Pay differentials between the sexes could be erased if more companies offered a flexible work schedule to their employees, according to results of a study by a Harvard economist.
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Gender salary differentials "would be considerably reduced and might vanish altogether if firms did not have an incentive to disproportionately reward individuals who labored long hours and worked particular hours," according to professor Claudia Goldin.
Goldin was seeking to explain why 25 to 69 year old women working fulltime made 77 percent of what men earned. The median pay gap expands with age and differs by occupation, yet it's smaller than it once was as women have become more educated and worked more, she said on Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Economic Association in Philadelphia.
The pay gap in industries with more flexible work schedules, such as technology, science and health, is smaller than in those with more rigid workdays, including financial and legal professions, the study found.
Women seeking flexibility in work to have and raise children, for example, comes at a "high price," Golding said. "Quite simply the gap exists because hours of work in many occupations are worth more when given at particular moments and when the hours are more continuous," she said in her paper, titled "A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter."
Goldin cited research which found that while women graduating from the University of Chicago Booth School from 1990 to 2006 with master's degrees in business administration earned almost the same as men, in later years they made just 55 percent as much as their male counterparts. Career interruptions and differences in hours worked explain much of the gap, she said.
The study means if the gender pay gap is to be closed, workers must obtain greater autonomy in determining their schedules, said Goldin.
"What the last chapter must contain for gender equality is not a zero sum game in which women gain and men lose," she said. "Many workers will benefit from greater flexibility."