By Justin Wier
The gender wage gap has dominated policy discussions worldwide, with even the pope coming out this week to call its persistence a scandal. Yet it remains a difficult problem to solve, even at Youngstown State University.
As of 2013 — the most recent year for which data is available — female instructors and faculty at YSU are receiving, on average, 14.6 percent less in pay than their male counterparts.
Martin Abraham, interim provost at YSU, said he believes one of the factors contributing to this is the departments in which faculty teach.
“There’s no question we pay our faculty based on the programs that they’re in. Some programs pay better than others,” Abraham said. “And I think what you’re seeing is that we have more women faculty in those programs that don’t pay as well.”
AJ Sumell, economics professor at YSU, said this is a product of market forces.
“Faculty, regardless of gender, are paid more in business and in engineering than in the humanities or in arts. And that’s not discrimination, that’s just a matter of supply and demand in the labor market and the fact that in engineering and business there’s a higher demand for PhDs outside of academia. So in order to get qualified individuals to become faculty in those sciences, they have to offer them more compared to the humanities and in arts,” Sumell said.
The Williamson College of Business Administration and the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics boast the two highest average faculty salaries at $101,393 and $77,526 respectively. They also employ the lowest proportions of women at the university, with women comprising 36 percent of Williamson’s faculty and only 20 percent of the college of STEM’s.
Bitonte College of Health and Human Services and the Beeghly College of Education have the highest proportions of women in their faculty. Bitonte employs a faculty that is 74 percent women, while Beeghly’s is 67 percent women. Faculty at Bitonte receive $64,599 on average, while those at Beeghly receive $67,951.
The College of Creative Arts and Communication makes slightly less than Beeghly, at $67,496 but only 38 percent of its faculty is women.
“The problem we run into is that when we compete for faculty, we are competing nationally. And so business faculty across the country are paid almost $100,000 a year, in many cases. So there’s an area where we’re paying quite a bit more than we are in other areas,” Abraham said. “A lot of faculty in the humanities, for example, are paid close to the minimum when we start them out. So our salaries are driven by market demand, subject to a minimum that we must meet for all of our faculty.”
Helene Sinnreich, a history professor affiliated with the women’s and gender studies program, said this could also be a product of discrimination.
“Historically, as women enter a profession in large numbers, the profession as a whole is valued less, and salaries go down,” Sinnreich said.
Women also have trouble succeeding in fields that are dominated by men.
“In a lot of these fields that are dominated by men, women have a very difficult time rising through the ranks as a part of the culture,” Sinnreich said. “And it’s not just departments here, it’s departments everywhere. Especially in the sciences where it’s very difficult for women to rise in the ranks because of peer review.”
She also pointed to the nursing department, which is entirely composed of women. Several instructors in the department are considered clinical faculty. They do less research and teach more, while being paid less.
“You could say you know engineers in the free market are paid so much, well a nurse practitioner makes $100,000 to $150,000 a year, but we’ve got them working more than any other professor on campus and paying them $50,000. So you can’t tell me that it’s market value,” Sinnreich said. “I don’t see them starting a practicum track for engineers, which is only manned by men, who get paid less than everybody else, and have a much higher bar for rising in the ranks.”
The other factor Abraham accounted for is length of service.
“Our faculty earn salary increases if they’re with us longer periods of time. So a person who’s a professor for 20 years is going to be making more money typically than a professor that’s been here 10 years,” Abraham said. “So I think the other component … is our women faculty have less longevity with the university.”
Sumell said this is a product of changing times.
“Thirty years ago, not many women were earning PhDs, so not as many women were on the labor market who could’ve been hired as there are today. So that would be reflected with higher average pay to male faculty rather than female,” Sumell said.
Sinnreich said there could be discriminatory aspects to this as well.
“I can say that in the sciences, we have trouble retaining women faculty members. If you want to take a look at the data, look at how many women versus men we’ve hired and how many we’ve kept. There are lots of factors for why people leave, but you have to ask at some point, ‘Is there a culture that makes it uncomfortable for women to stay and move up the ranks?’” she said.
She also said the university was not offering maternity leave to female faculty as recently as the ‘90s.
Sumell said you cannot determine that discrimination is definitely happening from looking at the data without controlling for these factors.
“If we take the same discipline and someone hired in the same year, and then there’s a difference, in terms of the male is being paid more than the female, then you can make the argument that the only thing that can account for that is gender,” Sumell said. “Just looking at averages without controlling for all those other factors, you can’t make the argument that that’s directly and necessarily a reflection of discrimination.”
Abraham said he hoped that if the data was disaggregated and you controlled for those factors, it would account for most of the disparity.
“I think it would be worthwhile for us to look at the underlying data and to determine if we truly do have a problem, or if it is largely explained by the departments and programs the faculty are teaching in and how long they have been here,” Abraham said. “It certainly is worth looking at to try to get a better understanding, and if there is a problem to determine if there is something we can do to rectify it.”
Sumell said studies have found that even when controlling for these factors, discrimination often remains.
“For me to say that there are lots of other factors that come in to play is not me saying that gender discrimination doesn’t exist,” Sumell said. “On a national level, there are statistics that suggest that even after controlling for all of those other factors there is still a gender wage gap.”