The United States’ Gender Pay Gap Through the Lens of Social Media

Activists, community leaders and politicians gather on the steps of City Hall in New York to rally against pay disparity on Equal Pay Day. April 8, 2014. Photo by Richard Levine. Copyright Demotix.

Activists, community leaders and politicians gather on the steps of City Hall in New York to rally against pay disparity on Equal Pay Day. April 8, 2014. Photo by Richard Levine. Copyright Demotix.

The recent news that Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, was reportedly paid 600,000 US dollars last year as a special correspondent at network NBC riled many on social media – journalists and partisans alike.

If that figure is accurate, it means Clinton made more than former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson, who was let go last month due to an alleged wage gap dispute, for a much lighter work load.

One overpaid woman isn't an accurate representation of women who work in mainstream media, or even the workforce at large, but the sticker shock of her salary managed to revive once more the debate on the gender pay gap in the U.S. 

Much research and media coverage has been devoted to the gender pay gap to explore why women on average make less in the U.S. than men. In April, the issue earned even more attention, thanks to President Barack Obama, who signed an executive order to mandate that government contractors publish wage data by race and gender. The idea is pay transparency could empower women to demand equal pay for equal work and force employers to analyze wage disparities in their organizations that would normally never be examined.

The issue has been a popular topic of discussion on social media, too. There, some have shared personal anecdotes of the pay gap under the anonymity of online usernames. 

Women, often more timid at negotiating than men, demand less money when offered a job, ending up with a lower base salary that will impact lifetime earning. A manager at a large multinational company wrote on the Twoxchromosomes subreddit on Reddit:

I work for a large multinational tech company, I regularly hire woman for 65% to 75% of what males make.

Our process, despite the pay gap, is identical for men and women. We start with phone interviews, and move into a personal and technical interview. Once a candidate passes both of those, we start salary negotiations. This is where the women seem to come in last.
The reason they don't keep up, from where I sit, is simple. Often, a woman will enter the salary negotiation phase and I'll tell them a number will be sent to them in a couple days. Usually we start around $45k for an entry level position. 50% to 60% of the women I interview simply take this offer. It's insane, I already know I can get authorization for more if you simply refuse. Inversely, almost 90% of the men I interview immediately ask for more upon getting the offer.

Women are hesitant to negotiate with just cause. A study from Carnegie Mellon has shown that women who negotiate are negatively perceived by both male and female evaluators.

In March 2014, the blog The Philosophy Smoker told the story of a young woman who had recently graduated and was offered a tenure track position at a college in upstate New York. She negotiated for a higher salary and a semester of maternity leave, among other things, and the offer was rescinded.

Inside Higher Ed picked up the story. One commenter, “MJL,” explained what is expected of women applying for employment: 

Female candidates are told never, ever to bring up maternity leave or imply in any way that child or elder care responsibilities will be an issue. Some are even advised to leave wedding rings at home and not admit to having a spouse or children, or ever wanting a spouse or children. We are also told to negotiate, and never warned that the offer could be withdrawn. Terror of unemployment has kept me from ever negotiating for more than increased moving compensation, though.

Another contributing factor to the gap is lifestyle choices. Men and women achieve pay parity until their 30s. When couples start families and have kids, women cut back on their hours and lose income over the rest of their lifetime, as shown by this graph from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American think tank.

This raises the question – “Is the income gap between men and women mainly due to women making bad career choices?”. Erica Friedman, a writer and speaker, responded on question-and-answer site Quora:

Women are subject to internal and external pressures and societal expectations that are different from men's. Little things like being expected to stop working to have a family and the very natural human tendency to prefer people similar to ourselves around us mean that a woman is unlikely to learn to negotiate her worth, be expected to leave at some point and generally not be one of the guys. This leads to “bad decision making” like needing a suboptimal job when her husband can't/won't/doesn't support the family, not having the internal and external power to change the terms of an agreement, or working too long and too hard for people who are disinclined to notice.

Dr. Claudia Goldin, a Henry Lee Professor of Economics at Harvard University and director of the non-profit National Bureau of Economic Research’s Development of the American Economy program, believes that changing workplace culture will mitigate the gap:

The gender gap in pay 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

Chelsea Clinton is one woman who makes more than her male counterparts, but the U.S. has much to do to achieve pay parity. While there is no clear path to equal pay, constant examination of the issue and incremental changes must be an ongoing priority. Otherwise, as Neera Tanden, president of think tank Center for American Progress, said:


Join the conversation

Authors, please log in »


  • All comments are reviewed by a moderator. Do not submit your comment more than once or it may be identified as spam.
  • Please treat others with respect. Comments containing hate speech, obscenity, and personal attacks will not be approved.