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The Great Divide

Professor Pavla Jonssonová


14th May, 2008
Tyrone Schiff
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The Great Divide

The concept of gender deals with a variety of different fields. On a psychological

level, the two genders think different to one another. On a physical level, the two genders

look and react differently to one another. The same holds true with the sort of economics

and wages or salaries that are received by each gender. There is no doubt that there is in

fact a difference between the two genders in this regard as well. This particular difference

is a highly controversial topic that plagues individuals who fight for equality amongst the

genders. This paper will attempt to outline some of the most significant current situations

that showcase the gap amongst men and women when it comes to earning money. It will

explore what has happened, what is currently happening, and what ought to happen in

order to reach an equally beneficial result. Furthermore, an analysis of the impact of the

variance in wages amongst men and women will provide some significant perspective on

the issue. Finally, I will take a look at some of the anomalies of this prevailing pattern of

men being paid more than women, and discuss why this may be the case. Ultimately, this

paper will try and delve into the topics that relate to gender salary distortion.

It is far easier said than done to be able to pay both genders equally it appears.

Germany and France were some of the first countries in Europe to formally legislate that

men and women receive equal pay. It took a long time for the rest of Europe to take

notice, however. Perhaps it was due to the Equal Pay Act of 1963 that passed in the

United States that started the domino effect that cascaded through Europe demanding

equal pay for women and men. The United Kingdom, Denmark, Sweden, Norway,

Greece, and Austria all passed legislation during the 1970s (Nergaard). An Equal Pay Act

is a legislative document that is usually put together by people working in Parliament that
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outlines, quite specifically, how men and women ought to be paid for their work

(Nergaard). Equal Pay Acts typically prohibit discriminatory behavior to one gender or

another, for example the following would be considered illegal, “paying different wages

to employees of different sexes, if their respective jobs require equal ‘skill, effort and

responsibility’ and are performed under the same conditions” (Lawyers.com). That seems

like a very reasonable regulation to have in place. People ought to be compensated

equally for their efforts regardless of gender. However, employers are also given a lot of

influence in paying wages protected by the Equal Pay Act. For instance, an employer can

cite that there is a disparity in wages due to, “A seniority salary system […] A system that

bases salary on quantity or quality of production, any factor other than sex”

(Lawyers.com). So, while the Equal Pay Act was a step in the right direction, there is also

a tremendous amount of pitfalls and loopholes to it that have been exploited.

To truly understand how this difference in wages for men and women play out,

consider the example of the current strike that is going on amongst female Danish nurses.

For just over a month now, the nurses in Denmark have been on strike requesting more

competitive wages. Though the nursing profession is composed of both males and

females, the strike is by those nurses working in the public sector rather than the private

sector. The ratio of females to males in the public sector is staggeringly more than those

in the private sector where the ratio is about even (Inquirer.net). Aside from nurses,

midwives, physiotherapists, nursing aides, laboratory technicians, retirement home

workers, and daycare assistants have all joined together in the struggle towards equal pay

for men and women. At this point there is some 100,000 workers at strike which has

caused over 40,000 cancelled operations and has brought Denmark’s healthcare system to
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a screeching and terrifying halt (Inquirer.net). Their demands are clear and simple. They

are looking for a 15 percent wage increase over the next three years in order to be in line

with the current wages of those working in the private sector. Employers have only

offered an increase of 12.8 percent, which has obviously not sat well with the nurses.

Striking nurses is not a new phenomenon in Europe, especially not in the Nordic

countries. Last November, nurses in Finland demanded a wage increase of 22 to 28

percent otherwise they threatened to all resign. Soon after the Danish nurses went on

strike, Swedish nurses decided to get in on the action and also began striking. They are

looking for a 4,000 Swedish kronor wage increase. The strikes have caused absolute

mayhem in the countries different healthcare industries and have created a mess for local

and national governments. Grethe Christensen, the head of the European Federation of

Nurses Associations, said “the problem of underpaid public sector health care workers

exist across Europe and these conflicts will be inevitable in the future, as the anger is

smoldering and erupting as we've already seen in the Nordic countries” (Inquirer.net).

This is an unfortunate sign of the immense and truly deep-rooted gap that exists between

male and female workers. The nursing population in Denmark is primarily female, and all

of these strikes are just a testament to the unequal pay that they receive. Danish women

receive a mere 81 Danish kronor for every 100 Danish kronor that men make, and this

divide is easily seen in this situation (Inquirer.net).

But what is the big deal either way? In most of these cases, all the difference

we’re discussing is mere 20 cents here or there. How can 20 cents out of every dollar be

that big of a deal? Essentially, when you extrapolate those kinds of figures over a

lifetime, the losses become tremendous. Women will typically be paid over a lifetime
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between $700,000 and $2 million (Murphy). That is a significant amount of money that

won’t be able to be used on paying the mortgage, repaying loans, paying for insurance, or

other common things. Ultimately, this makes women a lot more dependent on a male

counterpart to bring in sufficient money to be able to take care of a family. The prospect

of women being able to get paid the same as men seems bleak, if likely at all, but even

still there is some hope.

