The gender pay gap that isn’t being discussed?


6:05 pm - March 12th 2008

by Unity    


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Stop me if we’ve been through all this before

Yes, its yet another article on the subject of the ‘gender pay gap’ on Comment is Free, this time marking the release a the TUC’s report predictably entitled ‘Closing the Gender Pay Gap‘ which is published on the eve of… guess what?

Yep, its the TUC Women’s Conference and this all comes down to nothing more than the usual ‘by the numbers’ exercise in which the existence of a gender pay gap and its cause – discrimination, naturally – is put forward as the unquestioned ‘given’ from which all else proceeds even though its blatantly obvious to anyone with the slightest inclination towards sceptical inquiry that there’s rather more to all this than its proponents seem either willing or capable of admitting to.

And so it is that we’re told by the TUC – the article on CiF is so run of the mill that its not even worth commenting on the specifics – that:

Several causes are cited for the gender pay gap, including the concentration of women in low-paid jobs such as childcare and cleaning, the undervaluing of women’s skills and the employment penalty for mothers. This ‘motherhood penalty’ partly explains why the gender pay gap increases so rapidly for women in their 30s.

So – as usual – a large part of this pay gap comes down to nothing more than a matter of women working fewer hours than men and having a shorter working life due to their their valuable ‘earning time’ getting unfairly eaten into by the little matter of motherhood and all things proceeding from it.

And – also as usual – this is all backed up by a table showing ‘mean gender pay gaps for different age groups’ which looks like this:

Age Full-time pay for men Full-time pay for women Part-time pay for women Full-time gender pay gap Part-time gender pay gap
16-17 £4.75 £5.21 £5.14 -9.7% -8.2%
18-21 £7.28 £6.96 £6.96 4.4% 11.54%
22-29 £11.08 £10.72 £8.49 3.3% 23.4%
30-39 £15.64 £13.89 £10.70 11.2% 31.6%
40-49 £17.35 £13.39 £10.21 22.8% 41.2%
50-59 £16.22 £12.88 £9.89 20.6% 39.0%
60+ £13.36 £11.45 £8.90 14.3% 33.4%

At this point I’m struggling to find the right onomatopoeic combination of letters to express the deep, guttural groan tables like this elicit – the TUC may not be capable of adequately interpreting and critiquing statistical data but I am, and so are plenty of other people and the flaws in this table are so stupidly obvious that you wonder just what of kind of contempt the authors of this report have the intelligence of the general public.

This isn’t difficult – yes there’s a difference between the mean full time pay for men and the mean full-time pay for women and this proves women are discriminated against in employment… yes?

No, it doesn’t because we know that general employment patterns amongst men and women in terms of thing like proportions working is different sectors of the economy, different industries, etc. are markedly different and that these different sectors of the economy and different industries (and different employers, of course) offer different rates of pay, pretty much all of which is negotiated via an open labour market.

To adapt a fruit-based analogy, the equation we’re being expected to swallow comes in the form:

Apple is different to Orange therefore discrimination. Different. Not equal but also not unequal because we’re being asked to draw conclusions based on an invalid comparison.

For all the explanatory value of any this you might as well be asking the old nonsense question:

If it takes a week to walk for a fortnight then how many bananas are there in a bunch of grapes?

However the real ‘elephant in the room’ here is this statement, which comes from a factsheet (pdf) produced by the government’s own Women and Equality Unit:

The part-time gender pay gap

The part-time gender pay gap is based on the hourly wage of men working full-time and women working part-time, which is defined as being less than 30 hours a week.

Sorry? It’s based on comparing what with what?

Do I really need to explain what’s wrong with this particular proposition?

