New Zealand’s myth­i­cal gen­der pay bias

Matamata Chronicle - - Front Page - NARELLE HEN­SON

The wage gap is a myth. Well, let me clar­ify. There is a gap, but it is a fan­tas­tic thing, not a bad thing.

You wouldn’t know that, of course. When we all cel­e­brated International Women’s Day, there was plenty of talk about the aw­ful sex­ism that still ex­ists in the work­place, which ap­par­ently leads to this wage gap.

Over in Amer­ica, Barack Obama even cre­ated an ‘‘Equal Pay Day’’ when he was pres­i­dent and pro­posed leg­is­la­tion that would force em­ploy­ers to show they weren’t sex­ist.

A cou­ple of days be­fore the dis­cus­sion flooded me­dia here, the in­domitable Alison Mau, wrote a col­umn in which she quoted three stud­ies about the wage gap. Then she said it all proved one thing: ‘‘un­con­scious bias’’.

What did she mean? Well, it is just a fancy term for sex­ism, the thing Obama claimed was the prob­lem.

It sounds good, I sup­pose. The only tiny lit­tle is­sue I can spot is that both are to­tally and ut­terly wrong. Ac­tu­ally, the Kiwi study Alison Mau quoted says so.

The Sta­tis­tics NZ brief on Ef­fect of Moth­er­hood on Pay re­port looks at the dif­fer­ence in what mums and dads get paid. It con­cludes there is a gap.

But hid­den in the bow­els of the method­ol­ogy sec­tion, it begs and pleads with us not to throw around la­bels like ‘‘un­con­scious bias’’. The data is too lim­ited, it groans. The lo­cal ev­i­dence points to lads and lasses do­ing ca­reer dif­fer­ently, not sex­ism, it cries. No one has proved it is sex­ism, the study shrieks.

And I think we can all agree that it is aw­fully silly to draw con­clu­sions with­out ev­i­dence.

Even over­seas, where Obama is from, there are hordes of aca­demics try­ing to ex­plain this.

Har­vard Eco­nomics Pro­fes­sor Clau­dia Goldin, who also hap­pens to be a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Eco­nomic As­so­ci­a­tion, says the gap ba­si­cally comes down to choice.

Fem­i­nist and scholar Christina Hoff Som­mers, wrote an ar­ti­cle for dis­pelling this ‘‘fem­i­nist myth’’.

Even a metas­tudy of 50 peer­re­viewed ar­ti­cles done by the US De­part­ment of Labour found the Amer­i­can wage gap ‘‘may be al­most en­tirely the re­sult of in­di­vid­ual choices be­ing made by both male and fe­male work­ers’’.

In fact, the idea that sex­ist, aw­ful males are the be­hind the wage gap is in such des­per­ate straits that even fem­i­nist or­gan­i­sa­tions are aban­don­ing it.

The Amer­i­can As­so­ci­a­tion of Uni­ver­sity Women has bailed out of the ‘‘un­con­scious bias’’ band­wagon say­ing the num­bers sim­ply don’t add up to sex­ism when you crunch them prop­erly. So what can we safely con­clude then? Well, it seems that women have ba­bies. And it seems that re­cov­er­ing from birth, and car­ing for an in­fant, takes time.

This time would usu­ally be spent ad­vanc­ing a ca­reer, and so mov­ing up the pay scale.

In­stead, while male and fe­male col­leagues do just that (and dads try to get a pay rise to cope with head­ing onto a sin­gle wage), mums take a breather. Fair enough, I might add. Be­ing a mum is ex­haust­ing.

By the time we’re ready to head back into the work­place, we have less ex­pe­ri­ence than our peers. We also have less pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment un­der our belts. We often choose dif­fer­ent roles that al­low us more time with the fam­ily.

And that is why I say the gen­der pay gap is a fan­tas­tic thing. It shows that our ladies feel fine with stay­ing at home and fo­cus­ing on be­ing mums.

It shows that a lot of lasses have the un­be­liev­able priv­i­lege of choice.

Most of all it shows that the only un­con­scious bias we are fight­ing against is the one fem­i­nists hold against blokes and stay-at-home mums.


Re­cov­er­ing from birth and car­ing for an in­fant takes time, time which could be used ad­vanc­ing a ca­reer and mov­ing up the pay scale.

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