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The Gender Wage Gap Goes All The Way To The Top

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JULIE JACOBSON
Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer CREDIT: AP PHOTO/JULIE JACOBSON

There isn’t just a gender wage gap among the highest-paid employees in the country. Pay for female executives also drops further when companies perform poorly compared to men but rises less during good times.

In a new note about their research, Federal Reserve Bank of New York economists Stefania Albanesi, Claudia Olivetti, and Maria Prados find that if a company’s value drops by 1 percent, female executives’ pay will drop by 63 percent, while male executives only see a 33 percent decline. On the other hand, if value goes up by 1 percent men will get a 44 percent boost but women will only get a 13 percent increase.

This leads to cumulative losses for women but gains for men. The economists looked at pay for the top five executives in public companies — CEO, vice chair, president, CFO, and chief operating officer — in the Standard and Poor’s ExecutComp database between 1992 and 2005. Over that time, women’s pay dropped 16 percent while men’s rose 15 percent. If a company’s value increases by $1 million, male executives will net $17,150 more in compensation but women will only get $1,670. “So, overall,” they write, “changes in firm performance penalize female executives while they favor male executives.”

There is still a tiny number of female executives to begin with. They made up just 3.2 percent of the people in the roles examined by the New York Fed economists, while they account for 4.6 percent of CEOs at S&P; 500 companies and a quarter of executive and senior officers. But even so, they are still paid less than their male peers. The New York Fed research found that female executives’ total compensation was just 82 percent of men’s. The highest-paid female executives at S&P; 500 companies made 18 percent less than male ones in 2013, and female CEOs made less than 80 percent of what male ones made.

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Several prominent female executives have recently demonstrated the severity of the pay gap at the top. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was paid less in her few years than the man who had the job before her and ended up fired. Mary Barra, the first female CEO of General Motors, got a pay package for her first year that was less than half of what the man who had the job before her made, although her long-term compensation package will be higher. The value of that package, of course, will depend on the company’s value over time.

But part of the disparity is the way that female executives get paid in the first place. In their research, the New York Fed economists found that women’s compensation is made up of less incentive pay than men’s, which accounts for 93 percent of the overall gender pay gap among them. The biggest gap is in bonuses: female executives get bonuses that amount to just 71 percent of male executives’. But they also get less in stock options and grants, getting just 84 percent and 87 percent, respectively, of what men get. The gap in stock options alone explains 41 percent in the overall gender gap.

While there’s a gender wage gap at the very top of the economy, it’s part of a problem that follows women in virtually every job. They get lower salaries right out of college and will make less than men at every education level. While many factors go into the gender wage gap, women’s career interruptions to care for children can only explain about 10 percent of it and the most ambitious women will still make less.