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Long Hours and Unequal Wages


Why do women get paid less for the same work? Many reasons, but among them for women in the professional class seems to be that with the pressure on salaried workers to labor for longer and longer hours, men are more willing to put in insane workweeks than women, leading to promotions and higher wages. Of course, these decisions are gendered as mothers usually face significant pressure to not do this while fathers often do regardless of the effect upon their families.

The proportion of Americans who work long hours has increased substantially over the past thirty years. In the early 1980s, fewer than 9 percent of workers (13 percent of men, 3 percent of women) worked fifty hours per week or more. By 2000, over 14 percent of workers (19 percent of men and 7 percent of women) worked fifty hours per week or more. Overwork began to decline in the mid-2000s, but it remains widespread today.

The slowdown in women’s wage gains was especially notable in professional and managerial careers, just the ones where women’s educational advantages should have paid off, but where the stall in pay equality was most evident.

Expansion in “overwork”—net of other changes since 1979—could have affected the gender gap in two ways: Men could be overworking increasingly more often than women, or the financial payoff to overworking could have increased, or both. In their statistical analysis, Cha and Weeden identify the second factor as critical. In 1979, workers who put in long hours tended to make less per each hour than those who worked full-time; by 2009, that had reversed. Putting in the extra hours now pays off more. Or phrased another way, working “only” full-time now pays off relatively less.

Women remain less likely than men to put in those long hours, even though the payoff for doing so grew, which means that men disproportionately brought in the rising wages paid to overworkers. This explains part of the reason why gender equalization in pay slowed down. The authors estimate that the higher payoff for overwork was large enough to cancel out the gains in wage equality women had made from their growing edge in college graduation and the growing importance of college. The consequences of overwork now paying so well were especially strong among professional and managerial employees (Sandberg’s “lean in” targets).

In sum, Cha and Weeden argue, the American workplace increasingly rewards—and probably expects—overwork; men overwork a lot more often than women; this development helped stall pay equality.

Of course, overwork is a terrible thing but with sexism still endemic in our society, women are forced into overwork without getting paid for it while men too often just stay at the office.

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