If only it were men that had kids…


12:16 pm - February 8th 2008

by Unity    


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At the risk of sounding like Tim Worstall or Chris Dillow, this article on Comment is Free (by Yvonne Roberts) caught my eye this morning because of its poor reasoning:

Once upon a time, women born in the 1940s-1960s believed that with effort life would be better for their daughters and granddaughters – and, therefore, for their men too. Instead, in the 21st century, the glass is stuck at half empty and there doesn’t seem much hope of change as long as society places such a high value on making money while the value of care comes at rock bottom rates.

New research (pdf) by Kate Purcell and Peter Elias of the University of Warwick uses data from a longitudinal study of more than 3,000 graduates who gained their first degree in 1995. They found that young women in their first full time job are already earning 11% less than their male peers. Three years later, it’s 15% and then 19% by 2002/2003. That’s one hell of a chasm.

Well it is a bit of a gap, but the important question is why?

Purcell and Elias looked at the factors that might be causing this gap including the sector of the labour market for which women opt, hours of work and degree subject studied. The most important factor they discovered is whether graduates work in the private or public sector. Seven years after graduation, over half of the females were employed in the public or not-for-profit sector but only a third of males.

Most of what follows amounts to no more than a bit of cod sociology of the kind which fails to adequately address the obvious question that the research poses – if the apparent pay gap is a function of there being a higher proportion of women than men working in the public/voluntary sector then what is it about the public/voluntary sector that makes it a more attractive proposition to women than men?

The best that Roberts, and the researchers whose study prompted the article, can come up with is some evidence from interviews which suggests that men were more inclined to discuss the importance and high financial rewards while women placed more emphasis on doing ‘socially useful’ work.

This may well be a factor, but I suspect that there’s a much more obvious and pragmatic explanation at work here, one that neither Roberts or Purcell and Ellis appear to have hit upon.

The important question here is in what material ways (other than salary) does working in the public/voluntary sector differ from working in the private sector and, by and large, the differences are pretty easy to enumerate.

The public sector, and to a lesser extent the voluntary sector, tends to offer a greater level of job security that the private sector.

They tend, in addition, to offer employees, and especially female employees, somewhat more favourable terms of employment than the private sector, particularly in terms of holiday entitlements, access to flexible working, opportunities for part time working and job shares, payment during sick leave, access to better than statutory minimum terms of maternity leave, adoption leave and time off to care for dependants, etc.

Some of this is immediately seen as beneficial. Some is likely to be particularly attractive to women who may have half-an-eye on having children at a later date and who will see these terms of offering them a better prospect of returning to a career after starting a family.

Given that many, if not most, women embark on a career with at least some awareness that parenthood may become a feature in their life at some point in the future and that this brings both increased non-work responsibilities and places some natural limitations on their ability to pursue their career – they will, at least, require time off to actually have the baby, even if they return to work fairly rapidly afterwards – it seems reasonable to conclude that they are likely to be that bit more risk averse in their choice of career. This, in turn, makes the kind of job security that the public sector, in particular, has to offer, together with the rather more family-friendly terms of employment one finds more commonly in the public and voluntary sectors, a more attractive proposition even at the expense such jobs having a somewhat lower earnings potential.

Its a straightforward and rational transaction, a slightly somewhat lower salary in return for less risk of job insecurity and terms of employment that lessen the risk that having children will result in significant and long-term disruption to career prospects, or which at least make it a little easier for women to pick up their career again once their children at an age where they can feel confident in their ability to combine a career with the responsibilities (or rather I should say ‘their share of the responsbilities’)  of parenthood and family life.

Put in those terms, it seems obvious that this is likely to be a significant factor in women’s calculations when making choices about which career pathway to follow and, particular, in which sector to seek employment – even if its not a reason that women will routinely state explicitly when asked about why they chose a particular career – attributing such choices to a positive decision to pursue ‘socially valuable’ work sounds much more positive and worthy than simply outlining such a pragmatic set of calculations.

In fact it is obvious – so obvious in fact that, as is so often the case when the question of the apparent gender pay gap is raised, its a line of argument that female commentators routinely seem to overlook in favour of the old fall-back positions –

Is the glass really half empty? Men at the very bottom of the pyramid definitely have it tough but today’s young women, across the classes, continue to face discrimination and injustice – although many may not have reached the realisation yet that that’s the way it is. According to new research by Shirley Dex and others at the Institute of Education, all a young woman has to do to get ahead is to act like a stereotypical male – don’t have children that you expect to see; don’t take time out of a career to care for others; don’t put a vocation before income.

