Why can’t we succeed in having equal pay?

Here’s a curiosity. If you are an American woman on average pay, and you wanted to get paid the same as an American man on average pay and started working alongside him in January 2009, you would have had to work until today to get what he got by December 31st.  For that reason, April 20th has been designated ‘Equal Pay Day‘ by some equal rights groups in the US. And don’t even think of feeling superior if you are European: we’re no better, except in isolated pockets, and in fact we’re generally worse. In Ireland, a woman on average earnings would still be working until early next month to catch up with her male colleague for 2009.

Why is the equal pay problem so intractable?  It is now 36 years since equal pay legislation was introduced in Ireland, in the form of the Anti-Discrimination (Pay) Act 1974. And yet, while overt pay discrimination has ceased (nobody advertises jobs now with lower rates for women, as they did then), the structural labour market issues that leave women with lower earnings have still not been overcome. And as we now have to face other social issues, including the disengagement of young males from high value education, it may well seem to some that equal pay is not so important: but it is. To overcome these problems, we need to ensure that we have a labour market without gender ghettos, and working practices that are not modelled on 19th century assumptions about family responsibilities.

It is time – high time – that we deal with this huge obstacle to a having a genuinely fair society.

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9 Comments on “Why can’t we succeed in having equal pay?”

  1. Pidge Says:

    Don’t mean to be rude, but it’s a bit easy to do the whole “something must be done” thing.

    What would you say cause income inequalities, and what steps would you like (legislative or otherwise) to see taken?

    • No, you’re not rude, and it’s a fair comment.

      The major change needed is to end employment ghettoisation. So long as there are jobs which are predominantly carried out by persons of one gender there will be a problem. This is the first major cause – the second is the way in which we construct working life. If we insist that a rigid nine-to-five day is the only thing that works in normal full-time employment we are consigning too many women to lower paid, part-time employment.

      I have some views as to how to address this, and will write another post in due course…

  2. John Says:

    I don’t get it. Surely if they were both on average pay they’d get the same – unless you mean average pay for men and average pay for women. If so, might this be because men and women do different types of job?

    • Yes, I mean average for men and average for women. And yes, it is because they do different jobs, and these jobs are evaluated differently. So now we need to ask why.

      • Wendymr Says:

        It’s because they do different jobs, but also that where they do the SAME jobs men disproportionately occupy senior positions. Even if you look at so-called ‘feminised’ occupations – nursing, administration, HR, for example – the higher you go up the hierarchy the more men you will find. I remember data for nursing in the UK (from around ten years ago; I don’t know what the current statistics are) showing that nursing as a whole was 90% female, but that 50% of nurse managers [ie nurses promoted into the clinical management positions] were male – thus meaning that on average men earn more than women in nursing.

      • Iainmacl Says:

        same with universities, wendymr! According to the statistics on the Trinity website for example, in the last 3-4 years some 35 professors were appointed, only 2 of whom were women. As for the other institutions? Try finding the data!


      • Jilly Says:

        Yes, it’s really noticeable in universities – although there are many, many female academics now (maybe even about 50%?), it’s very noticeable when you go to meetings of senior staff, professors and heads of department that the room becomes a sea of men in suits, by comparison to faculty meetings, where there is more or less gender balance.

        Mind you, I think that gender imbalance is even more noticeable in college admin departments. In every college I’ve worked in, the heads of development, admissions, exams, computer services, etc are nearly all men.

        And of course no Irish university has ever had a female President/Provost. With 2 of these posts coming vacant this year, it would be nice to see a woman appointed to one of them…

        • Er, Jilly: in this College the heads of admissions, exams, and computer services are all women! And the Head of HR. And the Deputy President.

          • Jilly Says:

            Well yes, it does vary from college to college (and across time within colleges, as people move in and out of jobs). But in general across the sector, there are FAR more men than women in senior college posts.

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