Adilia Jilgildina holds a master´s degree in Public Policy from the University of Reading, UK. Her research interests include gender studies, international politics, religious freedom and political philosophy.
Given that there have been legislative equal pay provisions in place since 1950s, an unequal pay issue still remains very much persistent around the world, and currently appears to be 19,5% in the United States, 20% in Austria and 13.9% in Ireland, but what could be behind this? Women are more likely to be disadvantaged in their working conditions, they increasingly gravitate towards low-paying, part-time, public sector or informal types of jobs, with the risk of being entitled to less support during pregnancy, maternity leave, childbirth, or caregiving, are more likely to experience workplace discrimination (such as compensation and pregnancy discrimination) based on their gender, and those women entitled to have pensions are still far worse-off in value compared to their male counterparts due to their lesser wage sizes1. There has been much progress in addressing gender inequality at the workplace, but this still seems to be a very difficult task to achieve and even the western world is still a long way off reaching a real equality for a number of reasons. On the one hand, this article aims to argue that the gender pay gap still exists and attempts to set out common reasons behind this happening in the United States, Austria and Ireland, and on the other, it argues that it is a myth and there is no compensation discrimination and will finally conclude with recommendations on how to close the gender pay gap.
ATTEMPTS MADE BY THE USA, AUSTRIA AND IRELAND TOWARDS THE REDUCED GENDER PAY GAP
United States of America
An emerging gender-equality debate in the workplace is whether the observed gender pay gaps are the result of women’s personal choices of career and working conditions or the consequences of socialization based on the examples of three countries. In the United States, for example, the post-1970s period saw a skill-biased technological change which in turn brought about employment requirements and relations as well as industrial structure, and more flexible working arrangements and work-life balance policies. The employment opportunities were polarized with more expansion in both high-skill, highly-paid and low-skill, low-paid positions, which in one way or another contributed to closing the gender pay gap2.
The skill-biased technological change worked well in Austria as well, bringing about increased demand for skilled workforce, while, however, creating further issues for unskilled workforce in the form of lower wages, in the service sector, in particular, which is highly dominated by women. One of key developments also includes women’s gaining increased access to formal education which also contributed to the gender equality as a whole. The studies further suggested the women who have not yet taken maternity leave had more access to the labour market, and this decrease in the number of women who tend to have their careers interrupted by maternity leaves is also seen as a contributing factor to the lower gender gap. Unlike in the United States, there are less evident differences between the blue-collar (largely dominated by men) and white-collar employment (largely dominated by women) in Austria, however, it was assumed without question that women more tended to be blue-collar workers than men. Research also highlighted the unfavourable development for the price of women’s unskilled labour which only increased the gender pay gap3.
The Directive 2006/54/EC adopted by the European Parliament and Council defined pay as ‘the ordinary basic or minimum wage or salary and any other consideration, whether in cash or in kind, which the worker receives directly or indirectly, in respect of his/her employment from his/her employer’. The principle of equal pay for equal work introduced in Ireland provided for equal reward for the same type of job regardless of the gender of the person who did it. Overall Ireland was not able to succeed in narrowing its gender pay gap until after it joined the EEC in 1972 and adopted the Anti-Discrimination (Equal Pay) Act 1974, and Irish women finally saw a considerable equal pay increase. Further attempts also include the United Kingdom’s introduction of mandatory GPG reporting legislation in 2016 that required employers to report on the salaries and bonuses paid to their employees of both genders on company websites. Despite these improvements in the employment sector that might have made the labour market more accessible to women and generally contributed to higher wages for them, this doesn’t seem to have closed the gender pay gap completely in these countries.
ARGUMENTS IN FAVOUR OF THE PERSISTENT COMPENSATION DISCRIMINATION
There has been intense debate among the proponents and opponents of the persistent gender pay gap between men and women. Based on the extensive research, those holding feministic viewpoints argue that the gender pay gap is a direct discrimination against women on the part of the employer owing to their traditional stereotypic views of both genders. But even if women are more biologically equipped, have better leadership capacities, are likely to work harder than men, they do not get paid the same amount, because they have historically been viewed as different to men in many aspects, these views could serve a good ground for employers to take it for granted that women should balance caregiving and household labour with paid work and thus work twice as hard as men.
