Thursday, 5 November 2009

The Gender Pay Gap

According to The Fawcett Society: "The Equal Pay Act was passed nearly 40 years ago, yet women are still paid less than men. The full-time gender pay gap is 17%, while the part-time pay gap is a staggering 36%. Equal pay law is failing women." (See here)

Well, at least they don't come up with the tired old lie that women are paid 25% less than men "for the same work". Please note, esteemed feminist readers: even the Fawcett Society doesn't try to pretend that's true. Time to change that particular record.

They did, however, misrepresent and distort the story just as it is always misrepresented and distorted. So much so that the Office of National Statistics have now taken the extraordinary step of actually pointing out to the government that they shouldn't just parrot this stuff without checking whether it's actually true.

To begin with, using average figures, instead of median, means that the presence in the UK of a relatively small number of male multi-billionaries artificially increases the average pay of the average man. It is no advantage to me, as a man, that the Duke of Westminster owns half of London. Not is it any advantage to me that people like Roman Abramovich and Lakshmi Mittal have decided to call the UK their home. Yet their impact on the average pay makes it look like all us blokes are far more loaded than we are, based on average earnings.

To correct for this, the ONS uses median pay figures, not averages. The Fawcett Society, Harriet Harman and other feminist commentators just ignore them because... well, because that makes the number smaller.

Based on the median, the pay gap is 12.8% at the latest count.

But leaving the most hilariously audacious part till last, closer inspection of the statement "the part-time pay gap is a staggering 36%" reveals that it is not only untrue, but a total inversion of the truth.

If you compare FULL-TIME male workers with part-time female workers, then yes, you get a pay differential in the 36% range, last time I looked. But if you compare PART-TIME men with PART-TIME women, you get a pay gap of 3.5% in WOMEN'S favour.

Isn't that amazing? The Fawcett Society states that "the part-time pay gap is a staggering 36%", and you discover that the only thing that's staggering is the distortion. This is what often bothers me about feminist lobbying. It so often simply turns out not to be true. (Not to say it's all untrue of course, nor that I can't recognise a genuine injustice aginst women when I see one. More on which later).

Even so, 12.8% is pretty big. And it should be noted that this is the hourly rate, so it is not accounted for by the fact that men work longer hours. It does seem that women are at a disadvantage on four counts that I can think of.

First, the areas towards which many women are still directed by social pressure pay less than they ought, and less than some male-dominated jobs that might be considered equivalently skilled.

Second, social pressure also encourages women to take significant career breaks for the purposes of looking after children. And it severely discourages men from doing the same.

Third, there is less pressure on women to choose a career based purely on salary. When it comes to choosing a job, many women must still suspect, even if only subconsciously, that for much of their future they're likely to have a husbands and partners making financial contributions to their lives. It's far from guaranteed, obviously, but it's a consideration which will no doubt have an impact at the margin. But regardless of whether it's a consideration for many or only some women, it's certainly not something that men tend to think about. The idea that maybe you can afford to take on a lower-paid job because you expect one day to be married to a career woman is not something the average bloke would ever consider. He knows there's a good chance he may one day have a family, and that he ought to assume he's going to be the one who is predominantly responsible for supporting them. Even if he doesn't buy into that paternalistic ethos, he knows he'll be looked down on if he resists it. Overall career choices are influenced accordingly.

Finally, it does seem there is some genuine discrimination against women of childbearing age in job interviews, as employers are terrified they'll disappear on maternity leave.

The solution to all these problems is simply to encourage men to be more involved in the home. Shared parental leave instead of maternity leave, with fathers obliged to take at least part of it, will mean that men are as big a risk as women to employers. More men involved with childcare and the home will free up more women to focus on their careers. And as these influences gain traction, men will stop thinking that their only role in the family is financial and women will not, even subconsciously, expect to rely on their earnings power as the principal source of family income. And overall, career choices will be influenced accordingly.

At the moment, however, a man in this country would be insane to sacrifice his career to focus more on his family, because he is afforded little of the protection women can rely on in the event of family breakdown (see here for the likely outcome for househusbands on divorce). Only when these attitudes change will more men take up the slack at home, freeing more women to level the pay gap outside it.

In the meantime, maybe we could debate this without making stuff up. Lie about something, and people stop believing you even when you tell the truth.

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