What needs to be pointed out first and foremost, because it has led to a lot of misunderstandings, is that the European 17.5% gender pay gap is for the most part NOT a result of direct discrimination, meaning women generally DO NOT get paid less than men for doing the exact same job. While this form of discrimination may still occur, it has been outlawed by the European Union and can be subjected to prosecution. The more relevant reasons that factor into the wage injustice are the undervaluing of women’s work, the segregation of the labor market into “male” and “female” professions, the traditions and stereotypes that are often responsible for this segregation, and the difficulties of balancing work and private life (for example, only 62,4% of women with dependent children are employed, compared to 91,4% of men). From the website of the European Commission:
“Jobs requiring similar skills, qualifications or experience tend to be poorly paid and undervalued when they are dominated by women rather than by men. For example, the (mainly female) cashiers in a supermarket usually earn less than the (mainly male) employees involved in stacking shelves and other more physical tasks.
In addition the evaluation of performance, and hence pay level and career progression, may also be biased in favour of men. For example, where women and men are equally well qualified, more value can be attached to responsibility for capital than to responsibility for people.”
While these inequalities certainly are a problem in Europe, they become even more pronounced in a global perspective, especially in developing countries where women can be found more often in vulnerable working positions, while at the same time working for free as primary care-takers of the home and children:
“Women may get paid less than men for the same work, or be denied access to better paid jobs because of entrenched attitudes that incorrectly assume men are the main breadwinners and need to earn more. Or women may not be able to compete equally with their male colleagues because they cannot invest an equal amount of time in work when they remain responsible for the greatest share of household and child-rearing tasks. In other words, women’s unequal status can restrict their ability to choose to leave a job as an accountability strategy if their rights are infringed.”(Unifem, p. 55)
It is useful to mention that the feminisation (i.e. the expansion and outsourcing of the tertiary service sector) and informalisation of labor go hand in hand, and that these developments sustain gender discrimination by keeping the female working sectors (subsistence agriculture, care-taking and services) low-paid and free of “fixed costs” (benefits, social security etc.)(p. 57/58). While the statistics show that the wage gap has been decreasing over the last few years, there are studies that claim that this development can be attributed to a decrease of male workers’ wages. So while work that is traditionally considered “feminine” is on the rise, this does not mean that overall working conditions or wages have improved for women. The neoliberal labor market requires well-trained, flexible and less demanding workers, and women who, as mothers and homemakers, are often forced to work part-time, are the ideal employees.
In conclusion, there is not a lot to celebrate on Equal Pay Day, not even the steady reduction of the global gender pay gap. German journalist and blogger Antje Schrupp has gathered some interesting and clever ideas on what we really need to talk about, when we talk about equal pay. I have taken the liberty to translate them here:
1. The actual upsetting “pay gap” we should be talking about is not the one between men and women but the one between rich and poor. Therefore it is wrong to be focussing exclusively on the gender aspect.
2. The gender pay gap is not an illness in itself but a symptom of a much more profound problem of our society. Therefore it cannot be our goal to simply cure the symptom, but we have to tackle the illness – the crass material inequality between people. If we end up having a fifty-fifty quota of men and women among the rich and the poor, but the divide between the two remains as big as ever or even increases, I don’t see how we’ve achieved anything.
3. It is not very useful to compare “men” and “women” regarding their income. Statistics are per se not very conclusive regarding our real lives, but in this context it makes even less sense, because not many men and women find themselves to be in these average situations: in fact, the difference is especially big among the lower income bracket and among the ones who earn a lot; in between among the white-collar employees and other professions, the difference is not that distinct.
4. There is a lot of talk about women earning less money than men, but in my opinion there is too little talk about (some) men simply earning way too much. Now and then, the wages of managers are being debated, and rightly so. But why has no one ever considered presenting the female managers as role models, who are satisfied with earning less money for the same work?
5. All studies show that women confronted with the question of what they should do with their lives, seem to care less about money and status than men, and more about the meaning and the community (study here (in German)). For some reason, this is considered to be a problem. I don’t see why. Rather, it is a problem ( and not just regarding gender relations) that there are still too many men who mainly care about money and status and not so much about the meaning and necessity of their work. We should be talking about this, and about the images of masculinity that lie underneath, and whether or not we still want them. Fortunately, many men don’t want them anymore either.
6. Incidentally, this happens to be my suggestion for getting more women into leading and executive positions: simply pay these positions much less in general. That way, all of those who are attracted to these positions only because of the money and status that they offer, will stay away. Which would surely be to the advantage of the directorates’ quality. Consequently, the amount of women would probably increase on its own.
7. There is always a lot of talk about women choosing the wrong professions. But who should do all the work of the nurses, the carers of the elderly and the nursery school teachers? As a society, we should be thankful that there are enough women who want to work in these professions (and if men want to follow their example, go for it!). It is imperative to have a discussion about the value and the importance of these professions – and, consequently, about how to increase their wages.
8. It is appropriate to encourage women to talk and reflect more about money, and to question their historically socialized distaste for monetary issues. However, the goal should not be that they take on the “normal” approach to money according to “male” standards, but rather the goal should be that they develop their own approach and introduce it to the world.
9. Finally, we need to abandon the idea that men and what they do should be considered the norm to which women need to adapt themselves to, and if they don’t they are to blame for their discrimination. What men do, their tendency to overvalue money, is just as much historically socialized and not at all “normal”. Moreover, it is often enough detrimental to the world at large; financial crisis etc.
10. Therefore I would like to suggest to celebrate Equal Pay Day in autumn from now on: on the day when men can stop working, while normal people (joke) have to keep working until December.
You can find the original text here.
*** I have found different numbers from various sources, some as high as 22%. This variability can be explained by the lack of data from some countries, especially in the developing world.