A story on the US News and World Report website reveals that the reason women are paid less in general may have something to do with what they study in college:
The April release of Behind the Pay Gap by the American Association of University Women Education Foundation reported that one year after college graduation, women working full time earn just 80 percent as much as their male counterparts. The report noted that one potential reason for this difference is that female students are clustered in college majors tied to careers that lead to smaller paychecks. Areas such as education, health, and psychology are dominated by women, while men make up the majority of engineering, physical science, and mathematics majors—occupations that typically pay more.
If you still aren't convinced, read on:
Londa Schiebinger, director of Stanford University's Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research, says it's not that women don't care how much they make but rather that they are more influenced by other factors. For example, she says women tend to prefer being around other women. If more professors, students, and professionals in a field of study are women, female applicants are more likely to choose that discipline as a college major. "I don't think they consider pay as much as something they have a stronger commitment to," she says, citing teaching and community service as examples of fields women connect to.
Lest you worry that personal decisions have too much of an impact on how much one can earn, the article ends on a note that informs us the question is far from settled:
"It seems to be conventional wisdom that as younger generations make different choices, the wage gap will disappear," [Hill] says. "But even when women are making the 'right' choices, they are still getting paid less."
As to what the "right" choices are, we are left to guess.
The idea that women tend to shy away from mathematics and hard sciences due to personal preference, which piggybacks the notion that women's brains may be wired differently than men's and therefore affects both school performance and career choice, has gotten a lot of attention lately. Former Harvard president Lawrence Summers, whose comments suggesting these theories might have merit ultimately led to his resignation, might be gratified to know his sacrifice may have resulted in genuine debate on the topic.
Don't expect this to be reported widely in the press in any case.