Erm, Hello?

Whether it\’s in the tax system, welfare, education or criminal policy, the effect of any action by the state can produce new problems, as well as new benefits. Much of the real job of parliament and the civil service is to find and point out the glitches while there\’s still time. So when Nicola Brewer, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, asked whether increased maternity leave might have the perverse result of holding women back because employers would flinch from hiring them, she should be applauded for raising the question.

You know, some of us have been saying this for some time: indeed, some of us have beeen trying to point out that it is precisely this which (in part) produces the gender pay gap. Still at least it\’s being openly discussed now.

You could take a brutal approach. You could say nobody has to have children and so no special privilege should be given to those who freely choose to be breeders. If employers shun women of childbearing age, at least that\’s good news for older people, and for gay people, and perhaps for ethnic minorities discriminated against in the past. Behind their hands, many say families are already too privileged. Let parents ask for flexible working, they say, but let employers discriminate.

Indeed, that is one valid approach.

Yet the minute you start to examine that proposal, it falls apart. For a start, it operates against all women, not just mothers.

But the current system discriminates against all women as well: for it is not just the taking of maternity leave but the possibility of someone taking it….as the article already states.

And with highly qualified women pouring out of higher education into our service-based economy, we can\’t afford to turn young women away. That would be horrendously retrogressive, and economically stupid.

There\’s no suggestion of "turning women away". Only that if women cost more to employ for a certain level of production then women will, in general, be paid less than those who cost less for that level of production. We can have these maternity rules, no problem…..we just have to accept at the same time that there will be that gender pay gap.

We might indeed wish that this were not so but then the universe isn\’t here to pander to our desires.

It\’s worth noting that some other societies have taken a rather different approach. I believe that in Sweden for example there is paternity pay and the possible sharing of paid leave between men and women as they themselves desire. We might also note that the gender pay gap there is 15% as opposed to our own 17%….that doesn\’t solve the problem either.

It might just be that there is no solution to this….that, in general and on average, because women do take some years out of the workforce to bear and raise their children, that in general and on average, women will get paid less*.


* (Please note that no one is talking about different pay for the same job. We\’re all talking about the average hourly pay of men and women across the economy, for that is indeed what everyone uses as their measure here.)



1 thought on “Erm, Hello?”

  1. Tim,

    One part of the problem which I don’t believe I’ve seen you mention before will be single motherhood. I forget what the latest scary figure is, 1 million or 2 million single mothers, I assume that huge numbers of single mother will either be forced into part time work or generally just take whatever work they can get where the employer will let them fit their hours around their kids.

    What is the pay differential between single mothers and married mothers, and married mothers and married men?

    Surely there can be only one answer we must set a target of 50% of custody cases being awarded to men! ;o)

    Tim adds: As far as I’m aware the ONS (which are the figures everyone uses) doesn’t collect wage figures connected with marital status. So the short answer is: dunno.

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