Gender Wage Gap is an #InternationalWomensDay Myth

08/03/2017 — Leave a comment

It is not true that women in Kenya and the world earn less than men for doing the same job.

gender gap

Once again, the International Women’s Day is here. That time of the year when we reflect on the women around us, their worth, their woes and, hopefully, their better future. So let us bring out our heavy-hitting annual research studies highlighting the plight of women in Kenya and the world.

Life is unfair to all

Life is, more often than not, unfair. We all believe that people should be treated justly and with dignity. A strong sense of justice is hard-wired in all of us. We crave for it and fight for it, whether or not we know the best way to attain it.

However, to what lengths are we willing to go just to push an agenda? One of the most popular claims around this International Women’s Day period is that the average woman still earns less than the average man for the same job.

The global gender gap by World Economic Forum (WEF) is the most quoted study in news stories about how women are paid less than men for the same type of work.

Last year, for instance, the WEF boldly stated that a Kenyan woman makes Sh65 for every Sh100 made by a Kenyan man.

Misleading facts

This is a fact, but it is an irrelevant fact, since it tells us nothing about the gender pay gap. If you examined how researchers arrived at these figures, you will notice the problem immediately.

The gender wage gap figures above are obtained by dividing the average earnings of all women working full time by the average earnings of all men working full-time. The study does not actually go into the details on “the type of work.”

It does not account for differences in type of job, positions, education, job tenure or hours worked per week. The study may as well tell us that there is a gender pay gap between a woman working as a high school principal and a man working as an engineer. It is a fact, yes, but it is an irrelevant fact.

American feminist and scholar, Professor Christina Hoff Sommers of the American Enterprise Institute has severally spoken out against this oft quoted but misleading fact.

In one of her many exposes on the topic, she explains this point better than I ever could:

“Wage gap activists say women with identical backgrounds and jobs as men still earn less. But they always fail to take into account critical variables. They have another  fallback position: that women’s education and career choices are not truly free—they are driven by powerful sexist stereotypes.”

She adds:

“In this view, women’s tendency to retreat from the workplace to raise children or to enter fields like early childhood education and psychology, rather than better paying professions like petroleum engineering, is evidence of continued social coercion.”

Even if a man and a woman were in the same type of job and position, there are still factors such as experience, education, number of hours worked per week etc that could cause a difference in wages. The variables that need to be controlled for to determine an accurate gender pay gap are simply too many. No such study has yet been conducted.

Gender pay gap (traditionally defined as the difference in median income between men and women for the same job type and position) does not exist simply because no scientific study has been done to prove it. We should therefore stop perpetuating this misinformation, even if it supports our cause for gender equality.

Beyond this, we should also question and crush common misconceptions that are often used to reinforce the idea that women are not being treated as equal to men.

Warped worldview

In her 2017 International Women’s Day address, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka betrays a disturbing worldview that often pervades discussions about gender equality.

She says:

“We have to start change at home and in the earliest days of school, so that there are no places in a child’s environment where they learn that girls must be less, have less, and dream smaller than boys.”

Mlambo-Ngcuka’s assumption here seems to be that certain kinds of work are “less” than others; that staying at home to raise future CEOs is “less” than going out to become a CEO.

When the world is viewed through a strictly materialistic lens; where income is the determinant of human worth; where the social clout associated with one’s job type is the standard of one’s value; we end up sabotaging the very cause we think we are promoting.

In other words, our efforts to support women’s participation in economic life should not be promoted at the expense of efforts to encourage men’s participation in domestic life. It goes both ways, and so should our fights and debates about the issue.

Women are simply not getting paid less than men for the same type of work under the same conditions. It is true that social ills like patriachy and sexism will compel women to opt for less paying and less time consuming job, but this is not evidence for a gender pay gap, it is only evidence for a society that forces women to work in types of jobs that pay less while opening doors for men in higher paying jobs.

The difference seems subtle, but it gets obvious with closer scrutiny.

When we keep seeing the kinds of jobs and occupations traditionally undertaken by men as the standard for equality and the measure of human worth, we will keep seeing women as people in need of “raising and lifting up” instead of people in need of love and respect, like all human beings.

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