This is where some of the arguments about the gender pay gap come to rest on shaky ground, particular when couched in terms of making longitudinal, if not lifetime, comparisons between the earnings of men and women. Women who take time out of their career to have children will ultimately (and quite obviously) earn less than men with follow an equivalent career for the simple reason that the net effect of taking time out your career to have children, and in many cases working part-time rather than full-time for a period afterwards in order to take on the responsibilities of parenthood, will result in many (most) women having a shorter effective working life than men. Even at equal rates of pay throughout, a shorter working life means lower lifetime earnings not because of discrimination but because of maths.

There may, in addition, be other knock-on effects that serve to widen this gap – a labour market which favours experience as a factor both in the determination of salaries and the distribution of opportunities for career advancement will, of course, place women who take time out to start a family at a disadvantage in comparison to men – and, as I’ve outlined above, the choices that many women make, particularly when sacrificing a measure of earnings potential in order to gain greater job security or terms of employment that more favourably accommodate parenthood, are also going to be factor.

That’s not to suggest that women do not still face discrimination in employment – it’s still a factor but its not the only factor that operates to limit their lifetime earnings potential when compared to men – some of this comes right down to the basic facts of biology and reproduction against which no government can legislate.

Even under conditions of perfect equality of opportunity, i.e. in a labour market in which factors such as experience and continuity of service play no part in the distribution of opportunities and salaries, women who have children would still come off second best to men on comparisons of lifetime earnings for the simple reason that it is women, and women alone, who undergo the natural biological process of pregnancy and childbirth and there is an inescapable time penalty attached to that process. There may be some things that could be done to minimise the gap and limit the degree to which women fall short of men in the lifetime earnings but not to eliminate the gap entirely, unless you fancy a future in which Huxley’s Brave New World of entirely artificial gestation and communal child-rearing becomes a reality.

The gender pay gap is not something that the left, with its long-standing commitment to equality, can ignore but neither is it a subject we can legitimately pursue on the basis of intellectually dishonest lines of argument, which seem too often to be the norm amongst those pursuing this issue from the perspective of discrimination and gender rights and who, in citing calculations of lifetime earning as evidence for their position, glibly conflate two different conceptions of equality – equality of opportunity and equality of outcome – as if they were one and the same.

If we are to approach this issue in terms of equality of opportunity then it must be clearly recognised that biology is always, to some degree, going to be against us – women who have children will always experience certain temporal constraints which result in their having a shorter effective working life than men and, therefore, a lower lifetime earnings potential. The challenge we face is not that of eliminating the gender pay gap but reducing it to a minimum by eliminating those factors within it than can reasonably be attributed to actual discrimination.

If its equality of outcome we’re looking for then we should ‘bite the bullet’ and be honest in both our objectives and in our methods – we will need a Dworkinian redistribution mechanism of some description, one that – pinching Chris’ argument from an earlier Lib Con article – replicates the insurance payments that women would agree to behind what Rawls called a veil of ignorance.

What is unsustainable, and frankly ridiculous, is to continue to pursue this issue on the back of sub-rational arguments and with the same lack of clarity and imagination that is all too evident amongst those who seem to think that merely waving around the flag of gender discrimination is enough of an argument for anyone to reasonably accept irrespective of whether their actual arguments have any substance at all.

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'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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Reader comments


For once, I agree entirely.

Just to add that it depends on your perspective whether men are really in a better position at the moment. According to monetary measures, yes of course, but what sort of price could you put on the ability to have a child? The fact that men are unable to have children might limit their options such that they are more incentivised to derive status from high paying occupations instead just in order to distinguish themselves and develop their identity.

Better not warble on for too much longer or it really will get very life Of Brian-esque. But a nuanced approach to this issue is much appreciated.

By and large I agree with a lot of the above. But I have to draw attention to this statement:

“Its a straightforward and rational transaction, a slightly lower salary in return for less risk of job insecurity and terms of employment that lessen the risk that having children will result in significant and long-term disruption to career prospects”

It seems to me that (assuming the University of Warwick study is accurate) a 19% gap in salary does not translate to a “slightly” lower salary. This doesn’t change the substance of your piece, but is worth highlighting in my view.

