Sunday, October 16, 2005

But women just aren't worth as much as men

The comments in response to Frogblog's post on the increase in the pay gap has brought the ignorant out of the woodwork.

The gap between what men and women in full-time work in New Zealand are paid has increased over the last year. Last year women earned 86 cents to the male dollar, and it’s gone down to 82 cents.

Those commenting at Frogblog hadn’t got some of the basics of the statistics given (someone suggested the fact that there were more women than men on benefits might account for the difference in pay between men and women in full-time work – interesting idea that), so I thought I’d take this opportunity to rant about the pay gap between men and women. Although I won’t be responding to what was said at Frogblog’s place too directly – I’m allergic to well-off male Act voters in their twenties and thirties.

There are basically four causes of the pay gap: straight discrimination, discrimination in promotion, gender segregated jobs, and disparity of other economic responsibilities.

So starting with straight discrimination, paying men and women who are doing the same job differently. Guess what? It still happens, yes it’s illegal, if you can prove it, but it’s not illegal if you can’t prove it (and our equal pay legislation was written for a complete different employment relationship environment so it’s pretty unenforceable).

This can take a variety of forms, in one of the places I organise at women and men are given different titles when they’re doing the same jobs, and the men get the higher rate. To give a more scientific example men who work as the CEO of large charities in America are paid 27% more than women heading similar sized charities (what I think of the general pay packet size of heads of charities is another issue).

The places least likely to have direct pay discrimination are places where there’s a rate for the job: areas of the state sector where the job well defined (call centre worker, supreme court judge), workplaces with a collective agreement, and minimum wage jobs. Unfortunately the number of jobs that fall in the first two categories is declining – and the number of the last category is not a great step forward for women anywhere.

I see discrimination in promotion all the time in my work. There’s one worksite where the vast majority of workers do the same job, but there’s an opportunity for a small number of people to get training at another, more technical job. The workforce is about 66% female, and they promote probably a 4 people a year. They’ve never promoted a woman.

Another example from an NZEI organiser, less anecdotal, primary school teachers are about 75% female, while principles are only about 25% female. NZEI commissioned some research into this, thinking – as people sometimes do – that the problem was probably that women weren't applying. They found they were wrong – women were applying – they just weren’t getting the job.

There has been all sorts of research which demonstrates that women and men perform equally well at a task the man will be judged more competent. The most dramatic example is in symphony orchestras, most major have started holding auditions behind a screen. Claudia Goldin and Cecilia Rouse looked at what affect this had on women being hired, and they found that women were 50% more likely to be hired in blind auditions, than they were if those choosing could see the performer.

I think the most important difference in the pay gap is probably workforce segregation. Work in industries and occupations dominated by women is paid less than work in industries and occupations dominated by men. What’s interesting about this is that it isn’t just a fixed and historical process. More and more women have become GPs over the last twenty years or so, and as that has happened the pay and prestige of the job has gone down (disclaimer: I don’t have a source for that – I read it somewhere a long time ago and google isn’t happening – I’d be happy to be proved wrong). Information, communications and Technology, a relatively new area of employment, has male dominated areas, and female dominated areas, and guess which ones pay more?

In New Zealand, NZNO’s pay settlement was a start at fighting to change this sort of discrimination. According to the survey health and community services had one of the biggest average pay increases over the last year. I’m a little surprised and disappointed that the pay gap has gone up - I don't have any theories yet, but I'll think about it.

The answer that the right give to the pay gap is that women choose most of the differences listed above because they choose to spend less time in economic activity, and more looking after children. Even if the idea that more women look after children is an example of us all making free choice was true (and it’s not), it doesn’t matter.

I’m so fucking sick of reproduction being treated as a non-economic activity. The fact that raising children is not valued under capitalism, is part of the same discrimination that says security guards should be paid more than teacher aids that I was talking above (and a sign of how well and truly evil capitalism is). If you look at reproduction as the essential economic activity it is (and I’m not saying that that’s all it is – but capitalism couldn’t function if it didn’t get new workers), then the pay gap is even worse, because women are being paid less, but we’re doing more work than men.

If you want to know any more about the pay gap go here. Amptoons has read more than I have and has more studies, I got some of my stuff from him too.

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