Sick of hearing ‘women shouldn’t have babies if they’re going to complain’? Here are some myth-busting truths about unequal pay
According to the Fawcett Society, 9 November marked Equal Pay Day – the date from which women in Britain effectively work for free until the end of the year, due to the 14.2% gender pay gap. Myths and misconceptions still persist around unequal pay. (This week alone I’ve heard “the gender pay gap doesn’t exist”, “women shouldn’t have babies if they’re going to complain” and “women aren’t paid less, they just earn less”.) So in the interests of clearing up some confusion, here are 10 facts you might not know about the pay gap …
1. It starts young … really young
A website set up to allow parents to pay pocket money to their children via online accounts revealed that boys were paid 15% more than girls for doing the same chores. The gap widened for homework, where boys received more than double the amount of pocket money girls did for completing an assignment.
2. It’s an intersectional problem
Research by Race for Opportunity found that black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) workers make up a disproportionate number of people in low-paid jobs, with almost a quarter (23%) of Pakistani employees and a fifth of Bangladeshi, Chinese and Black Caribbean workers earning less than £25,000 per year. It also found that a white British employee has an average of almost four promotions during their career, compared to just 2.5 for British African, Indian and Pakistani employees. Figures from the Low Pay Commission found that 15.3% of Pakistani/Bangladeshi workers earned the minimum wage – more than twice the number of white workers in minimum wage jobs. And the pay gap is wider for older women than for their younger colleagues, with women in their fifties earning nearly a fifth less than men of the same age.
Research also suggests that trans women are more economically vulnerable and can earn almost a third less after transitioning.
3. It’s complicated
The pay gap exists for many and complex reasons. As well as both direct and indirect discrimination, there are issues such as occupational segregation, and the devaluation of jobs primarily associated with female labour. The fact that women make up the majority of part-time and low-paid workers, and the relative lack of promotion opportunities for part-time workers, are also factors. Among part-time workers, women are still more likely to be lower paid than men.
4. It happens across a huge variety of professions
Attention has recently been drawn to the wage gap between male and female stars in Hollywood. But the gender pay gap affects everybody from architects to athletes. Recent research from the Office for National Statistics revealed that female architects are paid a whopping 25% less than their male counterparts. And while members of the England women’s football team earn around £20,000 per year, male Premier League players earn an average of £1.6 million per year.
5. It’s not performance-based
Talking of football, the US national teams recently provided a stunning, high-profile example of pay failing to correlate to performance. In the World Cup, the women’s team were victorious, winning the whole championship, while the men’s team went out in the first round. But the women’s team won prize money of $2 million, while the men won $8 million just for being eliminated at the first hurdle.
6. While working mothers lose out, working fathers actually benefit
We all know that the motherhood penalty can have a huge negative impact on women’s careers. Mothers are less likely to get jobs in the first place, and less likely to be paid as well as their similarly qualified male colleagues. But to add insult to injury, working fathers actually see a boost to their salaries, with their earnings increasing an average of over 6% when they have children, compared to mothers, whose salaries decrease 4% for each child on average.
7. It affects graduates too
Much has been made recently of the diminishing pay gap among younger workers. But studies still show a graduate pay gap, where women can earn up to £8,000 less in their starting salaries than their male peers who took the same degree. According to the Higher Education Careers Service Unit, one in five men are paid more than £30,000 after their degree, compared with just 8% of women who earn the same. And research from the Higher Education Statistics Agency found that the average graduate salary is £2000 higher for male graduates than for female graduates.
8. Not all work “counts”
As Katrine Marçal points out in her recent book Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner? the very methods by which we measure and value labour have long disregarded the enormous contribution and impact of the unpaid domestic and caring work predominantly carried out by women.
9. It can arise from subtle bias
When we think of the pay gap, it’s easy to imagine a villainous boss deliberately choosing to pay a female employee less than her male counterparts. But while that can happen, discrimination can also be more complex. A study published in the journal PNAS submitted identical applications for laboratory manager jobs, but assigned female-sounding names to half the applications and male-sounding names to the other half. In a randomised double-blind study, participants not only considered the “male” applicants more competent and hireable, but were also likely to offer them a higher starting salary.
10. Even technology isn’t immune from discriminatory practices
It was recently revealed that Google’s algorithm displays far fewer adverts for high-paying job opportunities to women than it does to men. So the next time someone tries to tell you feminism is unnecessary and the gender pay gap doesn’t exist, fix them with a beady stare, talk them through its complexities, and if all else fails, hit them with Twitter user @LauraLuchador’s viral joke:
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