Man up: A closer look at the gender pay gap

Written by Francesca Ferry

Illustration by Kelly Warner

I believe today that women need to man up.

I am a woman. I am an economist. I am a feminist.

Today I question the publications regarding the UK gender pay gap. Tomorrow I will wake up to another misinformed article about inequality in the labour market.

Whilst this information is relevant to those searching for empowerment, it is also degrading, discouraging, and morally inept.

I think YOU deserve a more factual perspective.

A wage gap exists. We women are partially to blame.

(Source: Cosmopolitan)

Why are we paid less?

To people in my field, I am a “minority” by numerical and racial definition. Since the 1970s less women have entered the field of economics.

But these statistics did not discourage me because I was not raised to see myself as disadvantaged, or as a minority. I am me. I am a woman who puts herself on the pedestal we believe men have. Why? Because if we argue that men are socially, economically and politically advantaged, then we should man up and provide ourselves with the same advantages.

If we want advantages like men, we must all stand on a pedestal too. We must all drive our lives with the same vigor and aspiration as them, unapologetically.

A story of African-American female mathmeticians in the 1960s who were the brains behind NASA’s operation to send an astronaut into orbit (Source: Independent)

When we read statistics which attempt to analyse an entire nation’s incomes, we need to remind ourselves that statistics are not always accurate.

We need to put our political alignment aside and read between the lines of the information we demand from the government. These wage gaps are exaggerated by an extreme proportion.

These statistics

  • Do not all compare *same job- different gender* incomes. Often they measure *different job-different gender*.
  • Samples such as ‘1% of British workers’ are not indicative of all male and female earning potential.
  • Our demanding nature makes these surveys rushed, with mean and medians used for data.
  • Bonuses, hourly pay, and averages for quartiles are not provided as raw data we can analyse at our own leisure.
  • Instead, we only see the mean, median or ‘proportion’ of men and women in these organisations.

Why are we not questioning this dummed down analysis which always seems to fit the same narrative of ‘why aren’t we getting equal pay for equal work?!’.

The fact is, we don’t know the exact deviations from male paid equal work. To claim we do indicates an uneducated woman, the exact generalisation we’re attempting to get rid of.

So…who is paid fairly?

Unfortunately, wage structures are not simply based on the productivity of workers. This is why wage gaps can seem so much worse than the reality.

The reality is that this messy situation we debate reflects current and historical influences. Social norms and managerial strategies interact with market processes, such as job matching, to shape payment systems.

Movements toward a more global economy has encouraged geocentric hiring strategies for high paid jobs, decreasing the likeliness of gender directly affecting wages.

(Source: Global Training Institute)

Attempting to correlate social norms and collective wage setting institutions with discrimination against women’s wages constitutes the core of the argument in feminist literature. This argues that the social under-valuation of women’s work is a large factor in explaining the gender pay gap.

Upon exploring other factors, the regression analysis tells us that in fact, only about 20-35% of the gender pay gap can be explained in terms of the individual and job characteristics, whereas discrimination makes up about 65%-80%.

16% of this gap is accounted for by estimated firm-specific wage effects. What does this mean?

Men have a greater tendency than women to work for firms which on average pay higher wage premiums to their employees.

The vast majority of the pay gap is explained by the fixed characteristics of workers, which affect their wages irrespective of what jobs they are in. This includes, and is not limited to, education, preferences and work experience.

(Source: New York Times)

Surely our generation is more progressive?

This table displays the recorded, raw number of degree fields entered in the United Kingdom. It is separated by gender.

(Source: HESA)

This is telling more than you may wish to hear. Whilst it is true that our generation is pushing for change in gender wages,  women appear to be denying the shift in changing labor markets.

Women dominate lower paying sectors such as healthcare and education, many of which have wages set at lower rates. Fields such as these limit mobility within companies, even when bonuses and promotions are based on academic achievement.

Furthermore, by entering markets with high levels of unionisation, these women are limiting other people accessing the labour market due to terms of contract and the consistent desire to renegotiate wages, which drives the employers ability to increase employee requirements.

In short, women are falling behind change. They are sitting on the pedestal society placed below men, rather than jumping above it.

(Source: Harvard Summer School)

At British universities, women are striving to study subjects traditionally perceived to attain higher income brackets, but these careers are not conducive with the progression of work forces and resultantly, income isn’t changing.

Men dominate the upcoming, money-making fields. This is clearly highlighted in male-centric subjects such as computer science, economics and various areas of engineering, whilst women dominate the low income brackets of higher education.

My old headmistress was proud that girls at my school were not deterred from male dominated career paths, however most of my friends went on to study fields that will, at best, scrape the six-figure annual income bracket.

Therein lies my question. Can we demand equal pay [in the average of all field income data] when more women voluntarily choose vocations such as teaching rather than choosing to maximise technological advancement? Both are important roles but they come with very different wages.

With no velocity for change, you cannot create it. Is there a solution? Sure. Why don’t we man up. Why don’t we encourage women to pursue fields that men dominate, regardless of what issues may arise?

This can remove surplus. It’s a word you don’t want to hear when you enter a section of the labour market, because employers can be choosey.

Wages will instantaneously be lower when markets are tighter, meaning the potential employee has little power to negotiate wages.

It is clear that fields such as engineering, technology and environmental studies are expanding, so they will need skills to match the demands of employment. With low study rates and even less women in these fields at university, the wages of these jobs are much higher.

By avoiding entering into these fields of study, women are only increasing the pay gap. This avoidance also ensures male dominance for the next wave of the labour force. We are not helping the women of tomorrow by failing to act on this issue.

Greta Thunberg, a Swedish 16-year-old environmental activist with aspergers who negotiatied with Micahel Gove, the UK’s evironment secretary (Source: Wanted In Rome)

So what do women have to say? Surely we all think it’s a gender thing?

Surprisingly, only 14% of female economists say the gender wage gap is largely explained by differences in education and voluntary occupational choices.

54% of male economists agreed with that notion. Why? Because when men dominate a powerhouse of world discussion such as economics, they know what is happening. And they have the right to comment because they are well versed.

What is the explanation then? Perhaps we are so distracted by our disgust for male success that we forget the pay gap is deeply rooted in the ethnic discrimination of our ancestors.

In fact, studies often tell us that the limiting factor for mobility within a company is race, not gender. With globalisation and the adoption of geocentric employment tactics, it is clear to me that this is a key issue too.

So what now?

Before assuming all information discussed on social media is accurate, read up on articles published by those studying the fields. Yes, there is a wage gap. No, we do not know the exact reason for it, or how vast this gap may be, but discussing the topic will not be the only step in resolution.

Encouraging and educating women on fields which may assist in decreasing the pay gap will not only raise the average income of women, but it will also assist in ridding our world of ‘traditionally female’ jobs.

The Author

Francesca is a 20 year old  honors student at Drexel University, Philadelphia PA. Having relocated to the United States of America in 2016 from Birmingham, UK, she is pursuing her degree in economics and international trade. As a member of Delta Zeta sorority, Francesca enjoys participating in philanthropic events and experiencing all that Philadelphia has to offer.

Edited by Ruby Hinchliffe

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