Promising Practices Promising PracticesPromising Practices
A forum for government's best ideas and most innovative leaders.

Women Pay a Steep Price for Their More Flexible Work Schedules


One big reason women make less than men is because they tend to demand more flexible schedules. And new economic research shows that if more workplaces adopted a more team-oriented, job-sharing approach—like physicians in a group practice—the cost of flexible work would dissipate and the premium for long hours would too.

“That’s how physicians have been able to not be 24/7, not be on call all the time, to have lives of their own,” says Claudia Goldin, a Harvard professor of economics. Her new  paper, A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter (pdf), is to be published soon in the American Economic Review, and explores the reasons behind pay differential between genders even as women have caught up with men in education, experience, and other measures.

The bottom line:  The way work is structured and rewarded, especially in traditional organizations, must adapt to changes in society and technology. Many companies still  richly reward people who are available and work long, continuous hours,  Goldin says.  They give premium pay to certain key players—mostly men who don’t take time off for children or aging relatives. So women or men who need flexible schedules obtain them ”at a high price, particularly in the corporate, finance and legal worlds,”  Goldin writes in her paper.  Technology and science fields are better off in pay equity, as are certain health care careers.

She does not quantify the exact cost of flexible work schedules, though she has studied the pay gap that develops over time for women in other research.  “What happens within each occupation is far more important than the occupations in which women wind up,” she writes.

She asks: Why should someone who works 80 hours a week be worth more than two people who work 40 hours a week?

“It isn’t quote a women’s issue,” says Goldin in an interview with Quartz. The pay disparity shows up equally when male MBAs need reduced schedules or time off for personal or family needs.

Men’s and women’s occupations, education and roles at work have converged in the last decades, and equal pay could be the last cornerstone. It’s already near equal when women and men start their careers, then starts diverging after five years and is wider by 15 years of experience.

Government intervention will not help, but economic incentives such as lower costs could. “Some things simply occur organically,” Goldin noted.

Goldin’s research and papers have focused on education and women’s careers, and she’s previously singled out pharmacists as “The Most Egalitarian of All Professions.” (pdf)

“Pharmacists have become very good substitutes for each other. …Being good substitutes for each other means it doesn’t matter who does the last hour,” she says.

In workplaces where staff have no “perfect substitutes”  people may be penalized if they work shorter hours or must depart for a few hours during the work day, she writes. Those who have a “perfect substitute”—someone who can pick up when you leave off, or take the last few hours so a parent can put their child to bed—will not earn a premium in earnings and their pay increases are linear, based mainly on hours worked and experience levels.

Goldin saw the “perfect substitute” up close recently when she had a minor surgical procedure and a team of doctors took care of her. “That’s how physicians have been able to not be 24/7, not be on call all the time and have lives of their own,” she said admiringly, noting that 36% of pediatricians work very low hours.

So go ahead and groom your “perfect substitute”—preferably before your next vacation or baby arrive.

(Image via Kzenon/

Close [ x ] More from GovExec

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Forecasting Cloud's Future

    Conversations with Federal, State, and Local Technology Leaders on Cloud-Driven Digital Transformation

  • The Big Data Campaign Trail

    With everyone so focused on security following recent breaches at federal, state and local government and education institutions, there has been little emphasis on the need for better operations. This report breaks down some of the biggest operational challenges in IT management and provides insight into how agencies and leaders can successfully solve some of the biggest lingering government IT issues.

  • Communicating Innovation in Federal Government

    Federal Government spending on ‘obsolete technology’ continues to increase. Supporting the twin pillars of improved digital service delivery for citizens on the one hand, and the increasingly optimized and flexible working practices for federal employees on the other, are neither easy nor inexpensive tasks. This whitepaper explores how federal agencies can leverage the value of existing agency technology assets while offering IT leaders the ability to implement the kind of employee productivity, citizen service improvements and security demanded by federal oversight.

  • IT Transformation Trends: Flash Storage as a Strategic IT Asset

    MIT Technology Review: Flash Storage As a Strategic IT Asset For the first time in decades, IT leaders now consider all-flash storage as a strategic IT asset. IT has become a new operating model that enables self-service with high performance, density and resiliency. It also offers the self-service agility of the public cloud combined with the security, performance, and cost-effectiveness of a private cloud. Download this MIT Technology Review paper to learn more about how all-flash storage is transforming the data center.

  • Ongoing Efforts in Veterans Health Care Modernization

    This report discusses the current state of veterans health care


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.