womenin equality

Like men, only cheaper?

The issue of equal pay is constantly reported upon in the press, but in spite of this the various different causes of unequal pay for men and women are very rarely delineated. The discussion usually masks a number of distortions and ambiguities. The central question is whether women earn unequally because they are discriminated against or whether there is some other systematic quirk that tends to produce this result.

First of all, there are different ways in which pay can be unequal. It used to be the case that women could be paid less for doing the same job as a man where there was no other relevant difference: this type of discrimination based on sex has been illegal for some years and finds its most recent expression in the Equality Act of 2010. Second, there is the wider issue of inequality in society generally. The average woman takes home less money than the average man. This has a variety of causes. Women may choose to work in industries where pay is lower but there are other benefits to the job. Due to family circumstances and children, many women may also work part-time, and part-time jobs tend to be in areas where income is lower (Channel 4, 2013). Third, we may find that women and men whom are at roughly the same levels of seniority may in practice take home slightly different salaries for a number of reasons. This is the most significant type of inequality, because it hints at the possibility of a systematic and perhaps unconscious process of discrimination. Is there a case to answer here?

The latter concern is explicable by making clear the processes by which similar jobs end up paying unequally. One possibility is that when a person is hired, there may be a process of negotiating the salary, and men may simply be more highly motivated to do this aggressively (Fitzgerald 2014). Another possibility is that, during a period of employment, workers may ask for pay rises, and that men will do this more often than women (Saner 2010). This may be explained by an expectation on the part of women that ‘the system’ (i.e. the employer) will recognise their worth and reward it accordingly. But there may be no judgment on the employer’s part that the female employee is worth less than the male equivalent.

No doubt in a few cases, there is also general discrimination of an illegal nature, though this may be difficult to detect. But it seems probable that part of the answer is that men have a different view of their relationship to their employer: they may be more likely to see themselves as primarily working for self-benefit, whereas it is possible that women are more likely to see themselves as contributing to a whole of which they are only part. Without claiming that women themselves are responsible for their lower pay – perhaps it is a change of attitude rather than policy that will have more effect.

Channel 4 News, 2013. ‘Gender pay gap widens: why are women earning less than men?’

Available at: http://www.channel4.com/news/pay-salary-gender-gap-rise-ons

[Accessed on 9th November 2014]

Fitzgerald, J., 2014. ‘Do Women Avoid Salary Negotiations?’ in National Bureau of Economic Research. Available at: http://www.nber.org/digest/apr13/w18511.html

[Accessed on 9th November 2014]

Saner, E., 2010. ‘Why women won’t ask for a pay rise’. In The Guardian, 27th August 2010. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2010/aug/27/women-wont-ask-pay-rises

[Accessed on 9th November 2014]

Image: Huffington post. Available at http://i.huffpost.com/gen/1182970/thumbs/o-EQUAL-PAY-facebook.jpg

[Accessed on 9th November 2014]

Joy Ejiofor

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