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Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics


The Gender Pay Gap in Academia: Evidence from The Ohio State University

Aug. 13, 2019

Female professors at The Ohio State University earn 11% less than male professors, according to a new study. Based on the mean salary in 2016, this gap translates into an annual loss of just under $18,000 for female faculty, relative to their male peers. 2014 research on gender pay inequity across U.S. academic institutions revealed a 15% gap (Hatch 2017).

For Ohio State professor Joyce Chen, the study lead, the understanding of and process for dealing with pay gaps are both a personal and professional issue.

In 2018, Chen, who is part of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES), herself navigated a pay equity appeal through her college’s grievance committee. Chen says it was a difficult process to go through because no clear-cut path existed to show her the way forward, and the process had the potential to create animosity among fellow faculty in her department. Yet, she persevered and the college ruled in her favor, increasing her salary by 20%.

Although Chen’s case was not based specifically on gender considerations, her experience led her to wonder how widespread pay disparities still were at the University. She decided to dig deeper into the issue and set out to identify how factors like gender, race, years of experience, clinical appointments and salaries across disciplines affect the pay gap.

Using personnel data Ohio State’s human resources department previously shared with The Lantern for their December, 2017 story, “Gender pay gap at Ohio State: male employees earn nearly $8,000 more than females,” Chen and Ph.D. candidate Daniel crown, began to crunch the numbers.

Unlike The Lantern study which looked at all Ohio State employment classifications, Chen focused on tenure track faculty who she says are a fairly homogenous group as they have attained similar educational levels, training and perform the tasks of developing and teaching a specified number of courses while conducting and publishing independent research.

“The majority of tenure-track professors within a department have attained the same level of education and/or training,” says Chen. “There’s also a well-defined path to promotion. Yet, a substantial wage gap persists.”

Their research was made more complicated by the fact that they had to account for appointment splits and faculty members serving in multiple academic and clinical settings. After running a series of models, they were able to estimate the gender pay gap among faculty over the ten-year period of 2006-2016.

They identified a persistent 11% gap after accounting for fiscal year, race, clinical appointments, experience, and department. 

Their research also uncovered that a little over one-quarter of the difference in pay between male and female faculty cannot be explained by these factors, which raises the possibility of systemic gender discrimination. In particular, appointment type (clinical/instructor vs. academic) and faculty rank appear to be the largest sources of pay disparities.

Large pay gaps between academic departments also came to light, especially in male-dominated fields.

“Economists make more than those working in humanities,” says Chen, “in part because economists can leave and go work at a financial firm or a think tank. But, fundamentally, do the tasks performed by professors in different departments differ enough to justify these wage gaps?”

Chen hopes her forthcoming research on gender pay inequity for a broader set of public universities in the U.S. will help shed light into these questions that she says, employers are not ready to tackle. Chen is also looking at how salaries in agricultural economics departments compare to those in economics departments.

It is Chen’s hope that her research will contribute to changing the process for pay equity review so it can be addressed more proactively.

The study has gotten notice.  It was invited by the President of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association for presentation at the 2019 annual meeting of the Allied Social Sciences Association, after which it was subjected to an expedited peer-review process. Chen also received funding from the Coca-Cola Critical Difference for Women and a preliminary versions of the analysis were previously disseminated as part of The Ohio State University’s Faculty Compensation and Benefits Committee’s Annual Report 2017–2018.

“Data can help refute the many justifications put forth to explain the gender pay gap,” says Chen. “And many of these justifications may themselves be the result of implicit or explicit bias.”

Chen furthers that even being able to convince people that female faculty are paid less for the same work, often even at the beginning of their careers, is a big challenge.

Dr. Joyce Chen