An article in the guardian this week cites world economic forum research, showing the UK gender pay gap is widening.
Quoting the WEF the Graun say the UK has fallen to 26th in the world ‘global gender gap’ rankings, “with the country ranking 48th in terms of both labour force participation and wage equality, and 66th for estimated earned income”. This rhetoric of the ‘gender pay gap widening’ was repeated in the media and on social media. Further articles were published with scare-headlines like life for women in Britain getting tougher! And feminist organisations such as The Fawcett Society paused in their campaign to get male politicians to wear feminist t-shirts, to say ‘I told you so’.
But is the world economic forum report a trustworthy source of information about gender and pay?
In short, on looking over it and some related documents about its methodology I’d say: NO. The methodological problems with the research are not insignificant. Firstly, rather than providing ‘hard facts’ based on statistical data about salaries and wages, the findings from the wef are based on ‘opinions’ of ”business executives’. Secondly only an average of 98 companies were surveyed in each country. Thirdly there is no mention in the report of random sampling :no reasons given as to why the selection of companies would be representative of a country as a whole.
So all we can really conclude from this report is that some business executives in the UK think that the gender pay gap has widened in the last twelve months.
The Fawcett Society reinforce their ‘gender pay gap widening’ assertion by providing stats from the office for national statistics survey of annual and hourly earnings. On first glance I would say that this data is more robust than that of the WEF. But the Fawcett cherry pick from the figures to back up their own viewpoint. For example the Fawcett Society quote the ONS as saying:
‘Men’s mean gross hourly earnings (excluding overtime) were £16.91 in April 2013, up 2.3% from £16.52 in 2012. Women’s mean hourly earnings increased by 1.3% to £14.25 compared with £14.07 in 2012. This means that the gender pay difference for full-time employees widened to 15.7% from 14.8% in 2012.’
But if we take into account the differences in findings from identifying the mean v median results, the gender pay gap could be seen to be less stark. As the ONS point out:
‘Men’s median full-time weekly earnings increased by 1.8% to £556 between 2012 and 2013, compared with an increase of 2.2% for women to £459.’
‘In April 2013 men’s median gross hourly earnings (excluding overtime) grew by 2.5% to £13.60, up from £13.27 in 2012. In comparison, women’s hourly earnings were £12.24, a 1.9% increase compared with £12.01 in 2012. The gender pay gap for full-time employees therefore increased to 10.0% from 9.5% in 2012.’
So by using median earnings the pay gap shrinks from over 15% to 10%.
Also, the WEF, the Fawcett Society and feminists in general fail to take into account the circumstances which contribute to the gender pay gap. The ONS are again more rigorous. They remind us that:
‘there is a difference in the proportion of male and female employees who work full- and part-time. For male employees, 88% worked full-time and 12% worked part-time in 2013 Q2, while the comparable figures for female employees were 58% and 42% respectively. This
highlights the fact that more women work part-time than men and consequently they are more likely to receive lower hourly rates of pay’.
And yet, even though the numbers of women working part time contributes to their lower earnings overall, women’s wages for part time work rose more than men’s between 2012-13.
‘For part-time employees, men’s median gross hourly earnings (excluding overtime) were £7.95 in April 2013, up 3.0% from £7.72 in 2012. In comparison, women’s hourly earnings were £8.40,an increase of 3.2% from £8.14. The gender pay difference for part-time employees was therefore in the opposite direction to that of full-time employees, widening to -5.7% compared with -5.5% in 2012′.
Another circumstance affecting wages is career breaks for having children. The WEF report stated that the UK ranked third highest in the world in terms of length of maternity leave and this will have an impact on women’s pay. As commenters under the first graun article on the topic said:
‘Women fall behind because of extended career breaks to have children ie they are being assessed in the same way as a man would be if they took extended career breaks.
To equalise the average on a population level we would have to encourage some women to return to work immediately after giving birth.
I doubt we will even get to the point where the majority of women will accept splitting those early months 50/50.’
And there’s the rub. If paternity leave was raised to match maternity leave, more men might take time out to care for young children, which would contribute to narrowing the gender pay gap. But paternity leave is not high on the feminist agenda. Is this because women want to maintain their sovereignty over the domain of parenthood whilst also claiming discrimination in the workplace? Mother knows best after all.
I don’t want to think anymore than I have to about Nick Clegg modelling feminist t-shirts. But one thing that annoys me about him, Miliband and other pro-feminist men is they often spout feminist rhetoric unthinkingly. I notice that ‘male allies’ repeat banal statements like ‘the gender pay gap is widening’ without consulting the data, or even thinking to look beyond the headlines made by feminist publications and campaign groups. To support feminist women because they are (feminist) women and to protect them from the scrutiny these men might apply to other dogmas and information sources seems patronising and paternalistic. Before we know it women could be out-earning men and then these cuddly feminist-friendly men might be out on their ears with only an unfashionable t-shirt for comfort.