Although there are countless stories of instances where women are being paid less

for doing the same work as men with absolutely no repercussions to the employer, there

are reasons to believe that things can get better. Sarah Daly has a job in the United

Kingdom in which she was receiving £4,000 less than her male counterpart there

(BBCNews.com). Sarah needed to do something to fight this outrageous wage divide.

With the help of the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC), which promotes gender

equality and tackles sex discrimination, Sarah brought her case before a tribunal

expressing grievances about her lack of pay for equal work. The EOC is an extremely

helpful service that came into existence following the passage of the Sex Discrimination

Act of 1975 (Wikipedia.org). The problem with bringing cases before a tribunal is the

fact that they often take extremely long amounts of time to resolve cases. For instance,

even with the help of the EOC, it took Sarah Daly 18 months for her case to be settled out

of court (BBCNews.com). On average, it takes close to two years, and if the woman

chooses to take on the tribunal individually, the pay discrepancy is almost never resolved.

Sarah Daly explains the hardship that she encountered in bringing her case to the tribunal,

“You've got to be quite confident. It was the anger that kept me going because you have
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to be quite sure you want an answer from them - because they can argue all sorts of

irrelevant reasons for why you get paid the amount you do.”

Yet there are always two sides to every coin. There have been some interesting

new findings as we monitor more and more women entering the workforce and become

notable and significant contributors to it. Only within the last 50 years have women truly

started to enter the workforce en masse. Today, you can find women in all different

occupations, whether it be doctors, lawyers, accountants, or engineers. This is a relatively

new playing field for women in general. According to Princeton Economist, Alan

Krueger, who does research on how happy people are in their daily lives, he explains that

there appears to be a growing happiness gap between men and women (Leonhardt). In the

1970s, women reported to be slightly happier, on average, than men, but today the two

have switched places. Mr. Krueger explains these findings, “Since the 1960s, men have

gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.

Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work — and, as a result,

are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past”

(Leonhardt). This is an unfortunate reality that has to coincide with the struggle to attain

equal pay for both genders. Additionally, it doesn’t appear as though this fight is going to

be won anytime soon, which means that it is a long time still for happy days to return for

women.

According to a study done by the Centre for Economic Performance at the

London School of Economics, “women could earn less than men for the next 150 years”

(ExpressIndia.com). The study cites the continuance of discrimination in the workforce

and ineffective government policies as the chief reasons for the very slow projection of
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equality. Each generation of women typically perform a little better and make further

strides in their battle to achieve equality, but the process has apparently slowed

dramatically and has only improved slightly since the last generation. Clearly, the study

points towards the role of government and the inherent discrimination as key

contributors. In order to overcome this 150 year obstacle, it will have to start with

changing governmental policies and shifting societal paradigms (ExpressIndia.com).

However, both of these things take a great deal of time to achieve. Beyond these

elements, there are some other explanations as to why the gap exists between the two

genders.

Warren Farrell, an American author of the book, Why Men Earn More: The

Startling Truth Behind the Pay Gap – and What Women Can Do About It, explains that

people who make more money in a particular field simply happen to work more hours.

He goes on to identify 25 different lifestyle choices that men and women take that end up

having a direct effect on their paycheck. For instance, men are more likely than woman to

“relocate for work, take on hazardous assignments, […] and work in unpleasant

environments” (Sahadi). These all come back to his contention that it is just about the

time you put in. On the other hand, however, Farrell believes that women, although they

make less money, are better able to achieve a solid work-life balance, because they don’t

constantly force themselves to work. Farrell found that even among highly paid women,

those who make over $100,000, they are more likely than men at the same pay level to

forfeit some pay in exchange for more free time (Sahadi).

This does not, however, mean that women are completely falling back in their

fight towards equality. Rather, in recent years, women have made significant strides in a
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number of occupations. An article published by CNNMoney cites 39 different

occupations in which the median pay is greater for women than it is for men (Sahadi).

The top three fields in which women are making more money than men include: sales

engineers, statisticians, and legislators. In these occupations, women are making 43, 35,

and 33 percent more than their male counterparts, respectively (Sahadi). It is important to

take notice of the fact that these are all significant occupations that are critical in society.

Women are making their mark in some of the most essential parts of our society.

Ultimately, there is still a great divide between the pay that male and female

workers receive and something must be done about it if we are going to achieve equality.

I think that the Nordic countries are leading the way in progressing their own societies

and the rest of Europe to a more equal status of pay, even if it only starts with nurses first.

It is vital to tackle the ever lingering discrimination that exists, because if this continues

then the 150 year estimate may be a very conservative one. Governmental input will also

have to be necessary in order for the equality in wages to occur, but there is a lot of

bureaucracy in government, so changing policies and implementing new ones will be

difficult. However, I believe that so long as women have a voice, they will work towards

equality and will ultimately attain it.


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