An Australian Sociologist, Jordan Peterson, has claimed that the pay gap, in his country at least, is insolvable. Recent news might suggest he is right. But, on inspection, is this really the case?
The gender pay gap is the difference between the average hourly rate earned by men and women. In 2017, in the UK, men earned 18.4% more than women according to ONS (Office for National Statistics). This gap has fallen from 27.5% in 1997 to 18.4% in 2017, showing that the gap between men and women’s wages is getting smaller. That is clearly still quite a substantial difference, though. And this despite the fact that the 1970 Equal Pay Act, and the 2010 Equality Act, made it unlawful for people to pay men and women differently. That applies to all employers. Yet still the gender pay gap remains. Why?
There is no easy answer. The Fawcett Society, a campaigning group for equality, say that caring responsibilities have a big role in the gender pay gap. Women often care for children or older relatives, meaning that they are more likely to be in part time roles, which have less career opportunities and are often lower paid. Discrimination can also have an impact. The EHRC (Equality and Human Rights Commission) found that 1/9 new mothers were made redundant, treated poorly so as to encourage them to leave work or be dismissed. Men also tend to have the majority of senior roles in a company, which are usually the highest paid.
We have discussed possible differential factors above, but sociologist Peterson argues that the pay gap is unsolvable because at this point it doesn’t make economic sense. He argues that women are paid less than men on average because they are “more agreeable” and not “natural negotiators.” Peterson states that agreeable people get paid less because they are less assertive. Under Australian law, it is also illegal to pay men and women different wages for doing the same work. However, Peterson argues that paying men and women equally would be “deadly”.
Journalist Suzanne Venker disagrees. She states: “It is the existence of children, not sexism, that creates the gender pay gap. If I did not have children, I would be at my office from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. every day, thus mirroring John’s (a co-worker) life.” So Ms Venker appears to view the issue as one who is the carer for dependents.
Additionally, when we look at higher paying jobs, such as medicine and law, the person is often required to work long hours, which can make it difficult for people who want to work part time or who have to be home for set times due to childcare.
So, to answer the question: Is the gender pay gap unsolvable? Well, contrary to whatever Mr Peterson might make you think, there is no easy answer here.