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.