Azara Blog: The British gender pay gap

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Date published: 2006/02/27

The BBC says:

A landmark investigation into why women lag badly behind men in pay has called for a change of culture in schools and workplaces.

The Women and Work Commission concluded that the gender pay gap is worse in Britain than anywhere in Europe.

It found that women in full-time work were earning 17% less than men.

Among its 40 recommendations, the commission said there should be more government support and improved vocational training.

One member of the commission, John Cridland of the CBI, said the UK's culture was to blame for women being paid less.

"It is because of structural problems; because of young girls' choices in schools and the fact that our careers education system completely fails to make them realise that the choices they make will determine what they earn".
Katherine Rake, from women's equality campaign group the Fawcett Society, said that widespread discrimination was a major contributor to the pay gap.

"The Equal Opportunities Commission came out recently saying that 30,000 women a year are dismissed simply because they are pregnant," she told the BBC.

"There is widespread discrimination within the system and there's plenty of research to back that up" she added.

But Mr Cridland denied that employers were to blame.

"Absolutely not, we didn't find that at all," he said.

"15 Commissioners from all walks of society - the voluntary sector, the public sector, trade unions, employers - spent 18 months looking at the problem and they concluded that employer discrimination was neither the problem, and equal pay audits were not the solution."

Well the idea that employers are blameless is feeble. There is definitely discrimination in the work place. Partly this happens because men on the whole have more confidence than women so are more likely to exude competence and to get what they want. This might not be explicit discrimination but of course the effect is the same.

On the other hand, firing someone who is pregnant is considered to be discrimination, but any rational company would certainly think about doing so, since this burdens them with additional cost. This kind of hidden cost means that indeed women (on average) are being given implicit subsidies which top up their explicit salaries.

Further, another reason for the pay gap is that women's salaries are often considered of secondary importance to that of their partners, and they also have more child rearing duties, so women often take lesser jobs which takes these factors into account.

The Women and Work Commission can of course try and force society to take another tack but they should at least try and be honest in their arguments.

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