Such view-holders also believe that American women in the start of their career lacked access to professional development compared to men, because such training was basically conducted informally, and women applying to ´male´ jobs were most likely to be excluded from any training opportunities because of gendered perceptions4. Also feministic views hold that increasing work experience might represent a challenge for women as they experience conflicting demands on their time as a result of their caregiving roles. Even with more men assuming caregiving responsibilities, the situation is unlikely to improve for women, as men are very much reluctant to drop out of the labour market. To make matters worse, the parental leave in Ireland has not proved to be effective, since the culture within many companies is harsh and discourages male involvement into the parental care still pushing more women into part-time and low-paid work.
ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE EXISTENCE OF ANY COMPENSATION DISCRIMINATION
While the proponents of gender discrimination at the workplace continue attributing this issue to sexist employers, anti-feminist view-holders believe that gender pay gap might arise out of women’s personal preferences. That being said, gender occupational segregation and early career selection are believed to be the main reasons behind the gender pay gap. In other words, girls and women are more likely to prefer social sciences, education and healthcare degrees and occupations over technical and engineering ones. Furthermore, it is women’s choice to remain on the low-paid jobs, as long as the job offers other benefits, to put it simply, women prefer benefits to cash. In terms of selection process more favourable to men, anti-feminist view-holders tend to believe, women are not considered to be less qualified for the position, rather, most employers recruit on merit, and women are more likely to lack desired experience as a result of their caregiving roles, which certainly puts them at a disadvantage in the employment industry.
However, the gender gap situation would not look so disappointing, if all the benefits that women earn are taken account of, and, some economists suggest, would totally compensate for the gender gap equaling only 3.6 percent in such instances. There was also a claim that women’s choice to get married and raise children was their voluntary decision which contributed to at least some of their unequal incomes. Therefore, the opponents of persistence of any wage gap referred to it as a ‘myth’, and are rather convinced that ‘the clear majority of the gap is explained by skills, experience, and preferences’, coupled with the sexist beliefs that girls are not very good at science and engineering long before they enter the labour market. And of course there is enough evidence to suggest that socialization does matter which in turn shifts some portion of the blame from the labour market discrimination, yet obviously there is to some extent a labour market discrimination stemming from biases, gendered stereotypes and cultural aspects. Some opponents are nevertheless convinced that this problem persisted because of ‘misapprehension kept alive by leftists’ in order to use the power of government for the benefit of disadvantaged groups of the population.
Even with the introduction of equal pay legislation, the women in the Western countries are still a long way from obtaining equal earnings for their equal work, and addressing the issue of unequal pay is important to ensure equal rights for all members of society and would also be advantageous for their families and children, and future generation in general. Considering the gender-based factors explored herein, it is noteworthy that women’s presence at the labour market is constrained by unexplained and invisible barrier which is more manifest as a gender-based workplace discrimination, but the free markets study has shown that this is not always the case. While the proponents tend to blame the companies for being discriminative towards workers, the opponents of this problem attribute this with the individuals’ lifestyle choices on the one hand, and possible government intervention in the free labour markets, on the other. Therefore, the gender pay gap would be considerably reduced and might even disappear if companies strictly applied more parental leave and family-friendly policies to ensure equal distribution of family responsibilities to address the demand-side problem instead of reviewing its rewarding policies that might otherwise negatively affect the male proportion. There is no doubt that laws would be the most effective way of addressing the inequality problem, but this cannot be an overnight process, especially where the prejudice, stereotype and long-standing practices are involved.
1. Bisom-Rapp, S. & Sargeant, M. (2016). Lifetime Disadvantage, Discrimination and the Gendered Workforce (Cambridge University Press, 2016) p 3.
2. Shen, J. (2014). Recent trends in gender wage inequality in the United States. Journal of Sociological Research 5.2: 32-48.
3. Böheim, R., Himpele, K., Mahringer, H., & Zulehner, C. (2011). The gender pay gap in Austria: Tamensi movetur!
(No. 394). WIFO Working Papers.
4. Shen, J. (2014). Recent trends in gender wage inequality in the United States. Journal of Sociological Research 5.2: 32-48.