In fact, a little bit of digging around for data on male part time earnings, which would be the valid comparator to use, did turn up this, which appears as a small print side note in this the introduction to this government report on the ‘part-time pay gap

It should be noted, although we do not analyse it, that there is also a large part-time pay penalty for men – the New Earnings Survey suggests that in 2003 part-time men had average hourly earnings that were 32% lower than the average hourly earnings of full-time men

So in 2003, men working part time had average hourly earnings that were 32% lower than men working full time – that’s across men of all age groups so to compare things properly we need to generate the same general average for women working part-time by calculating averaging the age group differentials…

…all of which comes to an average pay gap between male full time hourly earnings and female part-time hourly earnings of…

27.9%

Mmm… Houston, we seem to a have a problem here – we may not be using same year data for our calculations – one would expect the TUC to be using data from 2006-7 so the comparison is not exactly a like for like one, but then what this new report is also saying is that while the full time pay gap is closing over time (down from 17% to 12% over the last ten years) the part time gap, as derived from the government’s own dodgy calculation method, hasn’t really moved that much at all in recent years, which does seem to suggest that there may actually be a like for like gender pay gap in part-time work of about 4-5% in favour of women.

Now don’t get me wrong here, I’ve no real problem with tackling any elements of the gender pay gap that are non-structural, i.e. things like gender discrimination which cannot be reasonably be ascribed to the workings of an open and fair labour market and I’ve no real problem with anyone coming at this from the equality of outcome angle by advancing a case for tackling the structural gap using, say, a Dworkinian insurance scheme – as long as the numbers add up and the argument makes sense, I’m happy to consider anything.

But what doesn’t fly with me is the misrepresentation of evidence – seemingly by omission – which appears to be taking place here.

Equality, whether of opportunity or outcome – yes. Dishonesty – no.

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'Unity' is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He also blogs at Ministry of Truth.
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having a shorter working life due to their their valuable ‘earning time’ getting unfairly eaten into by the little matter of motherhood and all things proceeding from it.

There’s more to this than simply that.

For a start, women are discriminated against because they’re expected to have children. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that because they’re expected to go into looking after kids and motherhood, women don’t get promoted enough. This then feeds into less women being at the upper echelons of business and thus the low percentage of women managing companies in the FTSE 100.

Secondly, many would argue that looking after kids is also work in itself. Society expects women to give up their careers while looking after kids while the man doesn’t. How do we ensure that a woman doesn’t lose out from employment or pay opportunities?

I think that’s an issue the left has to grapple with. Its not simply a matter of economics and then saying as a result everything is alright. Otherwise we wouldn’t be on the left and arguing for equality of opportunity.

Of course there’s more to this – there’s also more to this than just discrimination but that doesn’t seem to prevent some from ignoring the evidence that’s right in front of them because it doesn’t happen to fit their preferred thesis.

The growing problem here is that economic data is so glaringly obvious that those who simply ignore it or attempt to spin it using shonky comparisons end up undermining the whole argument for equality by blowing out their own credibility, and with it the credibility of the entire debate.

One of the issues that a part of the left has to deal with here, as in the debate on race, ethnicity and identity is that a claim of discrimination is not sufficient, on its own, to either guarantee support or close down dissent – not even in left-wing circles.

You know as well as I do that the days of crying racism or sexism and expecting everyone on the left to fall meekly into line are gone, and not before time. In that sense, where we’re at with this debate is not too far from where we’re at with the Lee Jasper’s of this world.

Well I agree that the arguments they put forward as you’ve presented them (I didn’t follow the links) are pretty poor, especially comparing the part time stats with the full time ones (although I think I understand why they did that). But regardless of the argument they’re putting forward there, there is a gender pay gap issue. Ignoring the issue of which jobs women do compared to which jobs men do, women earn less than men even doing the same job, even when equally qualified. There’s also the issue Sunny is talking about. If women are getting all the lower paid jobs and men getting the higher paid ones, that itself is a problem which needs to be addressed.

Dan:

I’m not suggesting that we have to accept the status quo or that the present situation is somehow the inevitable and intractable consequence of a free labour market.

What I saying, clearly, is that if we’re to tackle any of this we have to be clear and hard-headed in our understanding of why this gap exists, what factors and components go into creating it and which of these are structural, and therefore relatively intractable to any solutions that don’t operate from the premise of creating cultural changes is society over the long term, and which are non-structural and can be addressed using legislation and other short-term measures.

It’s not a simple issue at all, and nothing I’ve said here or in my earlier piece should be construed as suggesting that there are simple solutions that can be deployed in any of this. That I don’t try to encompass the full complexity of this issue is not for lack of thought but for lack of time – this is a blog, not a sociological text and the best I can do here is to unpick specific issues as and when I run across them.