Okay – so slightly might have been overstating it, but then it also difficult to draw direct like for like comparisons between many jobs in the public and private sectors, not least because its often the case that where direct comparisons can be made – say in the care sector – it actually tends to be that the public sector are offering the better rates of pay.

The first posting on this site that I’ve ever 100% agreed with. I’m slightly dissapointed not be able to indluge in some reactionary trolling, but well done anyway.

One thing you didn’t mention explicity was pensions. Public sector pensions are more secure and more generous than private (at anything below senior management level anyway) and women live longer so probably put a greater relative weight on pension provision.

Matt:

I omitted pensions in the main because while you’re correct that public sector pensions tend to be generous compared to the private sector in both terms and levels of employer contributions, across much of the voluntary sector (outside London) terms tend to be considerably worse – for the most part you may be offered access to a stakeholder pension and even then it’s often the case that the employer makes no contribution to it.

Its one case where the difference between public and voluntary sectors are just that bit to great to make a meaningful generalisation.

So then, how do you explain why women in managerial jobs, looking at the bigger picture here of women going to the top of their career, were earning at least 11% less than men (outside of the public and third sector) in 2006?

It’s all well and good to pontificate about the women and how they obviously desire kids and therefore that proves why they earn less in a life time, but why would Male directors necessarily be earning over 20% more than their female counterparts in business unless it was simple and basic inequality? Even assuming that some women that go to be managers in the food and drink industry do act as you say in the way that you say, why is the male wage almost 50% more than that of women in the sector?

http://www.guardian.co.uk/gender/story/0,,2162640,00.html

There is evidence out there, that is obviously not perfect and on that I do agree it’s about time that a truly fair analysis was made of “equality”, that on basic year on year wages, bonuses and job satisfaction, women are indeed being let down and for it to have only minor bearing on their family choices, I don’t see how percentages being talked about in the above report can ever be more than very slightly attributed to “family life” given the scope and scale of the survey.

“Why would Male directors necessarily be earning over 20% more than their female counterparts in business unless it was simple and basic inequality?”

Might men be more experienced because by that time many women will have already had children and taken some time outside of their career already? Might men be leaving or threatening to leave jobs more often, perhaps in search of a higher job status that men tend to define their success by?

It is something that I have noticed personally. Men seems to get rather more twitchy after a while in work, expecting some sort of progression in their career or lifestyle and are more likely to consider leaving. If they have actually proved themselves useful, they will tend to get a pay rise (and then leave later on anyway). This does not happen in the same way with women.

Which makes me think… what is the level of unemployment amongst men and women? Do men engage in a high risk employment strategy. The statistics might be witnessing the “pay off” for the successful employed men and not factoring in the men who get fired or who never bother to hold down a job at all.

Lee- there is quite a lot of evidence that, irrespective of relationship/family status:

a) Women apply for lower paid jobs than men

e.g well known social psychology experiment where: Newspaper advert for a fictitious £60k a year managerial post published in a national newspaper, all male applicants reply. Two weeks later, same job advert , same paper but with a £30k salary, male and female applicants apply. Hard to explain in terms of discrimination ?

b) Women are more conservative in their salary negociations and men take more risks, a woman is more likely to settle for the advertised salary, whereas a man is more likely to ask for more. Apply the same logic to pay rises and bonuses and it’s not hard to see how an 11% gap could develop. Espacially in the private sector where pat is individually negociated and there is less of a link between salary and pay grade as in the public sector. Private sector entities will basically pay the least they can get away with and still fill the post, irrespective of the gender of the job applicant. That’s why it’s called the jobs “market”.

Differences in pay are a consequence of the individual choices taken by men and women, nothing more.

The Warwick study actually answers its own question. Is there a GENDER gap? That is to say, is there a difference in pay between men and women doing the same jobs for the same amount of time? As Tim Worstall is constantly pointing out, the answer to that is a resounding NO!

