Good Lord!

Polly\’s got it!

It\’s a motherhood gap, not a gender pay gap!

The Office for National Statistics reported yesterday that women in their 40s earn 20% less per hour than their male counterparts. This is the motherhood penalty – and the more children a woman has, the wider the gap. Young women start out earning almost the same, deluded by beating boys at exams. Motherhood knocks most out of the running.

Hurrah! Facts and logic come into play!

Only 24% of parliamentary seats are occupied by women, 20% in the UK (but celebrate Spain\’s new 50% female cabinet); 90% of top EU company boards are men. Women dominate primary school teaching, men run universities.

Mmmhm, hmm. The motherhood gap will explain much of that: taking a few years out of the workforce does make it more difficult to reach the top of the greasy pole, this is true.

The UK has the largest pay gap – no surprise – both cause and effect of Britain\’s shameful status as the EU\’s most unequal country.

Not sure that this is true. Of course, it depends upon how you actually measure it (some places use monthly pay, some hourly etc) but according to this report it isn\’t in fact true.

Womens\’ wages as a percentage of mens\’ is, on average, 78.6% across the EU economies (old EU that is). The UK is at 82%, exactly the same as Sweden, and thus above average. Germany, Portugal and Austria are the laggards.

For as long as the minimum wage stays below a living wage, woman and children will stay poor.

Raise the minimum wage and women will be unemployed, not just poor.

Where does it all begin? The motherhood penalty starts in pregnancy, when 30,000 women lose their jobs, never mind what the law says.

No, it doesn\’t. It starts before they become pregnant: it starts because they might become pregnant. Pregnancy and the associated maternity leave imposes costs upon employers. They are being entirely rational (and yes, we do need to note that not all individually rational behaviour creates in sum the outcome we would prefer) in offering those who might become pregnant either lower wages or not offering them a job at all. Summed up that means that the motherhood gap starts before pregnancy. It\’s worth noting that those considered unlikely to have children (lesbians in one study) don\’t suffer the pay gap, nor do women who have passed their fertile years without having any (single, never married childless women do not have a pay gap, in fact, they earn fractionally more than their male peers).

The heavy penalty for motherhood in loss of earnings and good jobs keeps women in their place.

In one way Polly\’s right (leave her maunderings about pink and Barbie aside). Yes, the motherhood pay gap is indeed a result of the way in which society is structured. But no, it\’s not to keep women down, nor to oppress or support the patriarchy. It is simply that those who take one, two or three several year breaks from the workforce will be disadvantaged, by their own choice, against those who do not. Further, that possibility of those breaks will mean less investment by employers in training and the development of human capital.

And the expense to employers of those breaks will mean that those who migh take such breaks suffer a certain portion of that disadvantage.

As above, this is all entirely rational and understandable. the incentives are structured this way. To change the behaviour you have to change the incentives.

Like, for example, reduce statutory maternity leave to three months: if you don\’t come back at that point your job is gone. Don\’t like that? OK, put up with the motherhood gap in pay then.

Well, at least we\’ve one cause for celebration. Polly\’s now recognised that it\’s motherhood, not gender discrimination.

Update: Polly writes back! After telling me to get a life (ahem) she points me here. Indeed, the EU stats do show a 30% pay gap for the UK.

However, they seem to be including all private sector employees (actualy, also excluding small companies). So we\’ve got both the gender (or motherhood) pay gap plus the well known one that part timers make less than full timers per hour (of either or any sex). When you\’ve got, as we do in the UK, many more women part timers in the labour force than other countries then this is going to skew results.

So, her figure is correct, but doesn\’t mean all that much.

6 thoughts on “Good Lord!”

  1. Good stuff, Polly does have her lucid moments.

    The answer is simple, scrap means-tested Child Tax Credits and increase non-means tested Child Benefit for the first two or three kids – that evens up the gap in £-s-d. Then get rid of the elements of tax/welfare/legal system that encourage single-motherhood and encourage divorce – assuming that parent-couples pool their income and expenses, there would be no ‘spending power’ gender gap, for that is what matters.

  2. BlacquesJacquesShellacques

    We need a study on the type of employees, and their pay, for those hired by women.

    Does Toynbee have a secretary? How much is she paid?

    When Toynbee starts going into stores and saying “I see you employ women of child bearing age so I will therefore pay you 5% over the ticketed price for that tofu/organic bean sprouts/Marxist rant/Rosicrucian book/Environmentalist stuff of some useless sort or other…”, then I will..I was going to say take her seriously, but if she did offer more money to shopkeepers I would think her loonier than I already do.

  3. Actually, another way of looking at this is that men were historically paid a higher wage as a ‘family wage’ which was an employers implicit recognition that the men were not going to take a job that left them unable to support their families and so needed a wage that covered their family as well.

    Men who continue in work (and after all they would have difficulty having the pregnancy on behalf of their partner) will be paid more not only because they can continue their careers but also because they will be the sole breadwinner for periods of the child’s upbringing.

    I’m not saying it’s right or wrong – just that there are rational explanations for it and it’s not just down to imperialist phallic masculine oppression of the sisterhood.

  4. BlacquesJacquesShellacques

    Good point Stephen B.

    Maybe it’s because we men die younger and it’s small compensation for 7 years of lost life.

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