“For a start, women are discriminated against because they’re expected to have children. ”

They wouldn’t if individual women could explicitly opt NOT to have children and have that written into their employment contract. That way you would discriminate between women who choose to make motherhood part of their lives and women that do not, rather than rather more bluntly between men and women.

Well I agree that the arguments they put forward as you’ve presented them (I didn’t follow the links) are pretty poor, especially comparing the part time stats with the full time ones

If they only advanced weak arguments to support their views, it is not unreasonable to suppose that they have no strong arguments. Either because there are no such arguments, or because they have not gone looking for them.

Neither possibility speaks well of them and suggests that the TUC Women’s Conference is simply an echo chamber.

And what does it say of the Guardian, if it thinks those weak arguments interesting?

This sort of argument always ends up undermining the cause they are fighting for. How hard is it to secure some funding and once and for all do a proper and full qualitative study about gender pay gaps based on age groups, work sectors and employment level synonymously? As I’ve made clear on here I don’t believe for a second that the pay gap is all down to women having children based on the limited evidence available, but Jesus, we just need to have some true and proper clarification on this subject!

“there’s also more to this than just discrimination”

But equally let’s not pretend that discrimination doesn’t exist. We have rainforests worth of evidence regarding actual examples of sexual discrimination by misogynistic managers and companies where committing sexual harassment is a right of passage for male employees. I’ve even seen it myself in companies where women would get paid less than me for doing the same job on the grounds that “she’s getting married soon and will be pregnant”.
I agree it isn’t a simple issue. But saying that the gender pay gap is down to ‘natural’ or ‘market’ factors lets the sexist bosses – of which there are still many – off the hook.

I’m certainly not pretending that at all – in most respects direct discrimination is by far the easiest thing to ‘tackle’ from a politician’s point of view because its stems from behaviours that you can legislation against, which is why we do have the Equal Pay Act and Sex Discrimination Act on the statute books.

It’s the cultural elements and particularly those that are structural in character where things get difficult because these are things that are not easy to legislate for – you can’t use the law to prevent women making risk averse choices and trading off pay for better working conditions.

What bugs me here is that the constant diet of discrimination with everything that some seem to think is the only argument that needs to be made is ultimately counter-productive because there are too many instances when such claims are obviously counterfactual.

It’s the old ‘boy who cried wolf’ scenario – make too many easily debunked claims too often and pretty soon when you point to something that really is discriminatory you’ll find that no one’s listening any more because you’ve called it wrong too many times.

It’s that that lets sexist bosses off the hook as much as anything else because it plays too readily into what are now easily dismissed stereotypes.

What I’m looking for here, and its not much to ask as I see it, is just a little bit more intellectual rigour because its that that will best prevent people from wriggling off the hook.

Shorter Unity: we should make our case based on the facts, rather than just lazy, unverified prejudices that play to the crowd.

I’m not sure there’s much to disagree with in that, is there? He’s not saying discrimination doesn’t exist (quite the opposite, if I understand him). He’s saying that if we make a case that’s full of holes you could drive a Prius through, we’re shooting ourselves in the foot.

BTW, if you want my tuppence worth, the left’s problem started when “equality” (and therefore redistribution) went out the window, only to be replaced by “equality of opportunity”, which is a logical impossibility. We’ll never get there if we start from here.

Even if the gender pay gap can be (partly) explained by women working fewer total years in the labour force, that’s still not a good thing of itself, because currently it is presumed that it will be the woman in any couple who is going to take the time off. There is an easy legislative improvement that can be made immediately and that is to equalize maternity and paternity leave and the right to return to work after that leave. It won’t fix the problem all by itself, of course, but it would allow those at the margin who have to decide who is going to stay home to choose fairly.

DonaldS, that’s exactly what I understand Unity to be saying too, and I’m not sure why others are confused.

To put it another way, if you begin with wrong assumptions, how can you solve the problem?