Female graduates start off in lower paid jobs. It is, therefore no surprise that the difference in pay to their higher earning male equivalents actually widens as they move through their career. That is simple arithmetic. But all this is covered in the Warwick ‘research’:

Average earnings vary by industry sector and this is clearly part of the explanation for the observed gender pay gap among the graduate sample. The reasons behind this are complex and varied, and may well reflect differential access to sectors of employment by men and women. The distribution of graduate employment by sector undoubtedly reflects choices made at an early stage in the development of graduate career paths. For example, those who had studied languages and humanities at school, then taken a degree in these subjects, are less likely to have obtained employment in the engineering sector than those with degrees in more quantitative subjects. Part of the explanation of sectoral pay differentials lies in the demand for and supply of particular skills. The information and communications sector is a good example of a sector where jobs, until recently, were in relatively short supply, leading to higher pay for those working in the sector. Additionally, public sector jobs typically pay less than equivalent private sector posts. These factors combine to have a significant impact upon the pay of men and women. For example, those who work in banking, insurance, finance, the information and communications sector and business services have annual earnings which are approximately 15 per cent higher than the average…. well over a half of the female graduates work in education, health or other public services, compared with less than 30 per cent of the male graduates. Jobs in these sectors pay less on average, for both men and women, but the effect of such a negative pay differential is more significant for women given the higher proportion of women working in public sector jobs.”

…etc, etc, etc, blah, blah, blah.

That’s not to suggest that women do not still face discrimination in employment

Interestingly, discrimination is much easier to enforce in the public sector than in the private sector. Paying more than necessary for staff tends to cost a company money, so they have a reason to avoid hiring expensive employees. And if they keep making this mistake, they tend to go bust.

But in the public sector, the taxpayer ultimately pays, so you can afford to spend their money on your prejudices. As in Ulster during the Protestant Ascendancy.

(Similar logic applies to court cases, where the judge and jury have to pay no price for their prejudices.)

But I’m not talking about *different jobs* I’m talking about women in the SAME SECTOR at the SAME LEVEL earning at least 11% less in the private sector. How do you explain that?

Re: my above post, that was aimed at 9. regarding 8 I really don’t feel that kind of explaination away is good enough, not for the levels of difference you can end up talking about.

A much wider study is needed, as Unity suggested, but I fail to see how pretty much all women are sitting happy on the basic wage offered while all men are pushing for more, when you talk about levels of almost 50% in some sectors I really can’t imagine “different personalities” in the same sector being a competent argument.

13. douglas clark

Mike Power,

Far be it for me, a mere human being and not a shower of intellectual wanks called the Warwick Study, or indeed, Mike Power, to dispute the quite obvious gender gap. Is there a gender pay gap? Yes there is. Does it apply across employment sectors? Yes it does.

You are being silly here, as is your perogative.

“A much wider study is needed, as Unity suggested, but I fail to see how pretty much all women are sitting happy on the basic wage offered while all men are pushing for more, when you talk about levels of almost 50% in some sectors I really can’t imagine “different personalities” in the same sector being a competent argument.”

Well I find the concept of systematic irrational prejudice a fairly incompetent argument too. Obviously my experience is as limited as everyone else but my impression is that at work, women are as respected equally as men for what they achieve, but it is they who are much quieter about it. I see a boss who wants to keep costs down as much as possible, some more bolshy men who always have their eye on something else anyway, and women who are generally more content. I don’t see discrimination – I see different employment strategies.

Perhaps men who would be on a minimum wage, if they had a better employment strategy, are the sort of men who just don’t bother working at all under the current system. They don’ t derive any extra status (or money in some cases) from holding down a low income job as compared to being welfare dependent.

So you’re saying it’s OK for employers to give in to the demands of “bolshy” males and then knowingly and willingly not pay women the same that they end up giving the guys?

I think the whole idea that men are more experienced, more likely to go for the big money and have more desire to get to the top is firstly a fallacy and secondly irrelevant to the statistics that show that those that have gone all the way to director level in business are still in a pay gap situation. I wouldn’t disagree necessarily (though not agree either) if we were talking about basic workers and comparisons between all job sectors…but we’re not, we’re able to compare single year salaries in the same jobs at the same levels.

If discrimination is as big an issue as all that, employers with a larger number of female employees will tend to be more successful than otherwise identical employers with a smaller number of female employees, simply because their wage bill will be lower.

Anyone know of any evidence?

17. Kate Belgrave

Dunno about this one.

Could it have something to do with the possibility that there’s more room for demanding more money when you work in the private sector, and demanding more money isn’t something that women tend to be good at?

I demanded more money for the job I’m currently in before I accepted the job. I got the extra money. My female friends say they admire me for doing that, but that they have never done the same thing. I have never met another woman who has done the same thing – I’m sure they’re out there, but I can’t think of one that I know. They all take whatever salary is offered. Men, on the other hand, seem better at contesting salary packages and do so as a matter of course. I’ve only got anecdotal evidence for that, although I do remember reading a (Guardian?) article relatively recently that said men were better at asking for more money.

