The risk of sexual harassment can mean a bigger paycheck

November 4, 2011

When sexual harassment claims against Republican candidate Herman Cain emerged this past week, his campaign first denied the allegations, then acknowledged a settlement to one woman and, eventually, blamed rival Rick Perry’s camp. One untested tactic: Contend that the allegedly harassed employees at the National Restaurant Association were paid salaries that compensated them for that very risk.

“Workers receive a wage premium for exposure to the risk of sexual harassment in much the same way that workers receive a wage premium for the risk of fatality or injury,” Vanderbilt University law and economics professor Joni Hersch writes in “Compensating Differentials for Sexual Harassment,” published recently in the American Economic Review’s Papers and Proceedings issue.

Workplace sexual harassment is against the law but still rampant in many industries. But Hersch writes that there is a quantifiable pay bonus for “unwanted sexual attention” at work. According to her research, which relied on Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints, women in jobs with an average probability of sexual harassment are paid 25 cents per hour more than women who have jobs with little risk of sexual harassment, even when controlling for education and experience.

Could women, who still earn less than men, ask for this extra pay?

“They don’t have to consciously demand a pay premium,” Hersch says. “In the market, people quit jobs. . . . The only way to keep them is to pay more.”

How much more varies. Female miners, according to Hersh’s research, work in a male-dominated industry with more than three times the rate of sexual harassment reports than “professional and business services” — the National Restaurant Association’s sector. Hersch estimates that women wielding pickaxes make about $2 more per hour than they would if their male co-workers were better behaved. She also speculates that, without workplace protections and the ability to sue that countermand risks, such women would earn even more.

“People really hate being sexually harassed,” Hersch says. She even found that men “in jobs with an average probability of sexual harassment” are paid 50 cents per hour more. “Sexual harassment is the kind of working condition that is so universally despised that people require some compensating differential,” she says.

Justin Moyer

moyerj@washpost.commoyerj@washpost.com

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Jobs with a higher risk
of sexual harassment pay workers more

Justin Moyer is deputy editor of the Morning Mix.
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