This is somthing I’ve been banging on about for several years now. The full gender pay gap figures are here:

http://eqsq.com/vivreLaDifference/the-gender-pay-gap-in-the-uk.html

14. Matt Munro

“Society expects women to give up their careers while looking after kids”

No it doesn’t. It’s an (unfortunate for the left) biological reality that only women can have children. Given that women are also, by design, much better at looking after children than men (which is why they get custody in divorces, more maternity leave, and all the financial benefits that come with motherhood) it’s logical that they are expected to look after them, while the burden of financial support falls on men. And yes there are variations of emphasis but in all known cultures the direction of difference in male/female societal roles is the same. In other words it is a universal diference that has evolved and lasted because it works.

“How do we ensure that a woman doesn’t lose out from employment or pay opportunities?”

Why do we have to ? Women benefit from “pay inequalty” through their partners larger paypacket – a sizeable chunk of which goes on supporting the children. Women seem to want both female privelidge *and* male economic power, but without male responsibility.

Matt,

Just because women are generally better at childcare does not mean that they are better in every single case. I can think of a slew of examples in which, net, it would be far better for the children if dad stayed at home and mum went to work. Obviously there is a certain amount of time that women need off for physical recovery from birth, but I intensely disagree with the argument “women are generally better at looking after kids therefore ALL women should be forced to look after their kids”.

Shorter Unity: we should make our case based on the facts, rather than just lazy, unverified prejudices that play to the crowd.

I don’t disagree, but Unity has makes no attempt in this piece to go over the more intractable problem of why inequality does persist in certain cases and what can be done about that.
The figures may be about interpretation in some ways, and I agree its unhealthy to make comparisons where they shouldn’t be made. But there is a larger problem we shold be talking about rather than taking the simplistic view, as Tim Worstall is doing in my view, that just because the economics is alright then everything is fine.

17. Matt Munro

Agree about childcare, but you can’t organise society to meet all needs and if something’s true in a majority of cases, its good enough to be a general organising principle apart from in the most glaringly obvious example (e.g Britney Spears). If men are going to be equal in the childcare stakes then we need women to stop choosing mates on the basis of earning potential, and the law needs to stop financially rewarding women just for having been married.

On your second point, why do you assume that women are “forced to look after their kids” ? A lot of women want to look after their children and rightly value them more highly than “a career”, but can’t because the cost of everything means it’s economically impossible, unless they are prepared to live off welfare. Consequently they end up working (after paying the childcare and the mortagage) for next to nothing. The “having it all” thing, and the whole idea that not working is a sacrifice is just subtle and pervasive conditioining. Seen in that light it’s not much of a step from there to put together an argument that far from being “liberated from childcare”, a combination of feminism dogma and capitalist exploitation has just made women the same wage slaves that most men have always been. For many people, work is not a liberating opportunity, it’s a painfull necessity.

there is a larger problem we shold be talking about rather than taking the simplistic view, as Tim Worstall is doing in my view, that just because the economics is alright then everything is fine.

That seems unfair.

It seems to me that Unity and Tim are not claiming everything is fine – what they are saying is that (1) some of the assumptions and arguments are just plain wrong, (2) that the pay gap isn’t as big as is being made out, and (3) that the cause of a given pay gap may well be because different genders tend to do different work. The latter is a separate issue, and may or may not be a problem, but let’s not conflate the two.

Let’s not even talk about the absurd comparison of the female part time to male full time salary, other than to say it’s extremely dishonest to use it to support complaints about the pay gap.

I have two questions to ask around the debate that always goes on around is there or isn’t there a pay gap, which may not be related to Unity’s immediate article but seeing as we’re talking about gender pay gaps…

Why is it always assumed that when a woman takes time off to look after a family the skills, experience and attributes that she uses and develops are irrelvant to the work place?

I hear a lot of ‘oh, well of course women are going to earn less if thay take time out from their career’. Why? We’re not all rocket scientists. I can imagine a fair few jobs where time out spent managing budgets, time, negoting with non rational beings, communicating effectively etc, etc etc, would actually develop a person’s potential far more than staying in the job for 2 years. In many jobs, i would have thought you should get a CPD credit from two years looking after kids.

I and an old boss managed to ‘spin’ my 6 weeks out of work on a yacht race a few years ago as professional development. I think we passed it off as a rather long teambuilding exercise; even now people are impressed when they see it on my CV but I’m not sure that it provided me with anything more than holding my tongue when someone was annoying me..now bring up a family…to my mind it doesn’t compare.

