Dr. Joni Hersch, Vanderbilt University – Sexual Harassment and Pay

Mar 27, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Joni Hersch of Vanderbilt University explores the relationship between pay and the likelihood of experiencing sexual harassment.

Joni Hersch is a professor of law and economics at Vanderbilt University where her research interests include sexual harassment, skin color discrimination, job risks faced by immigrant workers, costs of smoking, punitive damages awards, and judge and jury behavior. She has published numerous articles in the leading economics journals and holds a Ph.D. in economics from Northwestern University.

About Dr. Hersch

Dr. Joni Hersch – Sexual Harassment and Pay

Sexual harassment is illegal under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as discrimination on the basis of sex. Yet both male and female workers report being sexually harassed on the job.

In my research I examine whether risk of sexual harassment affects workers’ pay. Almost everyone despises being sexually harassed. This means workers may get a pay premium to compensate for this negative working condition. But sexual harassment may also cause lower productivity by increasing absenteeism and wasting work time, which would instead lower pay.

Using data on individual harassment charges filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, I calculate gender-specific estimates of the risk of sexual harassment by industry and age group and match these risks to data on individual workers. Women are six times more likely than men to experience sexual harassment on the job, and the risk for women is higher in male-dominated industries. Mining has the highest risk for women, followed by construction. The lowest risk industries for women are education and health services.

To see how sexual harassment affects pay, I estimate wage equations controlling for the risk of sexual harassment as well as extensive individual characteristics such as education, race, experience, occupation, and percent female in the worker’s industry.

I find that both male and female workers receive higher pay for exposure to sexual harassment risk. On average, women are paid about 25 cents per hour more, and men are paid about 50 cents per hour more, relative to comparable workers with no risk. The wages of those who have personally been sexually harassed are not affected.

Ultimately this means that workers at risk for sexual harassment are receiving ‘hazard pay’ similar to the pay premium that workers receive for risk of injury or death on the job.

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