On International Women’s Day 2012, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) has published a fascinating study (really, a series of studies) into developments in the gender pay gap – the amount that men are paid more than women after taking account of various factors that might explain it. And the really bad news is that after narrowing for much of the last half of the 20th century, the gender pay gap has stopped shrinking. From the mid-1990s onwards, the forward march of equal pay globally has halted.
The studies – predominantly using data from the ILO – also found significant differences between countries, and some surprises. Overall, the gender pay gap is worst in Chile, Argentina, Spain and Mexico (bad news for Spanish-speakers!) as well as South Africa – all above 20%. Not surprisingly, several of these are countries with high levels of inequality generally. Brazil, Russia, Colombia and the UK were in the middle range – but the best countries in order were Kazakhstan, Indonesia and the Netherlands (the latter is no surprise, but I bet no one would have guessed the top two!), all 10% or below.
Some findings aren’t surprising, but they sure are depressing. For example, women with children do far worse than men with children – worse than the overall gender gap would imply. That means that the fight for decent maternity provisions, childcare and so on are still absolutely vital to women’s equality.
And while there are definitely sectoral differences, the role of unionisation is clearly positive for women’s wages. The sectors with the lowest gender pay gaps – like public administration – have much higher levels of unionisation than the sectors with big gender pay gaps. And this isn’t just because low wage sectors produce high gender pay gaps (although in retail, hotels and restaurants, and agriculture high gender pay gaps and low wages do go hand in hand): finance has generally high wages, but the gender pay gap there is enormous. That’s no doubt something to do with the fact that those fat-cat salaries and snout-in-the-trough bonuses are going into men’s wallets, not women’s purses!