The gender pay gap: myth or fact?

The gender pay gap became a worldwide talking point when then-president and media darling Barack Obama announced in January of last year that the institutional barriers which enabled evil, patriarchal companies to pay women 77 cents for every dollar shelled out to their male counter-parts would be done away with.
Despite the moral dubiousness of deliberately recycling a fabricated myth to millions, this was a political master-stroke. By using carefully-selected data that did not take into account differences in profession, years of experience or hours worked, Obama managed to drastically increase his standing amongst 50% of the electorate, who now believed they were being actively discriminated against.
This was of course a mere ploy for votes that had the unfortunate residual effect of causing the demonstratively-untrue phrase ‘gender pay gap’ to be catapulted into the political lexicon forevermore.
Before we begin to assess the data objectively, let me first pose a question: if companies do indeed employ women at lower rates than men, why are there any men in employment at all? Surely companies would opt for the lowest-cost workforce.
The OECD released a report in early February stating that Ireland’s gender pay gap was now 16% in favour of men. Thankfully, theJournal.ie had already conducted an extremely in-depth study into the matter in Ireland. They came to some illuminating conclusions.
The report concluded that gender-based discrimination is illegal in Ireland under the Employment Equality Act. The pay gap, when adjusted for hours worked and sorted by profession stands at a paltry 1-2% for women and men under the age of 40. The gap then stretches out considerably to around about the 16% mark.
Therefore, it is clear to see that the real issue here is a ‘motherhood gap’ and not some sort of insidious plot against women cooked up by evil old men with monocles. Women take time off to raise children, and that is a glorious thing. Without the career sacrifices women make, the human race would quite literally die out.
The gender pay gap as it is often presented is a pervasive and dangerous myth. You cannot take broad lumps of non-specific data and use it to support a conclusion you have already reached. We cannot see inequality and presume there is inequity. Simply put, young girls nowadays receive every opportunity their male counter-parts receive. In many ways, the system is skewed in their favour.
Girls hugely outperform boys in the Leaving Certificate, in 26 out of 32 subjects to be exact. Women are over-represented in college and have markedly low participation in some of the most gruelling jobs such as construction, security and refuse-collection.
According to UCD’s National Workplace Survey, women made up a majority of the workforce in Ireland in 2009. This was because the fallout from the Great Recession disproportionately affected men, decimating traditionally-male professions like construction, which in turn drove up suicide rates. But men did not complain, or seek to blame anyone for the fact that it was their professions that were hardest hit. We want equality and yet people do not opine the male unemployment crisis of 2008-2010 as feverishly as they do the ‘gender pay gap’.
It is hard to believe that there is some ongoing conspiracy against women when the educational system, and the jobs market, is stacked in their favour. Differences in pay reflect the different choices men and women make. According to the National Census Bureau of the United States, women make up just 24% of the workforce in high-paying STEM fields. This would go some way towards accounting for the discrepancies in wages earned between the two genders. On average, men tend to aim higher in terms of salary, whereas women prioritise a better work-life balance.
There are genuine issues affecting women in the workplace. More women need to be encouraged to enter into higher-paying fields. The data also shows that men are more likely to aggressively pursue a promotion and have the confidence to ask for one. Therefore, the gender pay gap as it exists is more of a question of confidence than of discrimination.
The simplest way of closing the gender pay gap would be to make our workplaces more conducive to family life. We need to ensure that women who take time off work to have children do not miss out on promotions. Equally, men should not be working such long hours of overtime. Surely the technological advances of the last century could facilitate a compression in working hours for all?
If men were to work less hours, and less women were to miss out on promotions as a result of workplaces becoming more family-oriented, surely this would have the effect of closing the gap in terms of money earned by men and women, and then we could at last put to bed this insidious myth that women are discriminated against in terms of pay.
The pay gap is a genuinely solvable issue. However, it goes unresolved because it is far too easy for politicians like Obama to say the right thing and watch his approval ratings sky-rocket, without actually implementing tangible policies to combat the issue.
Those wilfully-manipulated folks who believe politicians like him without objectively consulting the data for themselves are worse again – science shows that people who feel victimised by the system are less likely to be ambitious, or to persevere with their goals. In this way, the gender pay gap has become a sort of a scape-goat for women who perhaps studied degrees that do not command a high wage rate. Why bother taking personal responsibility for choosing to study Creative Writing when its far easier to blame the evil patriarchy for paying you less than an engineering graduate?
In summation, it must be re-iterated clearly that women do not earn less than men because of gender-based oppression. Do not buy into the machinations of political sleuths, nor allow yourself to be manipulated by those who seek to play politics with your emotions.
Men earn more than women because they, on average, work longer hours in higher-paying fields, are more likely to ask for a raise and are unlikely to take paternity leave amongst other factors. That does not mean to say that we shouldn’t strive to strike a more egalitarian when it comes to balancing familial leave and promotions, because we absolutely should. These issues can be solved, however they will not be righted by passive-aggressively sharing memes about the patriarchy. If you want to be paid well, study a degree that leads to a high-paying field and take responsibility for your own wage.
Story courtesy of NUIG’s Online Newspaper Sin