Europe has a problem. Women are still not receiving equal pay, nor are their unpaid labour in society taken into account or the fact that they are discriminated against on the job market. On 8 March politicians will still once again pay tribute to the role of women in society. That is not enough to change the status quo.
Lina Gálvez is Professor of Economic History and Gender Studies at Pablo de Olavide University, Seville
Cross-posted from eldiario.es
Translated and edited by BRAVE NEW EUROPE
Once again on February 22nd we commemorated the day of unequal pay, which denounces the number of days worked “free” by women in their jobs. Or put another way, the fact that women would need a work year of almost 14 months to receive the same salary as men. And all this without counting the two hours and fourteen minutes of unpaid work a day that women do more than men according to the latest available Spanish Time Use Survey.
It is true that, on average, women spend 10 percent less time per day doing paid work than men. But men still have 25 percent more time at their disposal per day and a higher average income. The difference in what they are paid is known as the wage gap. This gap ranges from 16%, if we consider the difference in average gross hourly wage; 23%, if we look at the annual wage; and almost 36% if, as the EU does, we calculate the total wage gap by combining the hourly wage gap, with hours worked, and the employment gap – those periods when someone is unemployed..
It is therefore not only an injustice and a real scandal, but also a serious social and economic problem. Despite this, there are those who believe that there is no wage gap because the inequalities can be explained and correspond to differences in training, professional experience, professional commitment – although it is not clear how that can be measured – or the economic sectors that women “choose”.
But curiously, as an article published at eldiario.es on February 22nd reported, the pay gap remains the same in all sectors and professions, with few exceptions. All academic studies inform us that, even when all known variables are calculated, there is always a residue, a difference favourable to men that can only be explained by the fact that men are men and women are women. In short, because there is gender discrimination.
It is also the case that most of these variables, which in theory would be discounting the discrimination effect, have a strong gender bias. For example, the training we choose depends to a large extent on our socialisation, differentiated since childhood, whereby boys are taught greater assertiveness than girls, which favours their professional development within the prevailing culture of companies and institutions today. Training, in turn, is linked to the sector or profession to which we dedicate ourselves: both sectors and professions are strongly segregated by gender mostly because of historical inertia and privileges built around the concept of work or the specific characteristics and technologies of specific professions, or the employers’ tendency to apply gender stereotypes. On the other hand, hours worked or bonuses, which in many cases have to do with simply being present, having the available time and being free of other responsibilities miraculously seem to favour the life-style of men. If bonuses are included the wage gap rises to 44%. I could go on.
First, there must be an acknowledgement that the gap exists. There must also be an admission, as all international bodies do, that we are not only faced with a problem of injustice or non-compliance with the legal framework of most Western democracies. It is a problem which generates inefficiency in our economic and political systems and perpetuates the gender inequality that is so damaging to our societies.
We know that younger and middle-aged women are better trained than men of the same age. Since 2001, in Spain, there have been more women than men of working age with secondary and tertiary education. And yet, women continue to be marginalized, according to every indicator in the book, enjoying less hours, fewer jobs, higher unemployment, and where they have jobs they are more likely to be working part-time. They are segregated both horizontally and vertically, constrained by a “glass ceiling”.
Most women, who continue to bear the social burden of care, are stuck at a level that prevents them from developing a career, and cannot get on the first rung of the ladder that leads to promotion. Not to mention endemically lower wages.
Women are now in the majority as university graduates and their academic results are better than those of men. It is true that that these women are not specialised in the sectors most in demand by the market and it is also true that they still represent less than 30% in science, technology and mathematics careers.
Women must be incorporated more equitably into the labour market, so that men can also become more involved in family care, a fundamental need in an ageing society where the neo-liberal state model does not give priority to public services.
But the problems don’t stop there. The fact that women have worse opportunities and remuneration within the labour market diminishes their power to negotiate time and jobs within the home and feeds back into the stereotype that care is their natural and primary function. Women having a career is seen as something complementary for which remuneration equal with men is not expected. This ultimately explains women’s focus on feminised sectors with poorer working and wage conditions.
With less bargaining power in the family, it is women who are mostly responsible for the care of the household, dependents and “independents”, or those who mostly ask for leave of absence to fulfil care duties. This reinforces a stereotype that affects all women, also those who decide to follow a male career path, without undertaking any care or responsibility for third parties, and who have to doubly prove that they know how to “commit”, ascend, or command like men.
In this way, the market misses out on female talent at a time when global challenges are warning us that we cannot continue along these lines. And the market also misses out on male caregiving capital in ageing societies. The outcome is individualistic behaviour, deflationary economic policies that lead to the privatisation of public services and an increasing dependence on markets. The commodification of an increasing number of aspects of our life, which leaves our well-being to the whim of our participation in the markets, is another new vector generating inequalities that do not favour women, who are the ultimate weavers of solidarity networks.
We have a problem and, contrary to what the president of the Spain, Mariano Rajoy, thinks, it is not only necessary, but urgent to get involved in changing the status quo. Besides intervening in the market, we must also re-determine the distribution of jobs and the amount of time workers spend with their families, which is where the greatest inequalities are generated. How to do this is already the subject of another article. It is only by intervening and focusing on the two sides of the coin, the family and the market, that we can achieve a virtuous circle of equality, rather than a vicious circle of inequality.