NPR logo How The Gender Pay Gap Has Changed (And How It Hasn't)

How The Gender Pay Gap Has Changed (And How It Hasn't)

The pay gap between men and women has been narrowing for decades. But it persists, and it gets larger as women move toward the middle of their careers.

In a recent paper, Harvard economist Claudia Goldin looked at the gap in a bunch of different ways — how it's changed over time, how it changes over the course of people's careers, and how it varies from industry to industry.

The gap grows as women move through their careers largely because women are more likely than men to take time off to raise a family. (The gap shrinks after the prime child-rearing years.) But the penalty for taking time off to raise kids is much larger in some industries than in others.

Tech jobs have a narrower gender gap for people in the middle of their careers in part because it's easier for women to work part-time, or from home, Goldin found. The midcareer gap is much larger in fields like law and finance, which tend to be less flexible.

One way to solve this, of course, would be for men to take more time off to raise kids. But even if that doesn't happen, Goldin says, the pay gap will continue to close if more industries allow for more flexible work schedules. Health care has already moved in this direction. Among physicians, for example, it's become more common to work in large groups, which means more predictable (and more family-friendly) schedules for many doctors.