The Wage gap is an incredibly hotly debated topic and one could find people from every part of the spectrum either taking it at face value or completely refuting its very existence. As it seems to me, very little has been done to properly look at what there is to it.
That’s why, within this post I’m going to try to unbox this general confusion or rather will aim to draw out the parts of the wage, which are still useful in the context of a class/race/gender analysis.
First of all, the very notion of the calculation of the traditional wage gap theory, which is used at times (money made by all men dived by the money made by all women) is highly unscientific. This is, as it doesn’t aim to take account of confounding factors, i.e. other stuff which could lead us to believe there is a causal connection, when in reality the two things might be connected, but do not cause each other. However, this does not devalue the whole concept.
Usually, the main counter-argument trying to delegitamize the Wage Gap theory, is that women work less hard by choice, rather choosing to have kids, work part-time jobs or are just not as competitive go-getters as are their male peers. It cannot be refuted that men work more hours on average, but again this is a spurious association. There is literally no proof that this is a choice which is brought about by what we might call ‘femaleness’. One could even argue, that this is because women are pushed away from the labour market by social pressure, upbringing, education or a lack of accommodation of their needs.
If we do not give young women sufficient space and support to have their kids, but also thereafter to re-enter the labour market effectively, how on earth do we expect them to do so?
In fact, there are hundreds of testimonies to be found (e.g. Everyday Sexism¹) related to work-place sexism, ranging from unwanted sexual advances to refusal to hire women of childbearing age, as she could potentially have a child, which clearly sets her apart from her male peers.
Also, only to name one example, a good friend told me the story of how his boss refused to let the men in higher positions take their by law described days off for caring for their sick children, as “that’s something their wives need to do”, threatening to ‘reward’ them otherwise with less favourable treatment.
Furthermore, if you look to extend the wage gap analysis by a race axis, you will find that the more oppression one particular minority group faces, the less they earn².
And I think, this is the latest point, at which someone ought to say: “Well, wait a minute, that doesn’t quite add up anymore, does it?”. Because, historically, we know, that WOC for example (the least well payed) worked most, but were most likely to be very low-paying jobs.
Certainly, the very oversimplified notion of ‘every woman gets paid in every job this much less’ cannot be said to fully recognize the complicated dynamics of today’s labour market and has in part enabled sceptics of this concepts to blatantly refuse to believe in it. However, the simple fact is, it exists, and its existence can be noticed in three distinct ways.
1. Graduating from University, women are often paid less well than their male peers from the start, which can be seen by a study published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA)³, which shows that this is a phenomenon, which does not have its origin in decision making, as often suggested. In Architecture, this difference can be as high as £3000.
2. Social Justice is largely about having choices and not suffering from things that pre-determine the choices one can make. So, when we say that the labour market does discriminate, then this does not always mean that this happens in the same job in the same position (although this of course can happen as well!). Mostly, this refers to the very fact that there are several factors making it more difficult to enter, remain and advance in the labour market for certain groups of people. These could be our notions of professionality4, acceptance of certain appearances, room for flexibility or social code.
3. Long before we enter the job market or just start to think about what we actually want to do with our life (“MUM! I graduate in 5 months, so I don’t need to think about applying to college now, besides, my plan as a performance clown will totally work!), we get subtle messages from our environment what we can do. Is it really something about women that that keeps them from entering STEM? Are men inherently unemotional, reserved and unsocial beings? Is that why we do not have that many male social workers, teachers and educators?
Not only is this limiting and hurtful, but also denies the amazing capacity of adaptation and plasticity that we as humans possess.
The Wage Gap is also an Identity Gap and a Choices Gap, which not only keeps people from living up to what they truly want, but also thwart innovation and advancement in our society. As I hope, I might have partially shown that many of its representations have structural and cultural dimensions and it does not always come down to individual bigotry. But this is the very difficulty about much of the feminist struggle – it does not suffice to oppose harmful stereotypes and slurs – we need to change the world around us.
Featured image: https://www.google.de/search?q=wage+gap+myth&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjfwqSlsp_VAhVpDcAKHRk-C50Q_AUICigB&biw=1536&bih=759#imgrc=D6k74ZPnpTQDmM: (modified)
4 https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/apr/08/does-google-unprofessional-hair-results-prove-algorithms-racist-5 https://thetab.com/uk/2017/06/30/gender-pay-gap-by-degree-42260