Danish dads of daughters close the wage gap

According to a new study, male CEOs are more likely to work to close the gender pay gap when they have daughters. The study, which is based on data from Danish companies collected between 1995 and 2006, found that the birth of a daughter to a male CEO is correlated with a slight closing of the wage gap at that CEO’s company. Denmark has a gender wage gap of 21.5% – not accounting for rank or hours worked. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that,

the birth of a daughter to a male CEO caused that gap to close, in his company, that same year, by 0.5 percentage points. Breaking the data down further, the birth of a first daughter caused the gap to close by 0.8 percentage points. If the first daughter was also a first child, the gap closed by 2.8 percentage points (representing 13% of the gap).

This is a fascinating finding, for several reasons. The first is that, in this case, it seems that the personal really is political. It appears that these men are having female children, and realizing that the world in which they will become women is one that treats women worse than it treats men. And because as CEOs, they have the power to do something about that, they do. The result is benefits not just their daughters, but a host of other women and girls. But, the study also found that women employees with college degrees are more likely to benefit from this change of heart and policy than are women without college degrees. “The authors of the study,” according to the WSJ, “speculated that this was because the CEOs imagined that this was the class their daughters would belong to.” So, score one for gender equality, but score none for class consciousness.

Secondly, these findings drive home the reality that if we want to achieve gender equality and equity in the workforce, we need to get men to commit to that goal. For the most part, the people with the power to change things are men. We need to get more women into positions of power, of course, so that they can work to make things more equitable for women across the board. But we also need men to cooperate. As this study shows, when men begin to understand why the wage gap matters and realize that they can help to close it, you can wipe out 13% of the wage gap, just like that.

To be fair, this data only applies to Denmark. It’s entirely likely that Danish culture constructs fatherhood and corporate leadership differently than American culture constructs them. Which means that the effect of having a daughter might be very different for an American CEO than it is for a Danish one. But I’m sure that this phenomenon exists in other countries, and I hope that there are more studies on it in the works, or planned for the future.

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4 Comments

  1. Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

    The question for me is how does a father view his daughter? If he sees her as the keeper of her purity and virginity, which is the traditional stance, then he’ll be far less likely to grant women equality in wages. And if he compartmentalizes men and female as distinct and unrelated to each other, then he might still keep the wage gap intact.

    But if he can genuinely learn from parenting, and take an active role in raising a daughter, then inroads can be made. In my family, I know that my father did have an active role in raising my sisters, but my parents did relegate certain duties to the same-sex parent. My mother would have never dared intercede in certain issues which were considered the sole domain of my father. When those distinctions begin to subside, then progress will really be on its way.

  2. Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

    This really makes me wish that I was Danish in nationality, rather than just in heritage (I’m about 1/8 Danish). I’d really like to see this study done in the United States.

  3. Posted March 8, 2011 at 3:59 pm | Permalink

    I am sorry, but I can’t see how this study, as described can really be used to draw any conclusions. If the wage gap reported doesn’t take into account rank or hours you can’t draw any useful conclusions. Especially when it doesn’t include hours. I could name several possible explanations that can’t be ruled out without a much better analysis of the data. But at least this study admits that rank and hours haven’t been accounted for. Many pay gap studies I have come across don’t say anything about what is accounted for and its very frustrating.

    I don’t even think you can conclusively say what the actual problem causing the pay gap is without a better analysis. Is it that men and women with equal qualifications get paid different wages for the same job with the same rank? Does it mean that men and women starting at the same job and wages get promoted at different rates? Or is the pay gap something that is more a legacy from sexism somewhere else along the way (i.e. are wages and promotions the same now, but weren’t say, 15 years ago, and the pay gap exists because hires 15 years ago under those conditions still are working, with a much larger pay gap). I have seen more American data, so I could take an educated guess at whats going on in America, but since this Danish study doesn’t do more analysis, I don’t think its really responsible to make any claims on way or another.

    All of that being said, its terrible. You can’t formulate effective policy until you truly understand the problem. Its obvious there is a problem. The rough data tells us that, but it doesn’t tell us much about it so it makes coming up with a solution an even more difficult task!

  4. Posted March 8, 2011 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    Steven beat me to the punch: this analysis is clearly flawed given that it does not account for hours worked or rank. I’m not sure it’s useful to draw any conclusions from the study since these two factors, especially hours, have a very large impact on wages. I am not very familiar with the Danish work force; however, some cursory research indicates that women have a high participation rate in the labor market. It is noted that there is a distinguishable lack of women at higher ranks. http://www.un.org/News/Press/docs/1997/19970124.wom942.html

    While I can hope that the conclusions which the study draws are true, the methodology of the survey does not allow the authors to say with any degree of certainty that having a daughter impacts the likelihood of managers closing the pay gap.

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