[Ed – This is Part II of a two-part series by Robert Henderson. You can find Part I here.]
Types of working which make equal pay impossible
There are large sections of the working population in countries such as the UK who are remunerated in ways which makes equal pay impossible. These are:
Self-employment – A large and growing part of the working age population in the UK. The latest official figures are 4.8 million.
Piece work – A sizeable proportion of the population receive all or part of their income from piece work.
Commission – A sizeable proportion of the population receive all or part of their income from commission.
Bonuses for meeting targets – These are found in both private enterprise employers and public service employers.
Loyalty and experience pay rises – Much of public sector employment includes graduated increases based on the number of years served. These serve as rewards for experience and loyalty. Some private businesses operate the same type of schemes. Women on average will be less likely than men to get such increases because they will probably have some sort of break in their careers if they have children. But that does not mean women are being discriminated against. Rather, it is simply that they are not meeting the qualifying criteria.
These types of remuneration cover many millions of people in the UK. Is anyone seriously going to suggest making them illegal?
But even where the form of remuneration makes equal pay in principle possible, there may be good reason not to give equal pay even to people employed to do the same job. These reasons are:
Not all workers are equally able .
Not all workers are equally diligent.
Competence will grow with experience.
The value of a person may rest on their reputation. This is particularly true of people in show-business or modelling. It would plainly be absurd to, for example, expect that actors and actresses should be paid the same simply because they are working on the same film. A film is a commercial enterprise and the employment of a particular actor of actresses can make a considerable difference to its commercial success. A similar argument applies to models.
The selection of someone to do a job
In the end the qualities required do a job and their assessment of an applicant have to be a matter of judgement by the employer who will be trying to satisfy themselves on these points:
Does the person have the any necessary formal qualifications for the job?
Is the person overqualified for the job?
Does the person have the right experience?
Does the person have good references from previous employers?
Does the person seem to be someone who gets along with people generally?
Does the employer feel they can get on with the person?
Does the person seem to have initiative?
The consideration of these questions give rational grounds for differential pay before an applicant has even begun work.
Men and women are not interchangeable in the workplace
Clearly there are significant numbers of jobs which women cannot do at all or as well as men on average for reasons of bodily strength. It is true that the numbers of such jobs are considerably fewer than they were 50 years ago, but there are still plenty of them, for example in construction, where the average woman would struggle to match the average man. To that type of job can be added work such as police officers which require people who can deal physically with violent offenders.
Then there are jobs which in principle men or women could both do with equally facility but which are favoured by one sex or another. Primary school teachers tend to be women; engineers tend to be men.
On the grounds of biology alone the idea that men and women would naturally have the same desire on average to gravitate in the same numbers to the same sorts of jobs is dubious. To start from the most obvious difference, women have babies. Amongst mammals it is overwhelmingly the female which takes the main burden of rearing the young. It would be very odd indeed if homo sapiens was radically different in terms of a basic biological driver such as the maternal instinct.
Women with children tend to work in jobs which fit around childcare. Many of those jobs are low skilled and even when skilled are often part-time. Either from choice or necessity women take these jobs to attend to the care of their children. As most women want have children this inevitably means that the average pay for women is going to be lower than that of men.
Half a century of state sponsored urging has not worked
Legislation banning discriminatory pay in the UK has been around for since 1970 when the Equal Pay Act was passed. Since that time there has been a huge amount of public urging by politicians, the media and academia to get women to aspire to traditionally male work. The idea of the working mother is no longer looked down upon, at least in public discussion. More and more women have gone on to higher education until they now substantially outnumber men. In addition, the shape of the UK economy has changed considerably with manual jobs much reduced. All of these things would seem to bolster the idea of male and female pay equality. Yet women still show a marked preference for traditional women’s jobs, part time working and taking career breaks to have children.
None of this means that no women will want to do jobs which are considered traditionally male jobs or that no men will want to do jobs considered traditionally female jobs. But it does mean that most women will be drawn to jobs traditionally occupied by women not because there are societal barriers against it but as a result of biologically driven circumstances and motivations. Once that is accepted, the fact that on average the pay of women is significantly less than that of men will not mean that employers are often wilfully underpaying women but instead are simply reflecting female choices. At worst there is no great general wrong done to women in the workplace; at best the gender pay gap, when properly analysed, is too small to cause concern. It may even be non-existent.