Researcher tells men to 'lean out' to make gender pay equality possible

Wachovia employees listen to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf

Wachovia employees listen to Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf during a news conference at the Wachovia corporate headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, October 15, 2008. 

Chris Keane/Reuters

Equal pay for equal work is a straightforward concept rooted in basic fairness. The fact that, by some measures, in 2015, women in the United States are paid 78 cents for every dollar a man makes is a stark reminder that there’s still a long way to go.

The roots of the problem are complex. The career breaks that many women take for child rearing are a contributing factor, as are salary negotiations and the careers women and men tend to choose. But that’s not the full story.

Most of the pay gap comes from the difference in what women and men make within the same profession, and the difference actually gets worse in some higher paying professions like law and medicine, according to data from the work of Harvard professor Claudia Goldin. Some have interpreted this to mean that gender discrimination is at work. Goldin herself sees a more complex dynamic.

She describes a scenario where a mother of a 2-year-old leaves a big corporate law firm to work for a smaller law firm so she can have more time to spend with her child.

“She’s certainly not going to make as much. She’s going to make a lot less,” Goldin says. “Is she in the same occupation? Yeah. Was this her choice? Well, given the constraints, it was her choice.”