Gender Pay Gap NZ -Are women choosing to be paid less?

Are women choosing to be paid less?

Jess Berentson-ShawTax and Welfare

Last week we heard that women earn significantly (14% to be exact) less than men. Today we heard that the gender pay gap is the same in the public sector, although it is up to 39% in some organisations. But the use of this these figures have been questioned by some commentators.

Floating around the discussion on the gender pay gap is the idea that women are choosing to be paid less because they prefer to work part time. This idea sounds like it is coming from a man (and sure enough it is), but perhaps the evidence will back him up?

How is the gender pay gap calculated? 

We can all agree on the facts: women get paid less per hour because more women work part time than men and part time work comes with a lower pay rate. This makes it hard to compare women and men’s salaries. Statistics New Zealand and the Pay Equity Commission addresses this issue by measuring the gender pay gap based on hourly earnings between genders. This comparison tells us that women earn less than men per hour regardless of whether they are part time or full time, casual or in some other work arrangement.

There are many reasons why women get paid less than men; we have looked at them previously and seen that the different factors and causes can be really hard to disentangle.

But Eric Crampton disagrees with Statistics NZ and the Pay Equity Commission and argues that this 14% figure is not a true measure of the gender pay gap.

What is the source of disagreement?

Crampton and others argue that people who work part time accept this lower pay rate because:

  1. they CHOOSE to work part time,
  2. make this choice because of all the benefits they experience from part time work, and
  3. part time work is more costly to employers.

Crampton concludes that it would be fairer to compare the full time pay rates of men and women. The outcome of this would be to reduce the pay gap to 8%.

What does that imply?  

Given that women work part time more than men, Crampton is implying that women systematically choose to work part time far more than men do. We wonder if that is the case or whether other factors might be at play. The Morgan Foundation adopts an evidence based approach and to us Crampton’s assumptions raise a number of possible research questions:

  1. Are women genetically predisposed to prefer to work part time (maybe as a gender they really like relaxing)? Or do they feel that they have to given their circumstances – such as rearing children or providing care to family members?
  2. Do more men actually want to work part time but feel like they can’t because their jobs are inflexible?
  3. Do woman decide to go part time because they earn less than their partner – in other words does this ‘choice’ simply exacerbate the existing gender pay gap
  4. Do ‘costs to the employer’ fully explain the lower rates women receive when they work part time?
  5. We also wonder if working part time actually does give you more flexibility in hours than working full time?

The reality is that Crampton might be right when it comes to some women and some men who work part time. However, we doubt that as a gender women are predisposed to choose part time work more than men do. We think it is more likely that women are working just as much as men do – perhaps more – it is just that they are doing a lot more unpaid work that offers important value to our society and economy.

However the Morgan Foundation is evidence based, so we won’t rush to that conclusion. Since these issues come up pretty frequently, we are going to find out what the evidence actually says and will report back.

Are women choosing to be paid less? was last modified: October 19th, 2016 by Jess Berentson-Shaw
About the Author

Jess Berentson-Shaw

Dr Jess Berentson-Shaw is a science researcher working for the Morgan Foundation. Jess holds a PhD in Health Psychology from Victoria University. Jess has over 10 years’ experience working on applying science and evidence to public policy. She worked on improving the use of science in public health practice in NZ, before working as a Research Fellow at University College in London, where she researched how doctors and clinicians translate scientific evidence into their clinical practice. While in the UK she also developed a national data collection system, which was used to determine what factors contribute to poor outcomes for women and babies during pregnancy and birth. On her return to New Zealand she directed a research group that specialised in the independent evaluation and application of research and science to health policy and practice. Jess loves science and what it can do to make the world a fairer place.