Secondly, given that women in fact, by virtue of their sex, produce and deliver one of the key factors of production (ie labour, although hopefully not too much nulabour) are they punshed financially for it? The market wouldn’t work without women ‘choosing’ to have children!!

Please note, I am not in any way suggesting that women should be paid to give birth , although surrogate mothers are, nor I am suggesting that there should be any soviet style glorification of motherhood and it’s contribution to the state. I’m just asking why do we make out that women, by having children are indulging themselves and therefore deserve that ‘motherhood’ pay gap rather than making a rather large and vital contribution to the economy.

Why is none of the work that women do in contributing to our economy by having and bringing up children get included in the national accounts for example?

Lastly, whether or not the stats the TUC are using are robust or not, personally I feel it is all a bit of a red herring and that we shold just get on and do something about it.

Plus, I don’t beleive that women are innately better and rearing children than men are? Just becuase they do it more often? Pah! Nonsense!

As for wanting for wanting ‘male economic power;..no, I want my own economic power!!

Oh really!

I can’t be bothered to explain what is so obviously wrong with that statement; I’ve got to go and cook dinner!

(For context, I earn more than my male partner but less than the men who do the same job as me, despite never having had time off work for children but have had an excellent team building experience cross the atlantic on a racing yacht).

Jo:

Why is it always assumed that when a woman takes time off to look after a family the skills, experience and attributes that she uses and develops are irrelvant to the work place?

Having worked to support many ‘women returners’ in low income areas I can happily say that just about the first conversation I used to have them was the one that helps them to identify that the skills they’ve developed in the home are relevant and useful.

Sad to say its often the women themselves who are most prone to falling into the ‘but I’m just a housewife’ thing and the very first thing you have to do is help them to get over that kind of thinking and to start to value the experience and skills they have got.

There are some obvious reasons why women who’ve taken time out to have a family will frequently end up earning less on average – returning via part-time working is one, employment practices that reward continuity of service is another, taking time out can lead to ‘de-skilling’ if the women’s pre-motherhood employment experience is in a sector that’s been subject to rapid changes in the working environment, as can taking a long time out even in a slow-moving sector.

When women have children is a significant factor as well, particularly where motherhood results in woman not completing their education – and I am referring to post 16 education here – because return rates to further/higher education after having children are generally quite poor, and there’s data from New Zealand which shows that the impact of breaking your education to have kids results in significantly larger penalty in terms of employment prospects and pay than taking a break from paid employment.

Its a complex picture, in which there are practices that are discriminatory, some that are perhaps unfair but not really discriminatory – the part time pay gap – and some things come down to structural factors and choices which are very difficult, if not impossible to tackle, in some cases

Secondly, given that women in fact, by virtue of their sex, produce and deliver one of the key factors of production (ie labour, although hopefully not too much nulabour) are they punshed financially for it? The market wouldn’t work without women ‘choosing’ to have children!!

Never mind the market working, remember what Mark Twain said when asked what men would be without women… ‘Scarce… Mighty scarce’.

To be honest, this is where things get really tricky because this is where you get into the question of the ‘culture’ of work – to what extent are the financial rewards the be-all and end-all of employment. We already know that men and women typically adopt different strategies in terms of balancing risk and reward, place a different emphasis on things like security, flexibility, job satisfaction and whole range of other things. How much of the gap is actually a product of externally imposed ‘penalties’, how much is down to circumstances and how much is down to the different choices that people make about their careers?

I don’t have the answers, although I know that these are all factor that come into play, some of which are incredibibly difficult to quantify in financial terms.

My instincts are that there will always be some sort of gap, the trick in seeking equality is how to reduce it to a minimum, one in which all the discriminatory element have been eliminating leaving only the structural element that arise simply because different people make different choices.

This sort of argument always ends up undermining the cause they are fighting for.

I wish they undermined the cause a lot more. People in politics might then resort to honest arguments.


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  1. IanWhickham

    If you’re interested in “gender pay gap”, Unity of Ministry of Truth wrote a very interesting post last month – http://tinyurl.com/4yvwhb





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