A teacher assigns a group project. She divides the class into groups of five students. One of the groups consists of Jake, Joanne, Molly, Agnes, and Andrea. The students divide their work equally, each performing a different task but writing the same amount of words. When the teacher assesses the project, she finds it to be excellent across all sections. Per school policy, she then gives an A to Jake, an A- to Joane, another A- to Molly, a B- to Agnes, and a C to Andrea.
This example highlights the basics of how the gender pay gap works around the world: women earn less than men. Nonetheless, race, ethnicity, geographical location, education, industry, and many other factors also play a role and make some women more vulnerable to income inequality.
The gender pay gap refers to the averaged difference in earnings between men and women across all industries and jobs; it measures inequality. Though women have increasingly joined the workforce in the past decades, their jobs are not equally recognized. Lots of research exists on the causes and consequences of this phenomenon within the United States. However, global research conducted by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and the European Commission shows that it is a global occurrence.
How It Works
The global gender pay gap emphasizes the flaws of a system that was created for and by men. Industries which men have historically participated in, and which remain predominantly male, tend to have higher salaries than predominantly female ones. Rather than a mere contextual coincidence, the gender pay gap benefits from a historically sexist system that undermines women’s work.
Many academics like to emphasize that the gender gap is different from “equal pay”. Many Western countries now have policies in place which provide legal support for women who are paid less than their male counterparts. However, policy tends to overlook the problems which lead to the gaps in the first place. It fails to account for the many reasons why women may still experience significant wage gaps, without it being necessarily employer discrimination. For example, since women are excluded from educational spaces worldwide, they may only have the credentials to apply for lower-paying jobs. The issue of educational access would then have to be solved in order for women to advance into higher-paying positions. This is also why, in certain places of the world where there is deep-rooted racism in the system, women of certain races are more affected by the gap. At the current rate in the U.S., Black women will have to wait until the year 2130, while Hispanic women will have to wait until 2224 for equal pay!
Worldwide statistics vary from country to country, and geographical locations play a major role. Data from the International Labour Organization shows that, in 2016, the country with the biggest gender wage gap was South Korea. Research shows that such a statistic can be justified by outdated sexist beliefs, like the unemployability of women due to motherhood. The same data demonstrated that middle-income countries have smaller gender pay gaps, mainly because women are underrepresented across the workforce.
To a majority of people, the gender pay gap does not represent a significant threat, because only a few cents are being lost. However, these cents keep building up throughout a woman's life, and by their retirement, a few cents have become hundreds of thousands of dollars. Consequently, since women earn less, they are also less likely to save money throughout their lives, increasing their likeability to rely on social services. The European Commission also found that women's pensions tend to be lower, so they are at higher risk of facing poverty after the age of 65 years old.
The gender pay gap is a topic that encapsulates the complexity of women’s issues worldwide. In some countries, women are underpaid; in some others, they face intense discrimination while employed; and in some regions of the world, they are not able to access education to reach substantial representation in the workforce. This demonstrates that in order to understand women’s issues, one must first uncover every other systemic discrimination and underlying problem that leads to matters like the pay gap in the first place. It also highlights how worldwide issues cannot be purely analyzed from a Western lens, for different contexts lead to different causes and consequences.
The gender pay gap is being bridged mainly through local and national legislation around the world, guided by reports conducted by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Other organizations like the Women’s Foundation have developed equality guidelines for employers and employees in order to close the gap.