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What knowing you make less money because of gender does to your brain

Mark Wahlberg and Michelle Williams All the Money in the World
Wahlberg and Michelle Williams at the premiere of ‘All The Money
In The World’ on December 18, 2017 in Beverly

Kevin Winter/Getty

  • Having more money and a higher status than others can
    be good for your health.
  • Powerful people have what’s known as a “stress buffer”
    that reduces fear and helps them perform better.
  • Recent research suggests that people who perceive
    themselves as unfairly compensated may internalize the feelings
    of lower status and can suffer from bad health as a
  • The stress can create chemical changes in the brain
    that promote long-term health problems. 

Reports about the persistent gender pay gap have proliferated in
recent weeks.

Michelle Williams reportedly got paid 0.0006% of what Mark
Wahlberg did to re-shoot scenes in their upcoming movie “All the
Money in the World.” As USA
reported, Williams received less than $1,000 for her
work, while Wahlberg raked in $1.5 million.

Meanwhile, new “Today” co-anchor Hoda Kotb says she’s definitely
not making what she called “Matt Lauer money”. Lauer
likely made around $10 million a year
 before he was
fired from the network for inappropriate sexual behavior at work,

NBC said
. According to People, Kotb said her new salary is
“not even close”.  

At the BBC, Carrie Gracie, a senior editor in China, quit her job
earlier this month because she said the company had a “secretive
and illegal” salary system that systematically paid men more, as

The New York Times

On average, women in the US
make around .79 cents on the dollar
compared to men doing the
same work. For black women, the number may be even lower —
Economic Policy Institute
estimates they make .67 cents for
every dollar a white man doing the same work would be paid. 

Knowing that you make less money than someone doing the same kind
of work can mess with your brain.

Scientists have known for years that powerful, high-status people
derive health benefits from their lofty socioeconomic perch. But
Pranjal Mehta, who studies power hormones at University College
London,  says the health-boosting effects of power are not
absolute, and instead have to do with how you feel about
where you rank in the social pecking order.  

“It’s not just people’s objective economic status,
but their perception of where they fit,” Mehta told Business

A 2000 study of 157
white women
backs this idea up. The researchers found that

subjective understanding of their
social status was more “consistently and strongly related to
psychological functioning and health-related factors” then their
objective status. Where the participants thought they fit on the
social ladder affected their self-reported health, sleep quality,
body fat distribution, and stress levels. A different study also
found evidence that a perception of lower status can have lasting
effects on job performance and can even hurt women’s
ability to do math problems
 relative to men when they
feel they’re being judged as less capable. 

Minority groups also have to deal with “stigma-related
stress” that can be triggered by discrimination like “receiving
poorer services in restaurants or stores, being treated as
threatening and/or being assumed to be unintelligent,” according
to psychologist David Frost’s 2011
. The stress from such experiences can have long-term
health effects — studies have found links between stigma-related
stress and higher instances of smoking, depression and

Similarly, the brain
responds poorly
to the idea of unfair compensation, and
perceived economic inequality can have long-term effects on a
person’s brain and lead to depression.  

Mehta says this is all especially problematic because it
makes it relatively easy for powerful, well-heeled people to

retain the hierarchy”. In other words, these
impacts on health and performance keep the rich and powerful in
their elevated place

 while making those who
perceive themselves as “low-status” appear less competent, even
if they aren’t. 

Some psychologists refer to the health-boosting effect of power
as a “stress buffer” — it gets displayed in the body in the form
of lower
cortisol levels and higher levels of testosterone
. These
physiological changes reduce fear in powerful people and help
them perform better. 

suggests people who feel powerful are also more in
tune with their “gut feelings” (though they’re not as good
at empathizing
with others
). They’re also less likely to develop
stress-linked diseases like heart conditions and type 2 diabetes.
Oh, and they live longer.

But some of
Mehta’s latest research
suggests that “stress buffer” may not
be absolute. A groundbreaking 2017 study showed that when
hierarchies are unstable and people believe positions of power
can be overturned, the difference essentially gets erased. That
can make everyone feel like they’re on a more level playing
field, as those without money and power feel less psychologically
stressed out, and those with established power feel

But in order to have that more equitable distribution of
stress, everyone has to genuinely believe they have control over
where they’ll end up.

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