Regarding discrimination in the workplace – I think it is there in some people, and that it may prevent less aggressive women from getting the training and opportunities that they might get and that might lead to better jobs.

I have a reasonably technical web job and have tended to work in male-dominated environments. Quite recently (only a year ago), I had a boss who would walk straight past me and talk to male colleagues if he wanted someone to work on a technical project. He would never include me. I went to see him about this and asked him if he’d like to stop acting the sexist butthead. That worked beautifully. He included me so often after that that people probably started to talk.

My working life has been full of instances like that (and also of instances where men have been positive and supportive and have clearly seen me as an equal. My present manager is one such example).

The point is, if you’re not the kind of woman who is prepared to take men on and fight for opportunity, you may miss out along the way. You have to be able to stand up for yourself. I don’t think this means acting like a man, either, whatever that means. I think it means being a bit rugged about life, and not worrying too much if you overhear people describing you as a perfumed steamroller, or an underf**cked dyke.

I have spoken.

My only question in response to that, Kate, is how it can be that women can both be in a situation where they actively seek to rise up the career ladder faster than their male counterparts and be in control of that kind of “taking the bull by the horns” attitude, and still be so far behind male pay in some sectors. To me the idea that a woman consciously makes a choice to advance her career, but in doing so at the same time nonchalantly accepts lesser pay for her rapid rise, doesn’t really sit comfortably in my mind.

How do you know that ALL, or even a majority of, women “seek to rise up the career ladder faster than their male counterparts”?

It might well be the reverse: http://entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/book_extracts/article3340949.ece

(And there is nothing logically absurd about not demanding more money in order to boost your chances of a promotion: very few employers go out of their way to promote especially demanding employees.)

Violet Elizabeth Clark

Did you stamp your little feet and scweam and scweam until you were thick?

I do hope so.

‘There IS a gender gap, there IS, there IS there IS, so there! ‘

What was it you were saying about wanks? Ha, ha!

If you’re competing in the same arena then you must accept you compete over the terms on the same basis.

I don’t think it is helpful to talk about generalised differences in the interests if equality, as this creates greater division, rather than reducing it, as it pretends to aim at – talk about specific examples, by all means, but only Ms Belgrave has done so here.

The practice of developing general theories does help create a rational basis for understanding, but it mystifies the reality and places additional distance between the head-scratchers and the problem they want to address: Lee Griffin, Douglas Clark, Nick, Mike Power, Matt Munroe, Jim Bliss and myself (and Unity and Ad?) – all men, all discussing women; how enlightened, how enlightening!

We are all guilty of the conceit of thinking we know the answers and are best positioned to expound them, when we would be better advised to listen.

19. I’m not saying that, what I’m saying is that in the same sector, in the same level of expertise/responsibility, women are younger than their male counterparts on average….therefore on average women are progressing up the ladder faster in general. This is shown by managerial and higher stats. I did read the piece you linked to the other day but that talks about a completely different phenomenon.

I think it is highly irresponsible for people to mix the messages. No-one is arguing that taken as a whole you can’t just compare men’s lifetime earnings versus females, and no-one is arguing that in general (as that article suggests) women tend to lend themselves to public service type jobs more readily while being happy to take the lower level/lower paid jobs. But this is a COMPLETELY separate issue from the pay gaps rising between genders in high levels of jobs in every sector outside of the public and third sector, despite the fact women on average ARE gaining those jobs faster which can only lead us to know that they are either more qualified than men of the same age, or more aggressive.

In both cases this runs completely contrary to the pay gap, which is phenomenally huge in some sectors of management, and far too high at director level. Argue all you want about the women that choose family from an early age and all that, but this is not where the real argument is standing.

Also 21… I don’t claim to know the answers, I just wish people wouldn’t over-generalise the facts of the matter. I think it is abhorrent that on this site of all places we can have so many men defending their kin by arguing the “women like to have kids” side of things when the statistics available show pay inequality even when taking these women out of the equation. I also think it is utter bullshit for you to make light of just how much a male can really offer on this subject, as if our involvement at all makes the problem worse…here was me thinking men had to stop thinking fallacies and engage with the issue of pay equality between genders for the problem to truly be able to go away.

