Does the gender pay gap exist? If so, what does Britain need to do?

The Office for National Statistics in the UK defines the gender pay gap as “the difference between average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men and women as a proportion of average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men’s earnings”. 

The gap has shrunk drastically in recent decades and stood at 8.9% in 2018 among full-time workers. The gap is lowest in workers under 40 where it is virtually zero. However, it is highest in workers aged 50 plus where it stands at over 15%. 

In 1970 the Labour Government introduced the Equal Pay Act as an ‘Act to prevent discrimination, as regards terms and conditions of employment, between men and women’. Most pay gap disputes are now settled via the 2010 Equality Act which has a clause on gender pay and is the main anti-discrimination legislation used in the UK.

Despite evidence there is a pay gap in the UK, many believe it is over exaggerated or some say it does not exist at all. The associate director of the Institute of Economic Affairs, Kate Andrews, believes that women are “bombarded with inflated statistics, cherry-picked and designed to make them feel helpless” in order to force them into believing the pay gap exists.

This Sunday the editors will debate the conditions creating the gender pay gap and the extent to which it exists.

Written by POI Correspondent, Emer Kelly

Misleading and damaging – Conservative Article

Women aren’t paid less than men. The Equal Pay Act of 1970 made the unequal treatment of women in the workplace illegal. It deeply concerns me that smart young women believe they are being underpaid due to gender-based discrimination. I am also very critical of the many women’s and feminist groups that continue to push this offensive sexist narrative!

If I was given a pound for every time that I have seen a headline telling me that women get paid 80p to the pound, I would be making more money than a man. This statistic is thrown around by many women and politicians, including former Secretary Hilary Clinton.

Numerous publications, politicians and women’s rights groups are providing women with handy guides, giving them ways in which they can combat the pay gap. Suggestions include “win over your manager” and “be a valuable mentor to younger women”. The idea that women need to be told to be serious and ambitions in the workplace is insulting.

The problem with the statistics behind the gender pay gap is that they are aggregate figures. This means that they don’t take into account the profession, position, or hours worked. If we are giving credit to this statistic, we may as well teach children that 1+1=3.

The “pay gap” simply means that women are choosing to work jobs in a lower pay bracket. Similarly more women choose to work less, or not at all after they have children.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, “in 2017, men worked an average of 8.05 hours in an average day compared to 7.24 hours for women”. This isn’t an issue. By saying it is we are berating women who do make choices to work less or to be a stay at home mother. Why should we criticise these decisions any more than if a woman chooses a career over motherhood?

Acknowledging the meaningless and deceptive “pay gap” is actually damaging to women’s issues. We are telling them that regardless of their work ethic, intelligence or motivation they will never earn the same as a man. Not only is this offensive to the men who are being paid fairly in accordance with the work they do, but it is also belittling women.

Unfortunately, studies that prove the validity of the pay gap compare “doctors to doctors” instead of comparing orthopaedic surgeons to orthopaedic surgeons. This results in hugely uninformed, inaccurate statistics, telling women that they are suffering from gender discrimination, when in fact the pay gap is simply a representation of their own choices.

According to the American Medical Association, men are over-represented in higher-paying jobs, and women are over-represented in the lower-paid ones. This has nothing to do with gender discrimination, it’s because of individual choices and preferences.

I’m sure my colleagues will talk about the proportion of male CEOs to female. “Of the CEOs who lead the companies that male up the Fortune 500 list, just 24 are women”. As sexist as this may initially seem, this is a representation of the past, not of the present.

Most of these white, male CEOs were hired at a time when gender discrimination was an issue. This is not the case today, and the numbers are gradually becoming more equal. Furthermore, we cannot just fire the current CEOs just because they are male, as that is… gender discrimination!

A new study from Harvard University has further killed the myth of the gender pay gap. It demonstrates how while “having the same choices in the workplace, women and men make different choices”. Whether this is in regards to taking overtime, working fewer weekends, or taking holidays. This is another big reason as to why in an average, aggregate statistic it appears that men make more money than women.

Inequalities still exist between men and women, and sexism in the workplace is still an issue. However, sexist pay is not the main issue that we should be obsessing over. Society needs to stop victimising women and focus on more important inequalities like workplace sexual harassment.

Written by Conservative writer, Eleanor Roberts

Point of Information

Language of personal choice is an insidious way to dismiss social problems – a Labour response

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I find a lot to disagree with in Ms Roberts’ argument here. What I find most objectionable is the choice of language that Ms Roberts uses to claim that the pay gap is a myth. Calls for “greater personal choice” is baseless rhetoric. It is also unworkable given coercive economic conditions that close off different paths to low-income individuals.

While it may be true that some women “choose” to work fewer hours than men, the conditions that compel women to do this are unjust. Women choosing to work part-time to take care of their children is not a good reflection on society. Having to take less overtime or even part-time work is a reflection that men’s careers are still seen as primary and more important than their partners.

I believe it is wrong that women bear a disproportionate amount of responsibility for caring for children. I find it unlikely that wealthier women who can afford greater child care provisions would have to decide which is more important, a career or family.

