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October 27, 2006


Amazing, truly amazing. An article on the gender gap in wages, in The Guardian of all places, which actually gives the real information.

Jenny Watson, the commission's chairwoman, said the figures proved the 30-year-old legislation against sex discrimination was not working fast enough. "We need a new generation of laws placing a more active responsibility on employers to deliver equality," she said.

Well, OK, got to have that. The Guardian lives off the advertising for gender discrimination assessors so you've got to have a quote from the High Priestess.

The ONS provided data back to 1938 showing that the gender pay gap has narrowed massively. Back then a male manual worker earned an average of £3.45 a week, against £1.63 for a woman doing the same job.

That's a nice piece of obfuscation. Note the 'same job'. The gender pay gap being discussed nowadays is not for the 'same job' at all. Looking at the detailed statistics on  incomes by job there are very few indeed where pay is higher for one or the other sex: and in those that it is there are obvious reasons why (male physicality in manual labour for example). What we are now discussing is something very different, average wages between men and women as a total group: this will be swayed by many more things than direct discrimination against women.

The surprising bit is here:

Its figures also revealed that there is virtually no gender pay gap for people in their 20s. The difference widens to around 7% for people in their 30s, peaks at 18% for those in their 40s, before dropping to 16% for people aged 50 to 59 and 8% for those older than 60. This may reflect the fact that women tend to have children in their late 20s.

The 'may' is a bit of a cop out (and I'm extremely glad to see that they use full time figures there, not what the Equal Opportunities Commission likes to use, comparing male full time earnings with female part time) but that is exactly what we ought to be concentrating on now.

If people take a couple of years out of the workforce, if they do this two or three times over a working lifetime, would we expect their wages to be lower? Yes, I think we probably would, male or female. If people also decide that in the interests of their work life balance they'd like to step back from the rat race a bit, perhaps cut back on some of the more insane loyalty committments to employers, would we expect their wges to be lower 30 years later? Yes, I think we probably would, male or female.

So there you have at least a very large chunk of the answer to the gender pay gap: there isn't one pre usual child bearing ages, there is during and after.

Now, yes indeed, one can always then go on to insist that this is in itself something that should be changed, that the accident of biology that leads to it being women who go through pregnancy is itself an unfairness of the world that we should try to correct for. Fine by me: it isn't the pregnancy that causes those long career breaks that do the damage, it's the maternity leave. If you want to solve this gender pay gap you need to cut maternity leave.

October 27, 2006 in Economics | Permalink


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If you want to solve this gender pay gap you need to cut maternity leave.

Half right. You need to equalize maternity and paternity leave. How about something like in Sweden where the couple gets 18 months to split how they see fit?

Tim adds: Because then you'll see a pay gap between those who have children (and have taken such career breaks) and those who do not and have not. Which will doubtless require another round of governmental 'solutions'.

Posted by: sanbikinoriaon | Oct 27, 2006 9:53:34 AM

Mandatory maternity leave and a guarantee that the job will be waiting when the new mother returns to work harks of the USSR. This is a decision that should be included in the private contract - or not included - between the employer and the employee.

In my experience, maternity leave is a waste of money to the employer, because when the new mother returns to work, she is only half there. The first thing she does on her return, is build a little shrine to her new baby - its photos, its identity bracelet, its photocopied sole prints, trinkets - and place it just above her computer, where she can on it lovingly all day.

And she is only half there because the other half of her existence is on the telephone about the baby. Then she has to have time off and other people have to cover for her. I have only ever known one new mother who bounced straight back in to work at her old level of concentration, and she was well worth her salt.

The government had no right to place this burden on employers. It is none of their business. And the old Law of Unintended Consequences kicked in, of course, and employers started hiring women who had already had their children and could be counted on to work a full day and concentrate on their jobs.

Paternity leave is beyond ridiculous and I think all of this is an absolutely intentional attempt to weaken society.

Posted by: Verity | Oct 27, 2006 10:09:59 PM

because when the new mother returns to work, she is only half there.

I'd tend to agree with that point (though I wouldn't like to make such a generalisation about all mothers). A good friend of mine had some minor surgery in his early 20s that went wrong. As a result of repeated infections in his surgical wound he couldn't sit for more than a few minutes at a time, and had to take almost 2 years off work on disability.

However, by the time he'd finally healed and was cleared to go back to work he threw himself into the job, working hard enough in a year to more than make up for the time he was away. He's now 27 and, apart from the debts he ran up while unable to earn a living, he's no worse off than he would have been if he'd worked without pause.

Having a child is (ideally) a personal choice, and any financial hardship that comes with it should be nobody's responsibility but the parents. End of.

Posted by: sortapundit | Oct 28, 2006 12:46:55 AM

Paternity leave is beyond ridiculous

Obviously the current birthrate is vastly too high for Verity's comfort. Is there any sane person who would have children in a society that Verity envisions? (From his post, I suspect Japan and Korea would be the best one could hope for...)

Posted by: Tom West | Oct 28, 2006 9:14:19 PM