Ummm, Thomas, I’m not entirely sure we are “all guilty of the conceit of thinking we know the answers and are best positioned to expound them…”

I suggested that a 19% pay gap couldn’t be considered “slight”. That’s just a mathematical observation. I’m also mystified by the idea that gender equality is something for women to discuss while men listen. You probably just expressed your position a little clumsily, but it’s a very bizarre assertion.

At the end of the day we have to get paid more because we always have to pay for dinner.

I’ll get me coat……………

“So you’re saying it’s OK for employers to give in to the demands of “bolshy” males and then knowingly and willingly not pay women the same that they end up giving the guys?”

Yep.

Well not exactly. I think it represents a temporary market inequality that should be combated via cultural and social means, rather than through political means. Coercive laws will exacerbate inefficiencies (by making it more dangerous for employers to employ women, for example).

I’m not suggesting legislation, of course. All I’m saying is that if employers care about equality of any kind then they should pay comparable personnel a comparable wage. I have no issue with some guy demanding another £3k because he has 5 years more experience than everyone else and only him getting it, I have a problem with men or women demanding pay rises and employers giving in to them when there are other employees with generally the same expertise and experience then “losing out” by comparison. This is a personal issue with an aspect of the culture of management.

I’m aware that pay gaps will form to some degree in the market place, but realistically I’d be shocked if these ever formed the major basis for the gaps we’re seeing at the moment.

Lee, I apologise if I misunderstood you.

pay gaps rising between genders in high levels of jobs in every sector outside of the public and third sector, despite the fact women on average ARE gaining those jobs faster which can only lead us to know that they are either more qualified than men of the same age, or more aggressive.

Lee, that could be caused by a variety of effects, such as a change with time in the sex ratio starting careers in sector X. This would not mean you are wrong, but such things can make the concept of “average” less meaningful.

It occurs to me that I can turn your argument around and point to the “gender promotion gap”. Perhaps companies making promotion decisions are discriminating a favour of women? After all, our governing party often selects MPs by a method explicitly designed to discriminate in favour of women.

All I’m saying is that if employers care about equality of any kind then they should pay comparable personnel a comparable wage.

I will say that if employers care about the bottom line they should pay people enough to get them to do the job, and no more. Otherwise they are wasting money.

And private sector employers that do not care about the bottom line tend to go bust.

Jim Bliss: “I’m also mystified by the idea that gender equality is something for women to discuss while men listen.”

Clearly I was being provocative, but I am mystified that the opposite appears to be the case here – who exactly are we men engaging with if there are so few women participating in the discussion?

I’ll admit there may well be a gap in career prospects between men and women, which may be considered fair or unfair by different groups, and pay differentials have come to be seen as the expression of inequality, and that this therefore places the area in the foreground of the ongoing ideological battle.

It doesn’t strike me, though, that this gap is really anything other than a measurement of the time lag between the opening of the labour market and the point at which the new othodoxy of equal power within the market is established.

So whether we complain that things are moving too slowly towards final equality is a complete non-sequitur as far as the effectiveness or coherence of the market (starting equality) is concerned, and alone this provides no argument in favour of resorting to legislative means to modify the rules covering the functioning of the market.

For anyone to make such an argument it would be necessary to see examples, not of how the labour market is gender-blind, and yet systemically biased, but BOTH that there are no concessions made to account for the diversity of society AND that any current concessions are proving totally ineffectual.

The choice is between pushing down standards to the lowest common denominator in the name of equality by creating an ever-growing list of exceptions or of raising expectation levels with efforts to promote education and self-awareness to account for our differences, together with the full complement of skills to enable the fulfilment of human potentials and turn our individual abilities to our mutual advantages. You just can’t pretend that it is possible to simultaneously push two contradictory positions at the same time, unless you (knowingly or unknowingly) have a hidden agenda.

Which do you choose?

“So you’re saying it’s OK for employers to give in to the demands of “bolshy” males and then knowingly and willingly not pay women the same that they end up giving the guys?”

Of course it is – if you don’t ask you don’t get, that’s a fact of life. No employer in their right mind would voulantarily give employee A the same pay rise as employee B if employee A asked for the bigger pay rise, they would be throwing money down the drain. There is no reason why the employment market should result in equal pay between men and women any more than it should result in equal pay between left handed and right handed people, or ginger haired versus dark haired people, as those attributes are irrelevant to the market.

