Eradicating the gender pay gap would mean attacking women’s freedom

The headline in the Journal.ie article read: “Women in full-time employment work for free for one month each year.” Taken on its own, this is incredibly misleading because the average person will think that women get paid 14pc less than men for working the same hours in the same job.

Delve into the article by Labour Senator, Ivana Bacik, and she explains why the gender pay gap (which is lower than the EU average and about the same as in highly egalitarian Sweden) exists.

Bacik believes one explanation is that in some cases women are being directly discriminated against even though this is illegal. She provides no evidence for this and doesn’t attempt to quantify it.

Her second explanation is that women are much more likely than men to be in lower paid professions like teaching and nursing. This is absolutely true.

Her third explanation is that “women tend to bear a disproportionate burden of caring responsibilities in the home, and thus are likely to work shorter hours than men in many workplaces. For similar reasons, women are less likely to achieve promotions or to be represented in senior management positions.” This is also absolutely true.

Senator Bacik and the Labour party want to see a law passed that will require companies to publish gender pay gap figures each year. Go for it. But there is a crucial angle missing from Bacik’s article – it isn’t even entertained as a possibility – and it is this; perhaps women are more likely than men to work in professions like teaching and nursing, and perhaps they take on more of the caring responsibilities, because they want to.

In other words, the gap is largely the result of choices women freely make and perhaps this is why, even in very feminist-friendly Sweden, a pay gap similar to the one in Ireland continues to exist.

Official EU figures show that the gender pay gap varies by age. Take Ireland. When women are aged 25-34 the pay gap (average pay for women vs average pay for men) is only 2.5pc.

Among the age group 35-44 it is 12pc and by the time women enter the 45-54 age group it has jumped to 18.7pc.

It should be obvious what is going on here; as women enter their thirties and forties they are having children and raising families. So the gender pay gap is really a motherhood pay gap.

The key question then becomes; is this what mothers want? Do they want to put less stress on their careers and the career ladder?

In many cases the answer appears to be yes. For example, CSO data shows that around 75pc of women who work part-time are not looking for more work. In other words, they are happy to be part-time and to balance this with raising a family. Men are much less likely than women to work part-time.

So, what would have to be done to close the gender pay gap entirely? Well, the free choices of hundreds of thousands of women would have to be over-ridden. That would be an attack on the authentic rights of women and that seems a very strange thing to do in the name of feminism.

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