Your salary: $82K. Oh, wait, you’re a woman?
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Submitted by Jennifer Reineke Pohlhaus on Tue, 2010-11-16 07:42

According to NatureJobs first ever salary and career stage survey, the average male salary is about $82,000 and the average female salary is about $70,000

What’s even more interesting, though, is the gender difference in salary by years after degree.  Inspecting the graph closely, the salaries of North American women are ever so slightly higher than the salaries for North American men at two years post degree.  At three to five years post degree for North Americans, men are doing slightly better than women; beyond that, the salary gap widens noticeably. 

I’ve always heard that any salary gap gets magnified over time (because future salaries are almost always based on the employee’s previous salary).  Now that I am a manager, I’ve seen that phenomenon in action.  That truism works with the data collected by NatureJobs, but only if you discount the 2-year post degree data point, where women’s salaries are higher than men’s in North America.  So, what’s happening here, between the 2-year and the 3-5 year data points?  There are a few possible explanations. 

One explanation is that this period of time is exactly when many women have children and take at least a little time off.  It could be that women’s salaries, averaged as a whole, are always lagging behind men for the amount of time they took off for birth and/or infant care.  However, if this were the case, you would expect the slope of the lines to remain constant over time, so that the curve for women was the same for men, just shifted a little to the right.  That does not appear to be the case here.

Another explanation is the two-body problem.  About 23% of US respondents said that accommodating the needs of a scientist life partner “very much” influenced how and when they secured their most recent job (another 20% said “somewhat”).  From other data, we know that 64% of married women working in the biological sciences are married to spouses who are also scientists or engineers, while only 49% of married men working in the biological sciences are married to spouses who are also scientists or engineers. Together, then, these data indicate that women are more likely to make a “less than ideal” career move for the sake of their partners.  If this career move balance occurs early in the years post degree, perhaps women’s salaries never recover.

Of course, there are other explanations, such as gender bias, which I discussed previously . A more interesting (and also more optimistic) explanation is that women are taking positions with lower salaries because they are being compensated by other factors which are considered more important.  This idea will be examined in my next post in more detail.

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