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The Gender Earnings Gap: Some International Evidence

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  • Francine D. Blau
  • Lawrence M. Kahn

Abstract

This paper uses micro-data to analyze international differences in the gender pay gap among a sample of ten industrialized nations. We particularly focus on explaining the surprisingly low ranking of the U.S. in comparison to other industrialized countries. Empirical research on gender pay gaps has traditionally focused on the role of gender-specific factors, particularly gender differences in qualifications and differences in the treatment of otherwise equally qualified male and female workers (i.e., labor market discrimination). An innovative feature of our study is to focus on the role of wage structure--the array of prices set for various labor market skills--in influencing the gender gap. The striking finding of this study is the enormous importance of overall wage structure in explaining the lower ranking of U.S. women. Our results suggest that the U.S. gap would be similar to that in countries like Sweden, Italy and Australia (the countries with the smallest gaps) if the U.S. had their level of wage inequality. This insight helps to resolve three puzzling sets of facts: (1) U.S. women compare favorably with women in other countries in terms of human capital and occupational status: (2) the U.S. has had a longer and often stronger commitment to equal pay and equal employment opportunity policies than have most of the other countries in our sample; but (3) the gender pay gap is larger in the U.S. than in most industrialized countries. An important part of the explanation of this pattern is that the labor market in the U.S. places a much larger penalty on those with lower levels of labor market skills (both measured and unmeasured).

Suggested Citation

  • Francine D. Blau & Lawrence M. Kahn, 1992. "The Gender Earnings Gap: Some International Evidence," NBER Working Papers 4224, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:4224
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Lawrence F. Katz & Kevin M. Murphy, 1992. "Changes in Relative Wages, 1963–1987: Supply and Demand Factors," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 107(1), pages 35-78.
    2. Mincer, Jacob & Polachek, Solomon, 1974. "Family Investment in Human Capital: Earnings of Women," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 82(2), pages 76-108, Part II, .
    3. Sanders Korenman & David Neumark, 1991. "Does Marriage Really Make Men More Productive?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 26(2), pages 282-307.
    4. Zabalza, Antoni & Tzannatos, Zafiris, 1985. "The Effect of Britain's Anti-discriminatory Legislation on Relative Pay and Employment," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 95(379), pages 679-699, September.
    5. Mark R. Killingsworth, 1990. "The Economics of Comparable Worth," Books from Upjohn Press, W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, number ecw, November.
    6. Elaine Sorensen, 1990. "The Crowding Hypothesis and Comparable Worth," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 25(1), pages 55-89.
    7. Erica L. Groshen, 1991. "The Structure of the Female/Male Wage Differential: Is It Who You Are, What You Do, or Where You Work?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 26(3), pages 457-472.
    8. Johnson, George & Solon, Gary, 1986. "Estimates of the Direct Effects of Comparable Worth Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 76(5), pages 1117-1125, December.
    9. Barbara R. Bergmann, 1974. "Occupational Segregation, Wages and Profits When Employers Discriminate by Race or Sex," Eastern Economic Journal, Eastern Economic Association, vol. 1(2), pages 103-110, April.
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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J31 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Wages, Compensation, and Labor Costs - - - Wage Level and Structure; Wage Differentials
    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination

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