Is the Issue of Unequal Pay Being Given the ‘Due Regard’ it Deserves?
August 1, 2012
The Fresh Outlook
Equal pay: why is it that we are trying to explain away the gender gap rather than properly addressing it?
The Equality Act 2010 pledged to give the problem of the wage gap between genders ‘due regard’. However, over 40 years since the Equal Pay Act was enforced, there is still a long way to go to ensure equality between the genders, and the gap in pay remains one of the highest in the EU.
This gap is closing. But instead of women’s pay speedily evening out with that of men, male pay has stalled and female pay is crawling unhurriedly after it. Thinktank The Resolution Foundation published research in June suggesting that while women’s pay remains somewhat lower than men’s, the growth of male pay actually lagged behind that of females. The study made it evident that “male earnings grew by around 10% less than the overall median wage between 1994-95 and 2007-08, while female earnings grew by around 5% more. This roughly equates to a reduction in gender wage inequality over the period of over 1 percentage point a year.”
When the pay gap is reduced to earners within a family unit, it is evident that wage growth among mothers has actually overtaken that of fathers, much faster than between men and women in general. Evidence suggests a decline in the role of the ‘male breadwinner’ among couples. In fact, Matthew Whittaker, senior economist at the Resolution Foundation, notes that “mothers’ employment has been critical in raising living standards for low to middle income households over recent decades.”
This research actually suggests that the closing margin is down to a change in gender roles within society itself, rather than a move by employers towards a fairer wage for both sexes. So, if the notion of the ‘male breadwinner’ is in decline, where does the gap come from?
The current debate is to what extent is this the result of an implicit discrimination due to lifestyle choices – such as number of hours worked or need for maternity leave – or because of explicit discrimination? Merely amassing the problem into one figure ignores the discrepancy made evident by separating the jobs market in terms of age, occupation and income.
For example, there is no wage gap between under 25s, whereas looking at the over 30s shows an ever increasing separation, which reaches its height in the over 40s category.
Ordinarily, the headline measure used maps the difference between full-time male and female median pay. This ignores the part-time worker, the majority of which are women, which the Resolution Foundation puts down to care commitments. Often concentrated in low paying sectors, these women are forced to suffer the part-time penalty, manipulated into a lower wage by the lack of flexible working opportunities.
A recent New Statesman blog surmises that that we are solving the pay gap, but “the wrong way”. The article is concerned about the Resolution Foundation’s findings, which show that low-earning fathers and young men are bearing the brunt of recessional limitations when it comes to their pay. Similarly, the article confirms an ‘evening out’ of the part-time pay penalty. However, these burgeoning similarities only serve to close the pay gap because of a nationwide lack of well paid work, regardless of the applicant’s gender. The pay gap may be growing less, but only because of lack of opportunity at the top end of the pay margin. It is not being solved by a collective attempt to eliminate gender discrimination, but because all of society is suffering in the current economic climate.
The Women’s Equality Network (WEN) is looking at the effects of the economic downturn on women in Wales. Speaking to The Fresh Outlook, a spokesperson for the network claimed that, based on median hourly earnings, “the gender pay gap in Wales stands at 19%.”
“The gender pay gap in Wales is smaller than in other parts of the UK. This is mostly a result of relatively low wages for men. It is generally anticipated that the impact of cuts and benefits reform in Westminster is expected to have a greater impact on women in Wales who are more dependent on the public sector than elsewhere in the UK.”
WEN Wales are concerned that the current focus on male way stagnation is removing focus from the main problem of gender discrimination.
“There is also the possibility that budgetary constraints will be used as justification to not address the issue of equal pay by employers. This needs to be seen in the wider context of the budgetary cuts and the economic recession as women are being disproportionately affected by all the cuts and changes to local authority services and provision as well as being more dependant on the public sector for employment.”
Progress is being made however, as “WEN Wales and their members (in particular Chwarae Teg) work with the WG and employers to promote equal pay and assist women in developing skills to enable them to progress in their careers.”
The stagnation of male wages could be explained by the current economic climate. But the lack of finances for both genders does not excuse the fact that women have yet to catch up in the monetary stakes. As a whole, female dominated sectors are still afforded low pay, and this fact is too often sidelined by new data when it should be being directly addressed.
By Lucy England
[Image courtesy of wovox]