Anecdotally, I have worked for the same public sector organisation for 20 years, and as I have progressed modestly through the grades, the number of women in my cohort has reduced. You get roughly equal numbers up to around the the age of 30, then women start to drop out of the workforce or go part time. 30 is generally the age by which you will start getting into management in most organisatios, so obviously the number of women going into management is going to less than the number of men. I have also managed women who have explicitly stated they are not interested in promotion, something I have never heard a man say.

27. I don’t disagree that employers need to think about the bottom line first, so why is it then that people are suggesting the pay gap is due to employers being happy to give men more money if they ask for it? Surely if they care about the bottom line the guys will be told where to get off. And before we start again on the “experience and skills” angle, are you really saying that in every private sector job at management level or above men far outstrip women in terms of experience? I can understand that argument perhaps for board members as it stands because women comparatively haven’t had long enough in the board room to impact on that, but at management level it doesn’t make sense to me that men would seem to be 40% more qualified.

29. Anecdotally your point has no bearing on the salary comparisons I’m talking about, given that it is only looking at women that are interested in promotion, and who are statistically more driven than men to do it at an earlier age. 🙂

In discussing relative earning power as a measure of gender equality I think it would be helpful if we started calculating the costs of accepting and using this as the only method of comparison, otherwise I think systemic sexism IS a fair criticism that can be levelled at contributors here.

How about some non-male centric people set their terms for the discussion – quality of life issues as measures of gender equality, maybe? Only then will gender difference be calculated into the true sum of social and economic impact and provide a better picture of the needs of society.

There is always a trade-off to be had between different measures and different choices, which I personally feel reassured by – if everyone were forced to measure up according to a single (treasury defined) yard-stick then what dull automatons living mechanical materialistic lives we would be!

How about some non-male centric people set their terms for the discussion – quality of life issues as measures of gender equality, maybe?

Thomas – How do you measure quality of life? Different people will place different values on the same things. If the thing is non-tradeable there is no good way of finding out what these valuations are.

27. I don’t disagree that employers need to think about the bottom line first, so why is it then that people are suggesting the pay gap is due to employers being happy to give men more money if they ask for it?

Lee – I was not one of those people. But you did claim that women are being promoted faster than men. Which would seem to be a sensible thing for an employer to do, if women really are prepared to work for less money.

And if you are concerned about the “gender pay gap”, why are you not equally concerned about the “gender promotion gap”? Are you only in favour of equality when it benefits the right people?

The UK govt has a list of 13/15 indicators covering what they mean by ‘quality of life’ (or at least they did have).
How difficult would it be to measure differences on a gender scale by using all of the gathered statistics instead of just economic activity/income…ah, but then you couldn’t influence your audience to push for legislative change on the basis of a difference in one single measurement – d’oh!

Thomas: I’m certainly not arguing that women have it especially rough compared to men (though I’m prepared to be swayed with the right evidence, as on all subjects), pay is the only area truly visible to see an inequality because of the sexes. I also don’t think at any point I’ve really said that I believe this is sexism based, just that it’s a problem that needs rectifying in an equal society.

ad: Of course it’s sensible, and if we could gather some evidence on whether women were in the positions they were because they offered a “bargain” promotion then I’d accept that. I think this argument alone pretty much nulls and voids any idea of a gender promotion gap though…you either accept market forces are at work in determining pay (in which case I would still argue there is discrepancies in the argument that these women aren’t driven and wouldn’t necessarily ask for more pay), or that everything should be equal regardless of external factors. I really hope no-one is necessarily arguing the latter!

I’m not sure I follow: If we are not going to argue that “everything should be equal regardless of external factors”, why is a gender pay gap a problem that needs rectifying in an equal society? You may be concerned about equal outcomes, equal treatment, or neither. A pay gap only needs rectifying if you are concerned about outcomes.

My point about the alleged promotion gap, is simply that if such a thing exists, it should be as much of a concern as a pay gap. If you are worried about one, you should be worried about the other. As I said, I am not terribly concerned about either.

I don’t think they follow one another I’m afraid. A “promotions” gap would need to take in to account far more than just age of promotion, one can’t argue that there is a promotion gap if there are skills that one person possesses above the other…one can argue a pay gap if skills are the same. More needs to be discovered on circumstances, but these side non-issues don’t really derail the main point here.

The pay gap needs rectifying, if it is not the product of acceptable market forces (something we simply don’t know right now), simply because it is unfair and discriminatory not to.

