Women's Roles in Household Causes Lower Wages

06 May, 2019 F.J. Thomas


Cambridge, MA (WorkersCompensation.com) – A new study by Valentin Bolotnyy released by Harvard University recently found several factors that could potentially address the reason women commonly earn less than men.

The study reviewed confidential data of unionized bus and train operators employed by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA). Thirty-percent of the workers reviewed were women. The study found that women made .89 on the dollar less in weekly earnings than men. The 11 percent gap extended even into retirement as pensions are calculated using a base of highest year earnings. The average male pension was $46,677, and the average female pension was $41,419.

The study attributed three specific findings to the gap in pay: 

  • Women worked less overtime than men and also took more unpaid time off. Additionally, women gamed the schedules to their advantage less than their male counterparts.
  • Women prioritized a conventional work schedule even at the risk of a less safe work route.
  • Women put higher value on time away from work and ability to control their schedules.

Due to the unionization of the workers, the MBTA policy is that seniority solely determines work opportunity and schedule. Due to the policy, workers of the same seniority have the same choice of schedule, route, overtime and vacation days. The study found that even when seniority is the same, the wage gap is still consistent.

Male operators worked an average of 83 percent more overtime and took 48 percent few unpaid hours.

The amount of notice given was a key factor in whether or not women worked overtime offered. Men worked 7 percent more overtime when adequate notice was given; however, when prior notice was not given, twice as many men worked overtime as did women.

The difference in overtime between the genders was attributed to women’s roles in the household and taking on the majority of childcare duty. Women with dependent children, especially single mothers, were much less likely to accept last minute overtime, especially after regular work hours and on weekends when child care is less available.

Family Medical Leave played an important role in the gender gap percentages as well. From 2011 to 2017 operators were allowed to take time off without strict approval. This was used to avoid undesired shifts resulting in an overall impact of pay difference. By substituting unpaid FMLA hours for overtime hours, it increased the average hourly wage.

Both genders took FMLA to avoid shifts, but males worked enough overtime hours in weeks with weekend shifts that they traded off hours paid at regular rate for overtime hours. The women also worked overtime on weeks with weekend shifts; however, they did not work enough overtime to make up for the pay lost under FMLA.

The MBTA implemented policies that slightly impacted the gender gap. In 2016, the first policy change made it more difficult for employees to take FMLA. In 2017, the second policy change re-defined the overtime from daily to a 40-hour work week. The two policies resulted in a decrease from 11 percent pay gap down to 9 percent. The gap lowered to 6 percent from July 2017 to December of the same year.

Although the policy reduced the gender pay gap, it also created less schedule control, resulting in more unexcused leave, particularly for women. The study pointed out that the unexcused leave could potentially have an impact on suspension and discharge from employment, and consideration for advancement.

To combat the negative effects of the policy changes and further reduce the gender pay gap, the study proposed that MBTA offer workers the opportunity to exchange or transfer shifts. Another suggestion was expanding operators that fill in during absence.

You read the full study on the Harvard Website.


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    About The Author

    • F.J. Thomas

      F.J. Thomas has worked in healthcare business for more than fifteen years in Tennessee. Her experience as a contract appeals analyst has given her an intimate grasp of the inner workings of both the provider and insurance world. Knowing first hand that the industry is constantly changing, she strives to find resources and information you can use.

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