The Psychology behind the Gender Pay Gap


There is no doubt that the gender pay gap has always been a problem in many countries, even developed ones. This problem is not only a warning about inequality; it is obvious evidence that we do not have gender-equal societies, globally.

This problem hits the core of society as this pay gap indisputably affects the whole family, and not just females, as it has been proven that many families rely on female’s income. Whether she is the sole breadwinner or supporting the family financially, female’s lower wages in many cases affect the educational opportunities the children receive, the food they eat, and the healthcare they receive. It also places females at a greater risk of poverty following retirement as this gap affects their savings.

Why Does the Gender Bias Exist?

Needless to say, there are many factors contributing to the pay gap; some seem real, while others can be considered myths. Reference to a psychological research that highlights some of these myths, which generally put the blame on females, the gap is due to the following reasons:

  1. Females are not performing equal work

Actually, there are many reasons that push females to choose part-time work; such as having children and taking care of them. Children also may change what females want from a job; females tend to work flexible hours, or work from home, and complete a project outside a tight schedule.

  1. Females do not ask for what they want

According to the myth, this is often attributed to the perceived lacking of negotiation skills in women compared to men. However, this is not true; the research also shows that, when females do negotiate for a better salary, they receive lower offers—from both men and women—than men.

  1. Women do not have as much education or experience as men

Studies show that women earn less than men, even after accounting for their prior work experience. Moreover, they hold the majority of undergraduate, Master’s, and doctoral degrees.

  1. Females tend to enter lower-earning occupations

Females tend to choose administration, care, and social fields, which tend to be of lower pay. They still are less paid while doing the same work as men, even within stereotyped feminine jobs, such as nursing.

However, a societal research reveals some deeper explanations for this imbalance and that this gap is not caused most of the time by female’s work efficiency or education level. In fact, there are psychological reasons contributing to this problem, which widen the gap even more.

The research shows that these myths about female’s work has been shaped and nourished since an early stage of our lives by some concepts rooted in our minds. Getting older, it becomes very difficult to detach our behavior, and in many cases, our identity from information that has been made so implicit by our mind.

First, it shows that gender stereotypes, gender roles, and gender socialization prepare men and women for different types of jobs, as well as affect employers’ perceptions of who is appropriate for a certain job. Most of us also seek training, education, and jobs consistent with our gender role, and receive encouragement from others to do so.

Moreover, the research shows that, in many societies, characteristics generally associated with masculinity—such as assertiveness, independence, power, and self-reliance—hone men for higher paid jobs in higher paid sectors. On the other hand, characteristics associated with femininity—such as nurturing, warmth, caring, etc.—prepare females to act in more sympathetic ways. As a result, females seem to face a choice of being seen as likeable or as competent, but not as both, and that affects her career dramatically.

What Can We Do about the Gender Wage Gap?

Researchers offered three suggestions that may help in the way organizations can eliminate the wage gap:

  • Organizations must provide equal growth opportunities, and offer accurate feedback for females by identifying and eliminating barriers.
  • Organizations must take action toward implementing better work/life balance, by encouraging women and men to take time off, and also consider flexible schedules, remote work, and/or job sharing.
  • Organizations must provide ongoing training; they should have females represented across all levels of the organization. Moreover, employees should be educated to behave in non-sexist ways.

The gender pay gap is a global problem that has been aggravated over years because of unreal reasons, which females should not be blamed for. To eliminate the gap, organizations must provide training, support, and opportunities for growth for both men and women, and discontinue dealing with this pay gap as something that cannot be changed.


The original article was published in SCIplanet, Sustainable Development Goals II (Spring 2019).

Cover Image by pch.vector on Freepik

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