Written by Labour writer, Jack Walton

A dangerous conception of choice – a Liberal response

To say that women are over-represented in lower-paid jobs and simultaneously say that this does not equate to any sort of discrimination is illogical.

Using Ms Roberts understanding of free ‘choice’ and placing it into a question of race may lead to some troubling outcomes. Legally ethnic minorities have the same rights as white people in the UK. Just as legally women and men have the same rights. If we presume that these legal rights lead to free choice, then one must presume that the reason we see ethnic minorities underrepresented in high power jobs is down to ‘choice’.

I don’t think many people, including Ms Roberts, would agree with this. I am in no way insinuating Ms Roberts is racist. But, this is where her argument would take us.

Unless Ms Roberts thinks that men and women have different cognitive abilities, I do not see how there is a logical explanation for the stark difference that exists between men and women in high paid jobs.

Ms Roberts has taken the easy way out by claiming there is not a problem to be solved. Women dominate low paid jobs. That is it. That fact is enough to symbolise that somewhere there is a problem. If we turn a blind eye to women here, we are turning a blind eye to all groups discriminated whilst holding ‘free choice’. This will have long and harmful implications.

Written by Chief Liberal writer, Olivia Margaroli

The gender pay gap undoubtedly exists, but we should be wary about pushing for boardroom quotas – Labour Article

Unlike Jordan Peterson‘s fantasy land where the injustices committed to women and other marginalised groups are absent, the gender pay gap is real and exists. The reasons that are given to explain the pay gap ultimately don’t matter, as the fact that there is a discrepancy is enough to be a cause of concern.

As a result of the way we organise society, women’s contributions to the economy are systematically undervalued. The gender pay gap is just one symptom of an economic system that visits countless injustices onto marginalised groups. 

Housework, for example, is still overwhelmingly performed by women even when both parents are in full-time work. I would argue that this shows that sexism is fundamental to the functioning of the economy. Especially as housework is unrewarded by our current economic system.

This structure of expectations that may guide women into female-dominated professions such as teaching or nursery assistants shows that women are seen as uniquely suitable for caring professions. It is these caring professions that resemble the type of work that women have traditionally performed in the home for free and are among the lowest-paid jobs.

To combat the gender pay gap I would argue that boardroom quotas and hiring more female CEO’s are ultimately counterproductive and should be avoided. Replacing an overwhelmingly white male ruling class with one that is 50% women will only serve to continue the injustices that are visited upon women and other marginalised groups.

Rather, I would see a society where men are expected to have an equal share in housework and in raising children as going further to correct the gender pay gap. A revaluation of what ultimately counts as meaningful work could lead to the upbringing of children being rightly seen as far more important for society than the vast majority of professions.

Lastly, I would argue that greater experimentation in workplace democracy is the ultimate solution to the gender pay gap. As long as workplaces are privately owned and controlled, the demographics of the workplace are unlikely to shift. Therefore, sexist attitudes will continue to fester.

Workplace democracy would mean that decisions about hiring and firing would be made by working people themselves. This would go far in overcoming pay discrimination. For example, women would be more empowered to speak up without the fear of being discriminated against for taking maternity leave.

Having men and women in the position of equals will encourage male workers to identify more with their female colleagues. So, rather than being seen as competing for the same positions, cooperation would ensure greater value placed on women’s contributions 

Written by Labour writer, Jack Walton

Point of Information

Quotas have done as much as they can – a Liberal response

Firstly, I would like to welcome Mr Walton to the team and congratulate him for a great first article!

I agree with much of what Mr Walton says.

It is true, quotas can only go so far, and often lead to bad, and long-lasting side effects. We must begin to see that simple and formal solutions like these, are in fact not solutions at all. At most, they are just a tool for the government to show they are ‘doing something’.

Workplace democracy is important. As is a society which fosters more equal roles within a family setting. But, as we see in this country, democracy tends to favour the majority, and currently, the majority in high paying jobs is male.

Before democracy can work we must get equal representation. This will happen through changing the structure of workplaces so that they are better for the needs of women.

Whilst doing this, we must also promote men into female-dominated workplaces. Until men are represented in typically female jobs we will not see equality in any area. We cannot insist on females going into male jobs without also insisting the same in the other direction.

Written by Chief Liberal writer, Olivia Margaroli

Is forced equality really equality? – a Conservative response

I’m afraid I disagree with most of this article.

Firstly, by dismissing the reasons behind the pay gap, Mr Walton is ignoring the evidence which shows gender discrimination doesn’t play a factor.

The most Jordan Peterson-esque societies, Scandinavia and the Netherlands – which are among the most egalitarian societies in the world, are still rampantly patriarchal. So this clearly isn’t the answer. Mr Peterson himself identifies, there are fundamental differences between the sexes which can explain the different choices in careers that some men and women take.

Furthermore, I believe that Mr Walton is not describing the society we live in today. It is not fair or accurate to say that men don’t also do the housework, or take care of children. In fact, I would argue when it comes to childcare it is the men who face gender discrimination. Especially in cases of child custody.

