Saturday, 13 April 2013

Living in the Red

Many of us are aware of the sorry state of pay equality in Ontario but are uninformed of its full breadth. To that end, the Equal Pay Coalition (EPC) has declared April 9 Equal Pay Day in Ontario. It is an important day meant to address and raise awareness of the woeful gender pay gap in Ontario, which currently stands at about 28%.

On April 9, the EPC asked people to wear red in order to highlight the fact that female workers are “in the red” as compared to male workers and to show support for efforts being made to close the gender pay gap. Gender pay inequality is an issue 365 days a year and the EPC’s efforts to reserve at least one day to bring attention to this issue is admirable and highly called for.

Why there is a Gender Pay Gap – Education & Socialization

While there may be many causes of the gender pay gap, one significant factor is education. There are presently more female university students than there are male[1]. Yet women tend to earn less than males when exiting university. This has been attributed to the selection of different Majors. Males, for instance, are more likely to study more lucrative technical fields, while women are more likely to study less lucrative fields like social sciences or the arts. As a result, female workers are more concentrated in professions with traditionally lower pay[2]. This could account for the gap to some extent, but not for the difference in study choices.

Though it may be tempting to say that women simply have different interests than men and conclude the matter there, the truth is more complex. Evidence suggests that gender differences are not inborn. They are learned behaviours. Parental and social expectations go a long way toward shaping how a person will act. Almost from the get-go, gender-specific toys and/or giving gender based assignments shape a child and begin the process of socialization.[3] Stated another way, girls are taught to be “girls” and boys are taught to be “boys.” Such gender socialization perpetuates the pay equity gap and contributes to lower pay among women throughout their lives and increases the likelihood of poverty among retired women.

Gender socialization greatly impacts a gender’s belief about its chances for success. Even where the genders share the same study preferences if there’s a difference among them in their belief about success in a given field, they’ll pursue different areas of study[4]. That being said, women have been found to have similar confidence in their abilities as men in fields like engineering. The reason women are under-represented in this field is likely because women don’t believe they’ll enjoy studying engineering[5]. The reason, however, that this belief exists could be that girls are raised to put a premium on more “feminine” things. Thus, while there might be a similar belief in ability, the belief that success in a field will be fulfilling or unfulfilling may be on account of socialization.

Girls are socialized to believe they must live up to different expectations than men. Many girls are raised with images of Disney princesses and trained to ascribe too much importance to beauty. Girls are raised to think that it doesn’t matter if they can solve a quadratic equation if they’re not traditionally “pretty” and feminine. To be beautiful is the greatest success. Fields relating to math, science and technology don’t fit this bill. These fields simply are not as much a part of the expectations for females as they are for males. This is despite the fact that there’s no evidence women can’t be as successful as men in these fields. Different societal expectations lead to different beliefs and result in lower interest among women in pursuing such interests. Women are steered away from technical fields by social expectations, not by a lack of ability.

Motherhood

On top of the challenges women face in the educational sphere, the belief that women will have children that will interrupt their career progression negatively impacts the view of female job applicants in the eyes of prospective employers[6]. Motherhood has been found to lead to a reduction in women’s wages and an increase in the gender pay gap. Motherhood often leads to an absence from the labour force, diminished work-experience and a preference for more flexible work schedules, such as those attained via part-time work. Thus even when a woman can overcome the negative effects of socialization there is still another hurdle to equal pay.

Closing the Gap – Changing Expectations

Evidence has shown that the best way to close the gender pay gap is through the encouragement of women and girls to not merely believe but to know that they can perform just as well as men in any field, and to encourage interests in those fields once demonstrated.[7] The source of the next great scientific advancement could be fulminating in the mind of a young girl at this very moment. However, if she grows up with the false belief that science is the rightful domain of her brothers and that she should turn her attention to something more “feminine” we could all suffer an inestimable loss. The broader question is why jobs traditionally filled by females pay less.

So what is the rationale for valuing female contributions to society at such a discount compared to male contributions? The answer might just be deceptively simply after all. Given the history of struggle women have had to go through merely to be recognized as “persons”, the reason why traditionally female jobs are undervalued may be because women have traditionally been undervalued. The current situation has gone on for far too long; it cannot be allowed to continue. Girls and women must not be forced to live in the red because of social expectations and the realities of motherhood. No woman should be forced by gender-based factors to live out her golden years in poverty. There must be a change. There must be an Equal Pay Day.

To learn more about the gender pay gap issue and to ask Premier Wynne to declare April 9 Equal Pay Day in this province, just as President Obama did in America on April 17, 2012[8], the EPC’s website may be visited here: http://www.equalpaycoalition.org/

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