just that men generally pursue better-paying jobs, like those in science, tech, engineering and math.

Do You Know What You're Worth?

Even when they pick a high-paying major, Chow says, women don’t move on to the lucrative job it leads to. Math majors can get paid pretty well and 40 percent of them are women. But female math majors generally become teachers or apply for other low-paying positions, like those in nonprofits or academic institutions.

Chow was working on a story about that disparity when she realized that she had a lot in common with the subjects of her story. During an interview with economist Anthony Carnevale of Georgetown University, she realized he was talking about women like herself. She told him her background and he replied, bluntly, that she’s missing out, money-wise.

“Oh, you left a lot of money on the table,” he told Chow. “You left probably as much as $3 [million] to $4 million on the table.”

Chow goes on to talk to women who told her they often passed up a lucrative opportunity to spend time with their family. One woman says she eschewed a raise and promotion to take a break from work and raise her newborn child. Others picked careers with more focus on public service, the type that often come with paltry pay. 

Carnevale said that for women, passion often supercedes salary.

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Why do you think women tend to pick less-lucrative careers than men? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter


Jennifer Wadsworth
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