I take issue with forcing men and women to pursue certain career paths in order to make a seemingly “equal society”. I also don’t see a problem if women and men choose to make different choices within an egalitarian society. Forcing equality of opportunity, forces inequality of outcome.

Written by Conservative writer, Eleanor Roberts

Legal changes have done all they can – Liberal Article

I often think people start arguing about vastly different things when this type of question is discussed.

The term ‘gender pay gap’ on the surface looks simple. Yet, I am sure that most of the time when people disagree over this, they aren’t disagreeing at all. They are merely misunderstanding what the other person is referring to when saying ‘the gender pay gap’.

To avoid this, here is my definition of the gender pay gap; the difference between the median wage of a woman working full time, and that of a man.

In the rich and middle-income countries that make up the OECD, the median wage of a woman working full-time is 85% that of a man. So if you’re wondering whether the gender pay gap exists, yes, it most definitely does.

The problem is not that women are paid less in the exact same job as men. Although, I am not suggesting that this does not occur. But this isn’t the main problem. This can (and has) in most cases has been solved by the legal protection in the workplace.

Woman disproportionately fill roles with lower salaries and dominate industries that pay less. Male and female senior executives for the same company will be paid the same. But for every woman in the board room, there are four men. This isn’t because women are less ambitious, or less qualified, or ask for fewer pay rises. These weak rebuttals are proven to be false.

So, why is this the case? The institutions that surround the workforce have been designed for a workforce of men because in the past the workforce was almost only men. This set up systematically disadvantages women. There is no easy solution for historical oppression.

The problem goes much deeper than a legal framework to protect women. Or the idea that women ‘just don’t want to make lots of money’. Of course, the Equality Act was hugely important in the initial stages of reducing the gender pay gap. But its benefits have run dry. We must now continue in a more pragmatic way.

The best move to continue the narrowing of the gender pay gap is two-fold.

Firstly, encourage men into currently female-dominated careers. I don’t want any misunderstanding here, this is not because I want men in low paid jobs. Diversity fosters increased performance and productivity. For this move to be effective in reducing the institutional disadvantage women face, it must work in both directions.

Currently, we are promoting females to move into males spaces, we need to do the same for men moving to female-dominated careers. We need more male nurses in the same way we need more female CEOs.

Secondly, create better policies to ensure a workplace that fosters both maternal and paternal involvement in the family. The idea of shared parental leave is a step in the right direction.

But the formal policy does not affect historically ingrained social norms. For example, in America when an academic institution gave rights to fathers to take paternity leave, many took it and chose to write books in that time, further increasing their chances for promotion. It is not as simple as give mothers and fathers equal rights and get equal outcomes. We must create better, thoroughly thought through policy.

Policy from the top down (legal, i.e. gender rights) has done as much as it can. We now need a social and institutional change from the bottom up to close the gap.

Written by Chief Liberal writer, Olivia Margaroli

Point of Information

Allow men and women freedom of choice – a Conservative response

I agree, there are often huge misperceptions when it comes to understanding the real meaning behind the pay gap. However, I don’t believe we need to encourage men into lower-paid jobs.

We should allow both men and women to have autonomy over their own choices. Not judge them for the career decisions they do make. I don’t believe that having less male nurses or less female doctors creates an unequal society, I just believe it reflects the freedom of choice.

Furthermore, women aren’t making decisions not to pursue certain careers due to historical oppression. Increasing numbers of female lawyers, doctors, and CEOs completely disproves this. The fact that women have all these opportunities and still choose to dominate lower paid jobs is due to choice. We shouldn’t try to force an unrealistic 50/50 workplace demographic upon society.

Written by Conservative writer, Eleanor Roberts

Combating the pay gap will lead to positive side effects – a Labour response

I find lots to agree with here. The idea that men should be encouraged to seek jobs outside of traditionally ‘masculine’ professions is an encouraging one.

As a profession, primary teaching is overwhelmingly dominated by women. Having men being recruited into the sector could provide young boys, who may not have access to male role models, a positive conception of masculinity.

Through making attempts to combat the gender pay gap, men will indirectly benefit. I find it unlikely that men want to work on average longer hours than women, in professions that equate hours worked with commitment to the job. Changing societal attitudes about work will take time. But, the benefits are likely to be greater than legal change.

Written by Labour writer, Jack Walton

Jack Walton
Labour political writer at | Website

My beliefs in libertarian socialism were adopted gradually. Since a child I was immersed in the language of social justice and liberal politics from my membership of a progressive Jewish youth movement.

Eleanor Roberts
Head of HR & Recruitment at | Website

I’m a third year University of Manchester student, currently studying in Lyon on my Erasmus year (by sheer coincidence I’m writing this hours after parliament has voted to end British involvement in the 30 year programme, so just to be on the safe side I promise not to use the NHS/European Declaration of Human Rights/anything at all anytime soon).

Olivia Margaroli
Chief Liberal political writer at | Website

I am second year student reading Politics, Philosophy and Economics at the University of Exeter. Next year I hope to study abroad in Washington DC, a dream for any political student.

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