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Teenage work and gender: Origins of the pay gap


February 27, 2018

Pay is a persistent problem from many in the labor market and for many women’s lives. A wide range of perspectives have explored this problem. The human capital approach of mainstream economics emphasizes individual differences between men and women in education, skills and job experience in explaining the pay gap. These differences are explained by women’s childcare and domestic duties which result in labor force interruptions.

The occupational segregation approach of sociology, on the other hand, focuses on occupational characteristics and explains women’s lower pay through differences in their occupations, positions and sectors.

No matter how they approach the pay gap, almost every study on the pay gap has one thing in common: they focus on the adult labor force. However, in the United States, most teenagers work sometime throughout high school. Therefore, work experience and potentially the wage gap start long before the completion of education.

In recent research I have examined the teenage work force. By focusing on this group, I include a previously neglected yet substantial portion of our workforce. More importantly, focusing on early work experiences is like a social laboratory where many typical explanations of the wage gap: motherhood, childcare, housework are simply not applicable.

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