Gender Transitions Demonstrate Continuing Gender Differences in Pay, Workplace Experience

People who change gender provide an opportunity to evaluate the impact of gender on workplace experience and compensation, while holding constant the person’s education and experience.

Two Stanford professors have been profiled to highlight findings by University of Chicago’s Kristen Schilt and University of Arizona’s Matthew Wiswall.

Joan Roughgarden

Joan Roughgarden – Jonathan Roughgarden

Stanford evolutionary biologist, Joan Roughgarden, was an academic for more than 25 years as Jonathan Roughgarden before she made her male-to-female (MTF) transition.
Known for her work to integrate evolutionary theory with Christian beliefs (“theistic evolutionism”), she reported feeling less able to make bold hypotheses and no longer had “the right to be wrong.”

Her experience contrasts her Stanford colleague, neurobiologist Ben Barres, who made scientific contributions as Barbara Barres until he was more than 40.

Barbara Barres - Ben Barres

Barbara Barres – Ben Barres

After his female-to-male (FTM) transition, Ben delivered a lecture at the  Whitehead Institute, where an audience member commented, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but, then, his work is much better than his sister’s.”

To investigate these anecdotal examples, Schilt and Wiswall conducted a survey of FTM and MTF to compare earnings and employment experiences before and after gender transitions.
They modeled the questions after survey items on 2002 Current Population Survey (CPS):

  • Last job before gender transition,
  • First job after gender transition,
  • Most recent job.
Kristen Schilt

Kristen Schilt

Schilt and Wiswall conducted interviews with female-to-male transsexuals (FTMs), who reported that as men, they received more authority, reward, and respect in the workplace than they received as women, even when they remain in the same jobs.

In addition, height and skin color affected potential advantages enjoyed by FTM:  Tall, white FTMs experienced greater benefits than short FTMs and FTMs of color.

Matthew Wiswall

Matthew Wiswall

In contrast to FTM interpersonal advantages, MTF reported reduced authority and pay, and often harassment and termination.

University of Illinois’s Donald McCloskey, for example, was told by his department chair – in jest – that he could expect a salary reduction when he became Deirdre McCloskey.

Deirdre McCloskey

Deirdre McCloskey

MTFs in Schilt and Wiswall’s survey sample experienced significant losses in hourly earnings – nearly 12 percent – after becoming female: no jest.

Additionally, MTFs transitioned on average 10 years later than FTMs, which Schilt and Wiswall interpreted as men delaying sacrifice of labor market advantage attributable to male gender.

FTMs, however, experienced no change in earnings or small positive increases in earnings – 7.5 percent – from becoming men.

Aside from the income impact of gender transition, other workplace hardships including harassment and discrimination.
These challenges were reported more frequently in “blue-collar” jobs, possibly affected by “non-normative” appearance of not consistently “passing” as the other gender.

These findings from “naturalistic experiments” with people who change genders during their careers confirm economic and social science reports of continuing gender-based pay discrepancies.

-*To what extent have you observed these gender-linked differences in compensation and workplace credibility?

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