The gap may be less down to gender discrimination than to other factors.
There has been much talk over the years about the gender wage gap among full-time wage and salary workers. Various studies suggest that disparities persist due to a combination of women working in lower-paid occupations, taking time off to have kids, and discrimination.
But what about the world of online platforms where wages are often set equally for a given task and the customer is usually unaware of the gender of the worker?
A study released last week by economists from Stanford University and the University of Chicago using data from more than a million Uber drivers uncovered a 7% hourly earnings gap between men and women on the ride-sharing platform.
Researchers found various factors explaining the disparity. They claimed that nearly half of the gap was due to male workers simply driving at faster speeds. Male workers were also more likely to have used with the app for a longer period of time, allowing them to accumulate skills that boosted their productivity. And they also tended to drive in areas that can be more lucrative, such as those with high crime rates, which female drivers avoid.
Yet their findings were by no means unique among studies of non-traditional work. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ recently released Contingent Worker Survey, men working on a temporary basis make about 15% more than women per week while male independent contractors make 21.5% more per week than female independent contractors.
Likewise, a 2016 study found a significant earnings differential between self-employed men and women. Earlier this year, the accounting service Freshbooks found that many women reported gender discrimination and felt they had to charge less than men in order to win clients.
Shelly Steward, who studies the gig economy at the Aspen Institute, believes that a key factor may be women taking on lower-wage contract work as supplemental income—such as babysitting or home-based sales jobs—rather than more lucrative primary income, like being an insurance agent or a plumber.
“We live in a gendered and unequal society, and that impacts independent work just like it impacts traditional work,” Steward says.
Yet the Uber study also offers a reason for optimism: Much of the gender-based wage disparity stemmed from a difference in experience, suggesting that women could eventually catch up with men by sticking with the app longer and picking up more skills.
“Overall, our results suggest that on-the-job learning may contribute to the gender earnings gap more broadly in the economy than previously thought,” the authors of the Uber study wrote.