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Why Men Brag About Their Salaries, Part 1

February 19th, 2013  |  by  |  Published in Uncategorized

Posts from our ongoing association with the wizened old gender warriors at The Atlantic. Read all of our previous pieces here

Let me begin by copping to a gender-specific failing: The shopping duties in my household do not fall to me. I did not select our furniture, although I have, on occasion, been required to accompany my wife, Tomoko, on her forays to outlets big-box and small as she determines the future of our seating. I had no say whatsoever in the plates or flatware. When Tomoko first moved in with me, she banished the sheets and pillowcases (bought by my mother at the time of my separation from my first wife), replaced the drapes, and undertook the purchase of clothes needed for the children. I grocery shop, ferry our dependents to the sites of their education and entertainment; ensure the continuing good health of our cat, dog, and car; cut checks from bank accounts as directed; and am responsible for sundry other tasks, chores, and obligations too varied and boring to mention. What weight there is in our home, I pull my fair share of. But shopping I avoid.

All of which helps explain my lack of familiarity with CouponCodes4u, a consumer website that recently conducted a survey of the dynamics of female-male workplace behavior. To wit: 2,671 office-working Americans were (Fine print alert: the survey also included the mysterious labor population not toiling in-office but “an environment with other colleagues.”) asked if they ever discussed their salaries with co-workers. Fifty three percent of male survey respondents admitted to having done so, compared to only 15 percent of female respondents. Of those women unwilling to disclose the size of their, uh, salary, nearly a third said it was because they feared their colleagues earned more than they did. Oddly, another 22 percent said they showed discretion about their pay because they believed they earned more than others.

In those workplaces from which I’ve been fired (basically all of them, but for the current one), chitchat about paychecks hasn’t tracked along gender lines: Either everyone talked about it, or no one did, with the most significant correlation being the overall rates of pay. That is, the more everyone made, male or female, the less the subject was discussed. There’s much to be made of that, but for the purposes of this discussion, I’ll focus on one problematic observation, given what is known of female-male compensation balance in the U.S. Recent figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show women’s earnings still reach only 80 percent of their male counterparts. The disparity decreases in the relatively educated workplaces silly enough to pay me, but does not—as yet, one hopes—approach true equity. That suggests that if women earn less, one should expect them to talk about money more, in amounts proportionate to the total pay. For example, in the offices of my more parsimonious former employers, ones in which everyone complained of their pay, women should have done with greater frequency, as they were likely earning less than the men. That didn’t happen, though, not to me, and not on the survey.

Pseudo-scientific studies, and myopic opinions based only on personal experience, rarely account for the complexities of actual human interaction. Here’s one factor I believe accounted for by neither the survey nor my sexist judgments: Most women are more polite in the workplace than men. That doesn’t make for superior employees, necessarily; nor does such propriety equate with elevated character. Women just tend to be on better behavior. Dirty jokes; sexual harassment both overt and implied; acts of violence—these are all typically (although not always) the purview of the working male rather than his under-compensated female workmate. If that is true—and who knows if it is—it seems logical, then, that men would be more likely to discuss their pay, a practice that while, if not wrong, is undoubtedly rude.

Male competitive norms may play a part. The survey, for example, found that 55 percent of men who discussed their salary acknowledged being motivated by the “bragging rights.” Bully for any dudes clearing enough to strut about it—as demonstrated earlier on this site, the brain trust of DadWagon has never been so favored. At one former job, however, I happened to work with several fellows lucky enough to have book deals, myself included. The size, heft, and dollar value of those publishing contracts was no secret, and short of whipping out our peckers and measuring, I can’t think of a clearer attempt at securing bragging rights. If women engage in comparable displays of peacockery, I’ve yet to witness it.

In truth, though, the survey indicates more about the sexism extant in our work culture than anything having to do with displaced male locker room bravado. Generally, men enjoy a greater sense of empowerment in the workplace than women. We will, I imagine, continue to feel so, until pay equity has been achieved, if ever it is. Men talk about their salaries because, like most forms of boorishness, they can. Come the day that women achieve fiscal equality with men at work, I’d wager the gender kinetics of this very slim issue will change, although in which direction—more talk or less—I’m uncertain. Until then, when it comes to workplace piggery, men will, as ever, dominate.

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