One Way to Close the Gender Pay Gap: Lie

Government data say salary-history questions can keep women’s pay low.

This Office of Personnel Management finds that answering salary history questions can lower women's pay.
National Journal
Bourlee Lam, The Atlantic
Add to Briefcase
BOURLEE LAM, THE ATLANTIC
Aug. 14, 2015, 9:52 a.m.

There are a lot of hard ques­tions dur­ing most job in­ter­views, and there’s one in par­tic­u­lar that’s as wel­comed as it is dreaded: salary his­tory.

The ques­tion of salary his­tory is a prom­ising sign that a po­ten­tial em­ploy­er is ser­i­ously con­sid­er­ing hir­ing a par­tic­u­lar can­did­ate — they’re look­ing at their budgets and see­ing what they can af­ford. But an­swer­ing can back­fire, res­ult­ing in lower pay, and some re­com­mend the safe route of re­fus­ing to dis­close it, or the even ball­si­er ap­proach of ly­ing about it. The premise for the lat­ter op­tion: The game isn’t fair, so don’t play fairly.

In be­ha­vi­or­al-eco­nom­ics-speak, a po­ten­tial em­ploy­ee’s salary his­tory is in­form­a­tion that can res­ult in an­chor­ing — the cog­nit­ive bi­as that makes people fo­cus around a num­ber once it has been stated, with only some small room for ad­just­ment. Hence why ly­ing about one’s salary his­tory is use­ful: One study on the ef­fect of an­chors on salary of­fers found that even im­plaus­ibly high an­chors res­ul­ted in bet­ter com­pens­a­tion.

But this can have un­in­ten­ded — and un­fair — con­sequences: Beth Cobert at the Of­fice of Per­son­nel Man­age­ment, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment’s hu­man-re­sources de­part­ment, ar­gues that the ques­tion can per­petu­ate gender in­equal­ity. Last week, Cobert is­sued a memo ad­vising fed­er­al agen­cies against an over-re­li­ance on salary his­tory for de­term­in­ing com­pens­a­tion.

“Re­li­ance on ex­ist­ing salary to set pay could po­ten­tially ad­versely af­fect a can­did­ate who is re­turn­ing to the work­place after hav­ing taken ex­ten­ded time off from his or her ca­reer or for whom an ex­ist­ing rate of pay is not re­flect­ive of the can­did­ate’s cur­rent qual­i­fic­a­tions or ex­ist­ing labor-mar­ket con­di­tions,” said Cobert in the memo.

While the memo men­tions both genders, the pat­tern is more likely to ad­versely af­fect wo­men, es­pe­cially those who have kids. One study found that while chil­dren in­creased a man’s earn­ings by 6 per­cent, a wo­man’s earn­ings de­creased by 4 per­cent for each child she had. Last year, OPM found in a study that the start­ing salar­ies of fe­male fed­er­al em­ploy­ees were 10 per­cent lower than those of male fed­er­al em­ploy­ees. The new rule would also help with eras­ing the ef­fects of pay dis­crim­in­a­tion at past jobs, which would carry over if salary his­tory is the basis for how much a work­er is paid at a new job.

When it comes to the over­all pic­ture, one re­cent study by Pew had some en­cour­aging res­ults: Young wo­men are clos­ing the gap, earn­ing 93 per­cent of what young males earn. But that doesn’t ac­count for the fact that it’s later in people’s ca­reers that the biggest gaps hap­pen — due to the moth­er­hood pen­alty and the need for more wo­men in high­er-pay­ing jobs and po­s­i­tions.

Re­prin­ted with the per­mis­sion of The At­lantic. The ori­gin­al ver­sion can be found here.

What We're Following See More »
PARTICIPATES IN TOWN HALL TONIGHT
Ryan: “There Are No Sides” on Charlottesville
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

After taking fire for not forcefully condemning President Trump's statements on Charlottesville, Speaker Paul Ryan today issued a statement that takes issue with any "moral relativism" when it comes to Neo-Nazis. "There are no sides," he wrote. "There is no other argument. We will not tolerate this hateful ideology in our society." Ryan participates in a CNN town hall tonight from Racine, Wis.

Source:
MAY BOOST TROOP LEVELS
Trump to Make Prime Time Address on Afghanistan
1 hours ago
THE LATEST

"President Trump, who has been accused by lawmakers of dragging his feet on Afghanistan, has settled on a new strategy to carry on the nearly 16-year-old conflict there, administration officials said Sunday. The move, following a detailed review, is likely to open the door to the deployment of several thousand troops." Trump will address the issue at 9:00 p.m. from Fort Myer in Arlington on Monday night.

Source:
LARGE FAMILY AND TRIPS TAKING TOLL
Secret Service Funds Depleted
1 hours ago
THE DETAILS

"The Secret Service can no longer pay hundreds of agents it needs to carry out an expanded protective—in large part due to the sheer size of President Trump's family and efforts necessary to secure their multiple residences up and down the East Coast. Secret Service Director Randolph 'Tex' Alles, in an interview with USA TODAY, said more than 1,000 agents have already hit the federally mandated caps for salary and overtime allowances that were meant to last the entire year."

Source:
FOR HELP WITH OPIOID PROBLEM
U.S. Health Chief: China “Incredible Partner”
2 hours ago
THE LATEST
GONE BY MONDAY
University of Texas Removes Four Confederate Monuments
2 hours ago
THE LATEST

University of Texas President Greg Fenves announced late Sunday night that school's statues depicting Robert E. Lee, Albert Sidney Johnston, John Reagan and James Stephen Hogg will be removed from the Main Mall and added to the Briscoe Center for scholarly study. In the announcement he wrote, the "monuments have become symbols of modern white supremacy and neo-Nazism."

Source:
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login