The better educated women in Trinidad and Tobago are less likely to work and, save in four professions, earn less than men when they do take a job.
There are just four jobs in Trinidad and Tobago where women earn equal or higher salaries than men.
And the widest gap is in an area generally seen as the preserve of male nerds: computers.
According to the 2008/2009 Household Budget Survey, carried out by the Central Statistical Office, women university lecturers have about the same salary as their male colleagues but, as shown in Table 1, women computer professionals make an average of 39 per cent more than their male counterparts.
Also making more money relative to the men are graduate teachers, government regulatory officers, and unspecified categories of "Professionals" and "Associate professionals".
(One caution: the CSO had one column in this table reversed – ie, women under the men's profession, so the same may have happened with computer professionals. An email to two senior CSO officials pointing this out three weeks ago has received no response.)
In her book Delusions of Gender, psychologist Cordelia Fine notes, "In its early days, computer programming was a job done principally by women and was regarded as an activity to which feminine talents were particularly well suited."
Fine cites a 1967 US career guide which lists "patience, persistence and capacity for detail" as female traits, and quotes American psychologist Sapna Cheryan who argues "it was not until the 1980s that individual heroes in computer science, such as Bill Gates and Steven Jobs came to the scene, and the term 'geek' became associated with being technically minded."
Fine also refers to studies which show how the image of a particular profession reduces the number of women who might enter it, including computer science, so it seems that this American cultural image has not affected Trinidadian women.
In most other occupations, however, women earn less than men.
Overall, women's average income in T&T is 21 per cent less than men's.
A 2011 working paper published by the Central Bank found that the wage gap was largest among professionals, legislators, and senior managers.
"This difference in wages poses the potential for decreased participation of women in the workforce due to a lack of motivation and sentiments of unfair treatment," write authors Karen A Roopnarine and Dindial Ramrattan, who work in the Bank's Research Department.
Their paper was titled "Female Labour Force Participation: The case of Trinidad and Tobago".
This psychological prediction, however, is not borne out by the available data.
Only 3.9 per cent of women with tertiary qualifications were unemployed, according to the CSO's Labour Force Report 2008, as compared to almost 15 per cent of women with five or more O Level subjects and training.
Moreover, although professional women earn 15 per cent less on average than professional men, they also work fewer hours per day.
Professional men on average work a 38-hour week, whereas the average professional woman works 34 hours.
Given the mean income of professionals in T&T, this means that women should earn $1,068 less per month than the men.
However, they get penalised above the rate, and make an average of $1,797 less.
The gender wage gap is much wider among legislators, senior officials, and managers.
At an average monthly income of $5,028, women earn 41 per cent less than men's average $8,516. (This is the column which was reversed, with women's income listed under the male heading.)
However, the LFR shows that women in these fields work an average 38-hour week, as compared to a 40-hour week for men.
Also, about 23 per cent of men in these areas have tertiary education, as compared to 19 per cent of the women. Even so, only 1.3 per cent of women in these fields are unemployed, as compared to 2.3 per cent of the men.
Roopnarine and Ramrattan add, "Surprisingly, women with tertiary level education had a probability of participation of only eight per cent. This is a very intriguing result and lends itself to the need for further analysis of the issue. There is a probability that women who have completed university education may choose to spend some time with their families before joining the labour force. However, validation of such an assumption or any others runs beyond the scope of this research."
A 2006 article in the New York Times had noted a similar phenomenon in America.
Headlined "Stretched to the Limit, Women Stall March to Work", the article documented women's declining participation in the US labour force since 2000, noting that this trend was highest among highly-educated, high-earning mothers.
According to psychologist Susan Pinker, in her book The Sexual Paradox, "This subset of adaptive women often want work that can accommodate their families, but find high-level part-time or nine-to-five jobs rare." A study by American sociologist Shelley Correll and her team discovered a "mother penalty" for job applications, where female applicants with a child were rated ten per cent less competent, 15 per cent less committed, and worth US$11,000 per annum than non-mother candidates.
Gabrielle Hosein, a lecturer in Gender Studies at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies, admits that mothers may not be able to give their full energy to their jobs.
Hosein and her husband had their first child last year, and they haven't had a full night's sleep in months. "When you're in your workplace, there's no sense from other people that energy is being devoted to the private sphere, which means you can't function fully in the public sphere," she says.
A 2004 paper by researcher Katarzyna Saczuk notes that the greater proportion of working women in rich countries may be due to "social and public policies which make it possible for women to join career with motherhood."
Hosein believes maternity leave is a policy which needs review.
"The challenges for women have to do with the length of maternity leave," she said in a telephone interview. She says that maternity leave should be at least six months, instead of the present three.
"I believe maternity leave should really be a year, with the first six months on full pay," she said.
She herself took unpaid leave in order to be at home longer with her daughter, since she believes that a baby is not ready to be separated from her parent at three months.
"The cost is not necessarily to the workplace," says Hosein, who works an eight-hour day. "The cost is to the woman."
Central Bank researchers Roopnarine and Ramrattan note that there are more poor women than men in T&T. "One possible reason is the corresponding lower labour force participation rate of women when compared to men," they write. "More noteworthy however, is that Trinidad and Tobago's FLFPR over the ten-year period 2000-2009 was lower than some of its neighbouring countries; Barbados and Jamaica's female labour force participation rates averaged 65.1 per cent and 57.4 per cent, respectively, over the same ten-year period." This compares to 52.5 per cent for the female labour force in T&T.
In rich countries, FLFPR is generally above 60 per cent, but has actually been declining as these countries have experienced economic growth. (See Table 2 for female participation rates in developed nations.)
Moreover, there are fewer poor women in T&T as compared to Jamaica and even Barbados.
Indeed, at the time of the HBS survey, just 6.2 per cent of women were classified as unemployed. This implies that, contrary to what Roopnarine and Ramrattan assert, poverty in the Caribbean region may actually be an incentive for higher participation rates by women in the labour force.
They also record that "The data thus showed that there seems to be an equal proportion of men and women in the low and in the middle-income areas. However, one quarter of the female population live in high-income households, as opposed to a little over one fifth of males residing in such households. This data suggests that a larger proportion of women live in households with a better economic standing than their male counterparts."
This may well be because women with well-off spouses can afford to not work.
According to the LFR 2008, less than 30 per cent of women in lower SES occupations — labourers, service workers, clerks — are married, whereas over 40 per cent of women in professional and managerial positions are. However, 46 per cent of professional women have never been married or had a partner: So it seems that there is another kind of price women in T&T pay for being qualified.