Thursday, 12 November 2009

the truth about the pay gap

This really ain't sexy, and I am revealing my inner anorak by writing about it. But stick with me while I drone on. I've just read through the annual statistics on pay and earnings, and I was surprised.
Everybody knows about the pay gap that means women earn less than men, and one of the reasons is that four out of ten women work part time, where pay is often lousy. A lot of mothers end up sliding down the ladder into more junior jobs that fit round the family better but don't pay as well as their pre-kids role.
But these figures show the quickest way to a godawful salary is to be a part-time man. The salary league table goes fulltime man, fulltime woman, then part-time woman, then the 11 per cent of men who work part time (median earnings £7.71 an hour before tax against £7.86 for part-time women and £12.97 for a fulltime man). That's comparing hourly rates, so even taking into account the fact that part-timers work a shorter week, they suffer extra just for not being fulltime. Why?
Maybe because men are less likely to downshift after having kids - some fathers still don't think it's socially acceptable to ask - these part time men are largely those who have always been part time. That might mean more of them are lowskilled, or in poor health, and therefore don't get a crack at wellpaid jobs.
But it feels like there's something curious going on. A lot of overstretched working mothers would like to consider both parents dropping down to part time for a bit while the kids are small, sharing the load. Yet if the paycut for doing that is even worse for men than for women, fathers are not going to want to do it.
I don't for one minute think the pay gap between the sexes isn't still a big deal - of course it is. But the gap between part time and full time pay (36.5 per cent less per hour, according to these figures) for BOTH sexes is worth thinking about separately.
The other interesting thing is that this was the year the recession really hit: lots of people got payfreezes or tiny rises. But fulltime women's earnings went up faster than men's (it was the other way round among part timers)
Why? Was it because of changes in the law, or because more women work in the public sector (where the pay gap's shrunk this year) than the private sector (where it's got worse)?
Or was it anything to do with the recession, and anxious women whose partners' jobs were vulnerable taking more on at work? It's too early to tell yet, but I am really curious about where this recession will leave working women.


  1. Interpreting these figures is always a frightful and emotive task. Deciphering discrimination, occupational choice, gender and class issues is near impossible to achieve without inciting emotive narratives.
    To respond to your points gaby, I would say the fact that women tend to be in the public sector is the main reason the gap has diminshed, where there were positive awards across the board and explicit efforts to close pay gaps (such as less room for pay negotiation which tends to favour bolshy men).
    I think what your post really demonstrates however, is that if feminist campaigners wish to protect the interests of part-time working class vulnerable women, the main division is not between men and women but the classes. As with much of the identity politics that the middle class left has converted to (from the seemingly outdated class based conflicts of socialism), it lacks an understanding of the true power inequality dynamic and that is class not gender or race.
    Poor women do badly because they lack power in the job market, as do poor men. Lets solve the class pay gap and then we will particularly help poor women!

  2. Yes, the 11% of working men who work part-time are interesting. I suspect these are often the real "pin-money" jobs -- retired men doing a little something congenial for what is truly very little money. Conversely there are probably more high-powered women working short weeks than high-powered men. However the average that the ONS are using is the median, which is less affected by the wages of a few high-earners. (You remember they got very cross when Harriet Harman used the mean figure for the pay gap in a government department, as it came out much worse.)

    The median part-time women's wage is £7.86 an hour. This is a different world from that of many
    readers of the broadsheets, and presumably from most professional share-the-load-(and-the-joy) fathers.

    The official stats are unlikely to cover the real impact of the recession on women because of the hidden army working unofficially. Interestingly, the pay rates for the lowest paid full-time decile rose more than for the highest decile -- possibly through job losses of the very lowest-paid.

    Hmm, I have just found that the mean of men's part-time wages is higher than women's -- by 13.2%! I thought that at the time of the Harman dust-up the ONS promised us a detailed guide to good practice on gender statistics. There is a Gender Statistics User Group but there doesn't seem to be much action there.

  3. I worry about the cost of the recession to women and not just financially. In the States, they like to trumpet that women now outnumber men in the workforce for the first time, but at what cost if they are being forced into low paid, part-time jobs just because their other half has lost his (or hers in the more liberal states). It feels like the same thing is happening here if you ask me given that plenty of nurseries are busier than ever. If that means mums are being ripped away from their children to earn a paltry sum then that's tragic. If you ask me.