The gender pay gap was in the news again last week, after a report found that at the current rate of change it would be another 60 years before women are paid equally to men. This comes hot on the heels of another report, which found the amount by which men out-earn women has increased – especially in London, where men are paid 13% more than their female counterparts.
Being a feminist can sometimes feel like Groundhog Day: whatever we do or say, we’re doomed to fight the same battles, over and over again. This is especially true of the equal pay debate. So to make the pervasive myths slightly easier to debunk, here are five retorts. Ladies, if the continued experience of being devalued is getting you down, you can always distribute this piece to pay-gap naysayers. Off we go!
【注】：土拨鼠节即二月二日圣烛节。根据美国的传说，这一天土拨鼠结束冬眠第一次从它的洞穴里出来, 如果它看见自己的影子, 就意味着冬天将继续六个星期。
There is no gender pay gap
How depressing that we have to start with this one. And yet, needs must: a not-insignificant number of people don’t think the pay gap exists at all. These include Conservative Woman founder Laura Perrins, who appeared on Woman’s Hour with me last week and made this very argument.
Alas, there is a gender pay gap, and if the studies I’ve already quoted aren’t convincing enough, there’s always the extensive study from the UK government charting the changes in the pay gap over time (in short, it hasn’t gone away). Or why not listen to those Andrea Dworkins at the Confederation of British Industry, who recently urged the government to impose a target on reducing the gender pay gap. Yes, I’m afraid that outside of a small coterie of fanciful libertarians and determined anti-feminists, the existence of a gender pay gap is accepted fact.
The gender pay gap only exists because women have babies
Let’s have a brief mythbusting interlude here to point out that if this assertion were true, it would still constitute discrimination against women on the basis of sex, which is unacceptable. But in any case, it isn’t quite true. I say “quite” because it’s undeniable that the time women take off to become mothers – often out of necessity because of maternity leave arrangements and childcare costs – has an enormous impact on wages. But according to figures based on the Office of National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Incomes, the pay gap between men and women in their 20s has doubled since 2010. Meanwhile, across the pond, an extensive study by the American Association of University Women revealed that the pay gap sets in a year after graduation from college. According to Professor Marilyn Davidson, co-director of the Centre for Equality and Diversity at Work, women are “more likely to be offered less [pay] when they start a job, which automatically puts them on a lower level”.
The gender pay gap exists because women aren’t as assertive as men
The latest proponent of this myth is Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, who recently argued that businesses often “unintentionally” create a gender pay gap because women aren’t as assertive as their male colleagues. I know, right? We girls just need to toughen up a bit. It’s not as though there’s a whole host of derogatory terms used to describe women who assert themselves. Oh, wait.
I’m rather spoilt for choice as to how to debunk this one: whether to go for individual stories of women being punished for their assertiveness, or broad studies that show women are penalised when they exhibit the “tough” behaviour for which their male colleagues are praised. Sara Laschever, co-author of the book Why Women Don’t Ask, can have the final word: “We like girls to be nice, pliable, pleasant, accommodating, while boys are taught to be self-promoting, to be a little tough guy.” In other words, we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t.
Women aren’t ambitious enough to pursue top jobs
Before we bust this myth, we need to talk about who decides what the top jobs are and how they are financially rewarded. Across the world, traditional, stereotypically female work is low-status and low-paid (think cleaner, childminder, nurse, beautician) and is often simply a version of the caring roles women are expected to undertake for free in a family environment. Many women want to break into traditionally male sectors (science and technology, construction and so on) but they have to fight for a place against deeply held prejudices once they have attained the practical qualifications. Besides, who says a scientist deserves more pay and prestige than, say, a nurse? If you ask this feminist, this is a case of the systematic devaluation of women’s social roles more generally.
Even so, women are as ambitious as men. They are just not rewarded for it (see previous myth for explanation). The US research organisation Catalyst, for example, found that among MBA graduates on a traditional career track, women are even more likely than men to seek out skill-building experiences and training opportunities and to make their achievements visible by asking for feedback and promotions. But, Catalyst concludes, “when women used the same career advancement strategies as men, they advanced less”.
11 August 2014 12:41pm
If the gender pay gap exists then where are all the ads for jobs offering to pay men one rate of pay and women a second, lower rate? If I go to be a shelf stacker at Asda they are going to pay the shelf stacker rate to me or to my female counterpart. The same amount.
Now, tell me where that analysis is wrong? It seems to me the whole "gender pay gap" is achieved only at the expense of a massive abstraction of data.
PS I'm happy to be shown logically how this is all wrong so please do that calmly rather than leary abuse.
11 August 2014 12:44pm
If I go to be a shelf stacker at Asda they are going to pay the shelf stacker rate to me or to my female counterpart. The same amount.
