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Understanding the context — the gender pay gap

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In this social inquiry, students explore the gender pay gap, which is a key indicator of gender inequality. Read some background information to help you explore this indicator with your students.

Measuring gender equality

There are many different ways to measure or assess gender equality, for example, by comparing men’s and women’s:

  • levels of wealth and incomes
  • access to education
  • representation in local and national government
  • participation in professional leadership roles.

By focusing on pay, particularly the median hourly incomes for men and women, students can understand that gender inequality has a direct impact on people’s lives.

Equity versus equality — what’s the difference?

Gender equity means that people of all genders enjoy equal rights, responsibilities, opportunities, and rewards. It implies that the perceptions, interests, needs, and priorities of different genders are given equal weight in planning and decision-making.

Gender equality is the process of fully valuing the skills, efforts, responsibilities, and work of all genders. This includes ways to compensate for historical and social disadvantages.

Gender equity leads to gender equality.

The situation in New Zealand

The Ministry for Women website provides information on gender equality in New Zealand in relation to education, employment, and health.

Visit the Ministry for Women website

So how are we doing? Here is a selection of statistics from 2016:

  • Percentage of female MPs: 31%. This placed New Zealand 39th in the world for female representation in parliament.
  • Females are more educated (on average) than males.
  • Women make up two-thirds of adults on the minimum wage ($15.25 per hour).
  • In 2016, the 50 highest paid CEOs in New Zealand were all men.
  • Māori, Pasifika, and migrant women are the lowest-paid workers in New Zealand, as well as being the most likely to be in casual, part-time, and non-secure work.
  • 48% of women with disabilities earn less than $30,000 per year, compared with 28% of male workers with disabilities.

Measuring inequality — the gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is a commonly used measure of gender inequality. In 2016, the gender pay gap in New Zealand was 12%. This means that, on average, men earned 12% more per hour than women.

Visual text exercise — She's got your number

The causes of the gender pay gap are complex and often invisible. They include the following:

  • Unconscious bias — stereotypical views about gender can negatively influence decisions about recruitment and career progression.
  • Occupational segregation — female-dominated occupations (such as nursing, healthcare, retail) tend to be paid less than male-dominated occupations (such as technology, engineering, and construction).
  • Vertical segregation — men are more likely to hold senior, better-paid positions than women, even in some female-dominated industries.
  • Patterns of participation — women spend a greater proportion of their time on unpaid and caring work than men. Women are also more likely to work part-time, often due to family commitments. Part-time work tends to pay less per hour than full-time work.

Learn about Kristine Bartlett and occupational segregation

A report released by the Ministry for Women in 2017 suggests that about:

  • 20% of the gender pay gap can be explained by occupation, vertical segregation, and patterns of participation
  • 80% is 'unexplained', for example, the result of unconscious bias or discrimination.

Empirical evidence of the gender pay gap in New Zealand

Equal pay versus pay equity

Equal pay means that men and women get equal pay for identical work.

Pay equity is equal pay for work of equal value.

Pay equity challenges the fact that women in female-dominated industries tend to get paid less than men doing work of similar value in male-dominated industries.

This is important in Aotearoa because 47% of New Zealand women work in occupations where at least 80% of the employees are women, for example, in clerical, caring, cleaning, or retail roles.

This isn’t just because 'caring professions' are less valued than other professions. When the gender-balance of an occupation changes, for example, when women begin to dominate traditionally male-occupied fields, the rates of pay in those fields also drop. Examples include biology, design, and housekeeping.

Source: YWCA

Equal opportunities?

The following example shows how unconscious bias can have economic implications for women.

A 2013 Yale University study explored gender biases within the field of science. Researchers created a fictional student and asked science professors at top universities in the United States to evaluate the student’s competence. They also asked how likely the professors would be to hire and/or mentor the student and how much they would pay them. Half of the applicants were named Jennifer, the other half were named John. Apart from the name used, the content of each application was identical.

The results showed that both male and female professors were biased towards male students over female students. For example, 'John' was given higher scores for competency and was more likely to be hired and/or mentored than 'Jennifer'. The average pay suggested for 'John' was $4,000 higher than the average pay suggested for 'Jennifer'.

More information on the Yale study

The Yale University study shows that both men and women are susceptible to discriminating on the basis of gender and that unconscious bias impacts on people’s decisions. If you asked professors in the Yale University study whether female graduates where less competent or should be paid less than male graduates, it is unlikely that they would support either of these ideas. However, their unconscious biases are evident in the decisions they made.

Ethnicity and the gender pay gap

Ethnicity is a factor in the gender pay gap. Māori and Pasifika women have lower rates of pay compared to women and men of other ethnicities.

Research shows that Māori women spend more time caring for others in their household and do more voluntary and community work than women from other ethnic groups.

Māori women play a significant role in developing and sustaining the cultural, social, and economic lives of Māori communities. For example, Māori women are the driving force behind te kōhanga reo, kura kaupapa Māori, and other development initiatives. They also actively contribute to the growth and expansion of programmes and services for whānau, hapū, and iwi. This work is often unpaid.

Pacific women also play a significant role in their communities, creating strong networks and support structures and working to keep Pacific traditions alive with strong family and church networks. 35% of Pasifika females live in extended family households, compared with 20% of Māori females and 5% of European females.

Source: Ministry for Women

Gender bias begins early

A study of household jobs done by children in New Zealand revealed gender differences. Girls are more likely to spend time tidying their bedrooms, doing dishes or laundry, and looking after siblings. Boys are more likely to take out the rubbish, mow the lawns/do gardening, and clean the car.

Boys in New Zealand get, on average, $3 more pocket money than girls.

Source: New Zealand Herald

Children as young as 6 demonstrate gender biases.

Why the focus is on the pay gap between men and women

This gender equality resource focuses on the difference in pay between women and men. When discussing gender issues, limiting the conversation to women and men reflects a binary approach to gender. (Binary means 'involving 2 things'.) A more inclusive approach would acknowledge and encompass the full gender spectrum, for example, transgender and intersex people.

There have been decades of research into the gender pay gap between women and men. In contrast, there is very little information on the relationship between gender biases and pay for other genders. Within a New Zealand context, the Human Rights Commission Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People (2008) focuses on the discrimination transgender people experience in day-to-day life, but doesn't directly address the issue of pay.

The Inquiry into Discrimination Experienced by Transgender People

This absence of research has limited the scope of this social inquiry, but could be a useful starting point for a broader conversation about the ways we approach gender issues and address inequalities.

Understanding gender has more about the gender spectrum.