Invisible tasks – Explaining the gender pay gap within occupations

Women consistently report performing tasks that are characteristic for their occupation less frequently than men. This task gap reduces the measured productivity of women and explains the difference in hourly wages between men and women with the same job titles.

In a recent OECD survey, respondents were asked to state the frequency with which they performed 40 general tasks that characterized their occupation. On average women reported to perform all measured tasks less frequently than men.

Senior researcher Dr Aspasia Bizopoulou from the VATT Institute for Economic Research investigates this gender task gap in 13 European OECD countries. She finds a systematic difference in the reported frequency with which men and women perform tasks that are characteristic for their occupations which is not explained by factors traditionally used to explain the gender wage gap. Furthermore, she shows that this task gap explains the gender wage gap within occupations.

- Men with the same educational background working the same hours under the same job title are consistently reporting a higher frequency of all tasks than women. The women’s lower productivity in measured tasks explains the within occupation gender pay gap, says Dr Aspasia Bizopoulou.

Causes behind the task gap

The gender pay gap in European countries is approximately 20 %. This means that on average women earn 80 cents to every euro earned by men. Based on the study by Bizopoulou, 30 to 50 percent of the gender pay gap is explained by the task gap. 

Dr Bizopoulou shows that the task gap is not explained by differences in educational background, occupational choice, hours worked or other demographics. Having children increases the task gap but is not the primary cause. Women without children also reported a consistently lower task frequency than men. The study also rules out the possibility that the task gap results from women underreporting their activities.

Related research suggests that women’s productivity decreases because women are both self-selecting or being assigned tasks that are not a part of their role.

- The related literature shows that women benefit the work community by doing more ‘office housework’. Time spent on altruistic tasks will take away time from job-related tasks that lead to pay rises and promotions. My study demonstrates that this altruism can lower productivity on the job, explaining the within-occupation pay gap between men and women, says Dr Aspasia Bizopoulou.


Aspasia Bizopoulou: Job Tasks and Gender Wage Gaps within Occupations