Virtually all jobs, including shelf-stackers at some supermarkets - if not necessarily Asda - have pay flexibility. I.e. the manager/owner/HR can decide when someone is worth paying a little bit more.
When those decisions are made, men get paid more.
It's pretty simple.
11 August 2014 12:42pm
As a genuine question, can anyone provide info as to which industries the 'pay gap' applies? I've worked in payroll in the public sector for years and in no way do wages differ depending on gender.
11 August 2014 1:27pm
It's largely rubbish. What you've come to expect from this 'sort', really.
No mention that the publicised pay gap fails to separate part-time and full-time work, nor (and most importantly) if they're doing the same job to the same level of capability.
That part-time women earn less than full-time men in different jobs is actually the basis for much of this nonsense.
11 August 2014 1:34pm
How is it an excellent article when some of the studies contradict claims made in the article?
I am not even sure Ellie has properly read the Department of Culture, Media and Sport study because it isn't particularly helpful to her argument that the pay gap isn't improving.
11 August 2014 12:45pm
In the UK the Graun has reported that professional women in their 20's are out-earning their male colleagues of a similar age. What's the truth of the matter? that the wage-gap only exists in non-professional roles? If so how do you compare like with like?
11 August 2014 1:20pm
In fact, there is compelling evidence that the pay gap (detrimental to women) is indeed a myth and merely reflects choices women themselves make with regard to work:
"The most important reason why women earn less than men is not that they are paid less for doing the very same work but that they are distributed differently among jobs and have fewer hours and less continuity in the labor force [...]
Those who reach the higher echelons in many industries and professions have typically worked not only long hours but continuously throughout a long career. Even the most highly educated women have chosen not to do that, with obvious implications for their incomes. While those women are the best judges of what suits their own individual circumstances, priorities, and sense of well-being, third parties looking at statistical data see only the artifacts of disparities based on paychecks."
Sowell, Economic Facts & Fallacies: Male-Female Facts & Fallacies, 73
So the construction of women as victims who are paid less is based on the misleading use of statistics which deliberately ignores consequential differences in behaviour.
To answer your question about comparing "like with like" if you look at pay rates once you eliminate the (consequential) differential choices that men and women make then the picture starts to look quite different:
The marital asymmetry hypothesis and specifically, child rearing, seems to be of huge importance here. And luckily, there is an easy way to test the importance of it; namely compare the wages of never-married women to that of never-married men. In 1982, never-married women earned 91% of what never-married men did. (12) In 1971, never-married-women in their thirties earned slightly more than never-married men (13). Today, among men and women living alone from the age of 21-35, there is no wage gap. (14) Among college-educated men and women between 40 and 64 who have never married, men made an average of $40,000 a year and women made an average of $47,000! (15)
11 August 2014 12:48pm
But according to figures based on the Office of National Statistics Annual Survey of Hours and Incomes, the pay gap between men and women in their 20s has doubled since 2010.
The link within this sentence just goes to a gossip magazine article with a bunch of anecdotes from women who wished they earned more.
I'm not saying the statistic isn't true, I just wish CiF links went straight to the hard data rather than flimsy secondary sources.
11 August 2014 12:48pm
Besides, who says a scientist deserves more pay and prestige than, say, a nurse? If you ask this feminist, this is a case of the systematic devaluation of women’s social roles more generally.
Why are builders paid less than scientists? Why are miners paid less than racing car drivers? Why are computer programmers paid less than models?
11 August 2014 12:54pm
While I think that it is wrong to dismiss the gender pay gap out of hand, I do think that we need to establish exactly what we are measuring. Studies which compare average earning for men and women without accounting for e.g. profession, career breaks, full/part time statues etc. are not going to measure the impact of gender on pay. Where these things are controlled for, we get better data.
For example, the study linked states that "The widest gender pay gap was for the Skilled Trades Occupations. This category contains occupations such as plumbers and electricians, as well as chefs. There are a very low proportion of women working in this group, 11.3 per cent of employee jobs in Skilled Trades Occupations were women in 2013, and two thirds of those women were chefs / cooks. This is, generally, a lower paid occupation than the other jobs in this group, which is the main cause of this large pay gap. Median earnings for women working as chefs were slightly higher (1.6%) than men in the same occupation 2013."
Is this telling us that women are paid less than men for the same work? Or that chefs/cooks are paid less than plumbers and electricians? I would think the latter, which means that in this case (from this datapoint alone), it is not clear that there is a gender pay gap (the deficit in men's earnings as cooks/chefs notwithstanding). However, if we looked at the earnings of electricians, and controlled for qualifications, full and part time status and years experience, then we would be closer to finding out the truth.
I don't doubt that sexism impacts on women's careers in many ways (and in some limited cases, on men's careers as well). However, I think that too often this discussion is based on bad data which does not compare like for like.