Surely a pay gap is a consequence of a “promotions gap” though, the more you get promoted the more you get paid, unless you are suggesting that women somehow take promotion for little or no extra money ? I wouldn’t fall into the trap of assuming a link between ability and promotion either.

Lees original claim was that women were being promoted faster than men, and yet were paid less. I don’t think that is particularly contradictory: why would you not prefer to promote the employees who cost you less?

I just think it interesting that people who say that:

“The pay gap [in which women are paid less than men] needs rectifying, if it is not the product of acceptable market forces (something we simply don’t know right now), simply because it is unfair and discriminatory not to”

are reluctant to say:

“The promotion gap [in which women are promoted faster than men] needs rectifying, if it is not the product of acceptable market forces (something we simply don’t know right now), simply because it is unfair and discriminatory not to.”

Are we arguing over the definition of equality again?
Equality of opportunity or equality of outcome – are they exclusive? If it is assumed we have the former, why should we force the latter – is there no natural time lag between the attainment of one and the other; is it possible to force consequent outcomes without upsetting the initial factors?
Or are we assuming that we don’t have equal opportunity in the first place, in which case what has the government done so wrong to stop continued progress?

37. We’re talking about similar level of employment comparisons, so no a “promotion gap” in that context doesn’t come in to this.

38. Promotions must always based on market forces. How otherwise will a woman be promoted before a man unless it is because the company think they can either get more money from a woman for less investment (something inherently unethical if the money offered is significantly underneath the market price) or that the woman is more appropriate for the job. I’m not reluctant to say the second bit you talk about, I just believe that you can logically come to the assumption that market forces are the only factor in “promotion gaps” you talk about.

TBH I find it flabbergasting that this argument has gone in a full circle of contradiction in this debate. Apparently women get “paid less” because women work less than men…but where women do choose to work they get paid less because they are less driven…except that women do get promoted faster and so there must be some argument for those women being driven, or perhaps it’s more a conspiracy to employ “cheaper” labour at the detriment of men…except wait a second, *women work less than men* apparently. Repeat ad nauseum.

The facts are simple. Women make up barely a third of the managerial work force, and less than a fifth of all board positions. Where these women HAVE attained that rank in their business they have done so at a younger age and largely for significantly less pay year on year. Even the best situation (I believe in IT) is 11% gap on average.

As I’ve said, there does need to be more specific questions asked, but you honestly believe gaps of as much as £4k on average (meaning there must be significant amounts of female managers out there with even higher gaps too) are simply down to women accepting such salaries *below* the market average to get a promotion, and that there is even slightly the hint of companies unfairly promoting women ahead of men when the managerial industry is dominated by men?

39. If opportunity was equal (and that is all that should be attempted to achieve) then salaries should be much more comparable than they currently are. If women are only getting promoted because they are cheaper then we are not in a situation of equal opportunity.

That does not logically follow: if we have equal opportunity, and women prepared to accept lower pay, then we should expect to see that companies prefer to hire and promote them.

All three conditions are therefore perfectly compatible.

I mention all this because of your original question: “how it can be that women can both be in a situation where they actively seek to rise up the career ladder faster than their male counterparts … and still be so far behind male pay in some sectors.”

And your answer to that question: “women on average ARE gaining those jobs faster which can only lead us to know that they are either more qualified than men of the same age, or more aggressive.”

For all I know, that could be true. But it does not have to be.

39. Are we arguing over the definition of equality again?

I don’t think so. But if someone does claim to work towards e.g. equality of outcomes, should they work to equalise all outcomes, or are they allowed to cherry pick the outcomes to equalise? I tend to assume that if the latter option is allowed they will only want equality where it benefits the groups they care about, effectively turning a demand for equality into a demand for privilege.

My instinct is to call for patience. In any instance of liberalisation there will be a time lag between the introduction of measures and the desired effect becoming apparent.

Impatience, on the other hand, leads to totalitarian imposition, and that has many unwanted by-products which I think those who argue for it choose to ignore and those who choose to go along with it cannot see.

“who exactly are we men engaging with if there are so few women participating in the discussion”

Each other, as usual.

* shrug *

The gender pay gap /is/, the reasons for it are many and not all sexism based, there’s very little any of us can do about it except behave fairly and treat others as we would wish to be treated. That sort of thing can’t be enforced by legislation without, as someone said above, creating massive amounts of resentment.


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