Relative Deprivation and the Gender Wage Gap


  • Linda A. Jackson

    Corresponding author
    1. Michigan State University
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      LINDA A. JACKSON is Associate Professor of Psychology at Michigan State University. Her research focuses on how social stereotypes (e.g., of gender, race, and physical appearance) influence person perception, and on the cognitive and affective components of stereotypes. In her forthcoming book, Physical Appearance and Gender, she illustrates the importance of considering gender in understanding social psychological phenomena.

Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI48824.


Research on gender and pay satisfaction indicates that women are equally satisfied with less pay than men receive—the paradox of the contented working woman. Relative deprivation theory provides a framework for understanding how women's paradoxical contentment may contribute to the gender wage gap: Women may be content because they do not perceive a discrepancy between the pay they “want” and the pay they receive. A review of research on gender and the value of pay, and on gender and pay expectations, indicates that a value-based explanation is needed to account for women's paradoxical contentment with their low pay. Research is described testing the hypothesis that gender differences in the meaning of money influence the value of pay and pay satisfaction, and a preliminary model of pay satisfaction is offered that integrates value-based and comparative-referent explanations of the paradoxically contented woman worker. Implications of gender differences in the value of pay for the issue of comparable worth are discussed.