Last year, I wrote an article on the double standards that exist in today’s society. One of the double standards mentioned was the gender wage gap. I have argued fervently about the unfairness of such a gender wage gap – especially with my older brother, who held
an opposing point of view. However, over the last few months, I started to question that opinion as I started to see other sides to this argument. While I still believe there is a wage gap between men and women, I think it is not necessarily due to just the gender difference. Here’s why:
Proponents of the gender wage gap theory argue for every dollar a man earns, a woman
on average only earns ¢77 for doing the same work. Hanna Rosin, author of “The End of Men” gives a plausible explanation as to why that is so. In an article in Slate magazine, Rosin wrote that “while this difference in wages gives the impression that a man and woman standing next to each other doing the same job for the same number of hours get paid different salaries, that is not at all the case”. While wage statistics from the Bureau of Labour Department for “full time” employees define “full time” as 35 hours of work per week, the reality is that men work more hours than women.
According to the 2015 American Time Use Survey by the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, full-time employed men work 8.2 hours per day compared to women who work 7.8 hours per day. While this may not seem to be a rather large difference, it means that full time employed men work 14 extra hours per month on average. This is why Rosin notes that “we could be comparing men working 40 hours to women working 35.” That does not mean that there are no cases of women being paid less than men for doing the same job and working the same number of hours as the men. What it does mean is that it is incorrect to conclude from the wage-gap data that women on average aren’t paid as much as men for working the same number of hours.
It is human tendency to jump to conclusions without looking deeper. An interesting development that took place last year highlights this tendency.
On July 19th, 2017, BBC published the names of 96 high-earning employees who earn at least £150,000 ($195,000) a year. It is interesting how the subsequent discussion in public forums was focussed not on the absolute level of pay, but instead on the difference in salaries earned by men and women. Arguments were made that while men make up slightly over half the BBC’s staff count, over two-thirds of the high-earning employees were men. Some women workers at BBC who discovered that they earned less than the people they viewed as peers claimed in a petition that this was evidence that women at BBC are paid less than men for the “same work.” While there may be some truth in that argument, another study based on data collected by Korn Ferry on 8.7 million people worldwide concluded that women in Britain make just less than 1% than men who have the same function and level at the same employer. What these two apparently conflicting conclusions highlight is that while the average salary for women in Britain is 29% lower than the average salary for men, there are many reasons other than gender that could contribute to this gap. These reasons would include differences in the nature of the job chosen by men and women, differences in ranks and differences in firm’s overall compensation rates. So, the main issue here that needs to be addressed is why are there more women in lower paying jobs and at lower rank positions in work? How can we, as a society, solve this
While arguing with my peers on this topic, one of them mentioned how Serena Williams, despite being one of the best female tennis players, is paid less than her male counterparts. Here’s a possible reason as to why: While it is universally accepted that women tennis players work just as hard as male tennis players, women’s tennis games do not garner the same viewership as men’s tennis games. Taking the specific case of Serena Williams, the viewership in Australia for the Serena Williams vs. Garbine Muguruza match in the Wimbledon’s 2015 finals was 700,000 while the men’s finals match garnered 1.2 million viewers. While it is convenient to use the sexism card to argue that Serena Williams deserves to be paid equal to the top male tennis player, the commercial reality does not support that argument. Serena Williams’ salary is a reflection of how much of an audience she can attract. And if some of her matches have gathered an audience equal to that of Roger Federer’s as an example, then I wholeheartedly agree that her salary should be equal to that of Roger Federer.
Sexism exists in our society. As women, we are subjected to many double standards, such as having to follow certain unwritten guidelines on choosing what clothes to wear in certain cultures. But I would hesitate to view every difference between men and women through the black-or-white lens of the double standard. As highlighted in the tennis example above, there are areas of grey which plausibly explains why disparities exist. And the possibility of such grey areas underlies my belief that if women are treated a little differently from men, it might not always be the case that people assume that women are weaker. Undoubtedly, there are certain jobs where women in equal positions as men are not paid as much as their male peers. But that’s not always the case. Double standards exist, but sometimes, we need to take a step back and ask the question: is this really a double standard?