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How Unpredictable Schedules Widen the Gender Pay Gap


Published January 4, 2023

The gender pay gap can remain even among workers with the same role, seniority, and pay structure. One reason is due to unpredictable scheduling. When schedules are unpredictable, women are less likely than men to be able to accept last-minute overtime opportunities and to work odd hours. Making schedules more predictable can help reduce the gap.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What are other possible causes of the gender wage gap not discussed in the video?
  2. Is it fair if women earn more than men for the same job? Why or why not?

Additional Resources:

  • Read “Why Do Women Earn Less than Men? Evidence from Bus and Train Operators,” by Valentin Bolotnyy and Natalia Emanuel via Journal of Labor Economics. Available here.
  • Read “How Unpredictable Schedules Widen the Gender Pay Gap,” by Valentin Bolotnyy and Natalia Emanuel via Harvard Business Review. Available here.
  • Watch “Wealth, Poverty, and Politics,” with Thomas Sowell and Peter Robinson, on Uncommon Knowledge. Available here.
View Transcript

Many theories exist as to why the gender pay gap exists: Women may take time off to have kids or care for elders; they may shy away from negotiations like asking for raises; or they may experience conscious or unconscious managerial bias.

But what happens when these theories do not apply?

Recent research analyzed seven years of pay data for bus and train operators in Massachusetts where union-negotiated contracts left no room for gender bias or employee negotiation.

Yet even among employees with exactly the same role, seniority level, and earnings per hour worked…women earned 11 percent less in take home pay than their male counterparts.

How? It turns out, when workers’ schedules were more unpredictable or uncontrollable, a larger gender pay gap occurred.

Responsibilities outside of work that require predictable schedules more often fall to women than men, meaning they were less able to accept last-minute overtime opportunities and to work odd hours. 

This suggests that one way to reduce the gender pay gap is for firms to improve their scheduling practices, to make them more predictable and controllable for their workers. 

Shift-trading, enabling team members to easily substitute for each other, and moving away from a culture of constant availability can be a win-win-win: boosting productivity, helping workers balance demands at work and at home, and narrowing the gender earnings gap.