We love talking about the wage gap through the lens of FEMINISM, but how much of what we hear is true and accurate?
There is a long-standing tendency for the public to get very hot and bothered about what the wage gap is exactly, why it persists and who should pay to fix it.
Is a particular gender responsible for closing the gap? What is fair?
But there has been debate even between economists over reasons for the wage gap’s existence. So, where does that leave the whole issue?
The national gender pay gap is defined as the “difference between women’s and men’s average weekly full-time base salary earnings, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings” by the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA).
WGEA says that the gender pay gap is a measure of a woman’s position and role in the paid workforce and “does not compare like roles”. The wage gap is calculated using wages of male and female full-time employees across all jobs, regardless of the skills or position of the worker. The comparison is not apples-to-apples of men and women working the same job, in the same position.
The calculation excludes pay that is salary sacrificed and junior employees.
Since 2015 the gender “pay gap” has dropped nationally from 17.3 per cent to 15.3 per cent, the agency says. It has also declined in 12 of 19 major industry sectors. But, I suppose that doesn’t really mean much when we consider that the calculation of the pay gap was flawed from the start.
Despite the insistence that the wage gap is based on sexism, researchers routinely indicate that the wage gap does not persist as a result of active discrimination – outward sexism towards women – but enduring cultural conditioning towards gendered behaviour and workplace systems. You know, mothering, and that kind of annoying “gendered” stuff.
Gendered parenthood is often looked to as the main culprit, but other reasons also include women choosing part-time work and the career choices of men and women.
The Australian Human Rights Commission says women make up 46 per cent of employees in Australia. Women are more likely to work part-time in lower-paid industries and in insecure work, which includes casual work, labour hire work and temporary contracting arrangements. Women, typically, work less hours than men.
Some analyses of workplace labour use different approaches, which often offer alternative and sometimes conflicting reasons for the existence of the wage gap.
A report designed to evaluate these different analyses addresses this and argues that each type of economic analysis can improve understanding on the differing viewpoints of economists.
But it does not make the reasons for the wage gap’s existence universal among researchers.
Professor Mark Wooden, an economics professional at the University of Melbourne, explains his findings on the gender pay gap.
“When you look at reasons for the gap, the usual presumption is that this is because of some form of discrimination. And undoubtedly this exists – differences in promotion rates, such as the glass ceiling effect, for example, are very obvious,” he says.
But Professor Wooden says there are other reasons, too. Women experience career interruptions to have children and raise a family which often means they have less overall workplace experience than men of a similar age.
“Since experience affects wages, this favours men,” Wooden says. “Of course, it can still be argued that this difference in experience/life time paid work hours is the result of discrimination, but that discrimination originates in the home – there is no intrinsic reason the woman has to be the primary carer yet this is how the majority of couples structure their lives”.
Huh, funny that.
For Professor Wooden, supply and demand plays an integral role in the gender pay gap. Roles such as nursing, teaching, child care and aged work, which are female dominated fields, are lower paid than some other professions.
Professor Wooden uses the example of child care workers. He says that families are not prepared to pay more for child care when they can stay home and parent themselves.
If child care workers were paid more, the cost of child care increases and its demand decreases, Wooden says.
“Families instead decide that someone has to stay home and care for the kids, and guess who usually gets that job? The mother. This only contributes further to the disadvantage women face in the labour market”.
Doctor Siobhan Austen, director of Women in Social & Economic Research at Curtain University, has also investigated the reasons behind the gender wage gap.
She said that the method used to determine the wages of men and women can cause the gender pay gap amount to change, depending on what factors are taken into consideration.
This means that depending on which way the numbers are used, the result is different, which can explain some of the differing perspectives and data conclusions in this argument.
Dr Austen says that when workers become parents, the consequences are different for men and women. Mothers take time off and often return to part-time work. However, fathers find their attachment to work strengthens. They work harder and for longer hours.
She argues that for men and women to share unpaid work, such as child rearing, there needs to be a change in the workplace that doesn’t prevent women from career progression.
(I’d argue that sacrifices have to be made, but that’s just me.)
“When a man has a child, his work opportunities expand as he must support his child and his dependent spouse. Workplaces often respond to that by opening up career paths and trajectories. Women, on the other hand, experience a shift in expectations after child birth. Businesses think she’ll want to take time off, she’ll be caring and devoted to her child. The set of expectations is often around someone who won’t be as committed to her career,” says Dr Austen.
She also notes that social norms are always gendered and, in workplaces, they create different opportunities for men and women. She says that the gender pay gap is largest at the top where women CEOs and managers are expected to work longer hours and be absent from family life. Men are more likely to opt for this lifestyle and stick with it.
Where the pay gap draws its most criticism is the calculation methodology used. The gap itself does not demonstrate disparities between workers in the same occupation with the same level of skill. It is simply a calculation across all full-time work.
In my opinion, that makes the whole thing sort of, you know, flawed.
Efforts to discuss the gender pay gap, that DO NOT acknowledge the flaws in its methodology, are great for attracting heat and noise – but what’s the point? As far as actual exploration of this topic goes, it’s about as useful as the pay gap itself.
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