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Mar 7, 2014

Get Fact: do men make much more than women for the same job?

Australian men are said to earn 17.1% more than Australian women, and even those in the same jobs are paid 10% more just for being men. Right? Well, not exactly ...

Everyone knows there is a double-digit “gender pay gap” in Australia. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency, using Australian Bureau of Statistics figures, puts that gap at 17.1%. In September last year it was 17.5%, according to the agency.

“The gender pay gap is the difference between women’s and men’s average weekly full-time equivalent earnings, expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings,” WGEA’s Clare Buttner explained to Crikey. “The gap is currently 17.1% and has hovered between 15% and 18% for the past two decades. We also know there are pay gaps in favour of men in every industry and in all roles, including in female-dominated industries.”

Even men and women at the same stage of their careers are paid wildly differently, with the WGEA reporting that the average salary for male graduates in 2012 (the latest year for which data was available) was $55,000, whereas for female graduates it was $50,000.

“While it is argued that the pay gap is caused by women who consciously choose not to pursue senior management and leadership roles due to caring responsibilities, research has shown that the pay gap exists from the time women first enter the workforce and applies to most types and levels of work. Having a degree also doesn’t prevent the pay gap, and graduate starting salaries for women are often less than those for men,” Buttner said.

An outrageous example of institutional sexism, right? Well, not exactly. Recalling what Mark Twain said about the three kinds of lies, Crikey took a closer look at the statistics. And it turns out the gender pay gap for male and female graduates performing the same work is much, much smaller.

To find that 10% disparity, the WGEA used data from Graduate Careers Australia, which collects information on starting salaries for recent graduates in a number of fields. The WGEA compared the average male graduate salary with the average female graduate salary, but GCA says this isn’t a fair comparison. It issued a statement disputing the government agency’s conclusions:

“The large $5000 pay gap favouring males observed at the overall level can be attributed, at least in part, to the fact that males tend to be overrepresented in higher-paying fields such as engineering. In addition, some of the larger wage gaps are observed in fields with relatively low response numbers (e.g. dentistry, optometry) which could make them unreliable.”

GCA report author Bruce Guthrie told Crikey the WGEA had made some “mistaken assumptions” about the figures: “The gap between sexes is far smaller than they posited. The key issue they missed in terms of their assumptions were that the figures we presented did not take into account the different types of work people were doing … People in different areas can have different earnings, and sometimes you find also there can be differences in terms of choices made by males and females.”

Buttner countered that WGEA “did not misrepresent or change the data in any way”. “Pay gaps at the graduate level are harder to justify because some of the common factors that contribute to pay inequity, for example time out of the workforce for children, are unlikely to have had an impact on the lives of new graduates.”

Crikey took a closer look at GCA’s 2012 data and found that the average starting salary for male graduates is not actually much higher than that of female graduates in most fields. In fact, in the fields of computer science, earth sciences, engineering, pharmacy, physical sciences and social sciences, the average female starting salary was higher. And in agricultural science, biological science, education, humanities, medicine, psychology and veterinary science, there wasn’t much difference.

There was a big disparity in the fields of architecture and denistry in favour of men, but whether that is because men and women are paid differently for the same work or because men and women tend to go into different fields within that sector (e.g. dentists verses dental hygienists) is not made clear in the numbers. Overall, when Crikey crunched the numbers relating to each profession (i.e. stripping out unfair weighting due to more of one gender in a particular field), we found that male graduates are only paid 2.4% more than their female counterparts.

Guthrie says several years ago GCA released more granular salary figures, controlling for variables such as public sector versus private sector employment, location and specific roles within an organisation. The result was an even smaller gender pay gap, of 1-2%. “[Men and women] work side-by-side in larger organisations, they would soon know if the guy next to them were making more or less than they were. Recruiters can’t be seen to be paying less for females than for males.”

While it does not seem to be true that male graduates are paid much more than female graduates for the same work, later in their careers men in general do earn more than women. Why? It may not be as much a “gender gap” as a professional gap, with Buttner saying women often choose to go into fields that are less well paid.

“Within industries there are several factors that can affect the gender pay gap, such as an industry’s occupational structure and how pay is set within the industry. Within the healthcare and social assistance industry, for instance, women account for nearly three-quarters of the industry’s full-time workforce but still earn less than men, as there are a higher share of men (17%) working in the higher-paying jobs in this industry than women (3%),” she said.

“Women are predominantly employed in caring roles, such as residential care services, which have historically been undervalued and underpaid, while the vast majority of surgeons are men, with male doctors earning more than female doctors overall.”

And the biggest divergence in salaries occurs if women step off the career track, even temporarily, to have and raise children.

“Women also continue to do most of the unpaid caring in society, and while the gender pay gap affects women throughout their entire working lives, it is during the years when women are balancing paid work with unpaid caring responsibilities that the gap widens considerably,” Buttner said. “This also has an impact on the number of women in leadership positions, as women are more likely than men to work part-time or flexibly for caring reasons and there are very few flexible senior leadership roles.”

So while a gender pay gap does exist in Australia, it does not seem to be the case that women are paid much less simply because of their gender. Choosing lower-paid careers, a temporary break in earnings to raise children and a need for flexible or part-time working hours all hurt women’s earning potential.

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20 thoughts on “Get Fact: do men make much more than women for the same job?

  1. Jane Caro

    But why are female dominated professions paid less than male dominated ones? Is that just an accident?
    Maybe, but I would suggest it is arguable that nursing, teaching, child care, aged care – even GPs – are devalued because we devalue women and the work women do. We do it so automatically we are blind to it.
    Women are meant to work more for love – anything else is selfish – whereas men are congratulated for working for money.
    I don’t think you’ve proved your case as well as you think you have.

  2. JohnB

    Sloppy work, Crikey. This subject is worth deeper analysis.

    I’m surprised that the author hasn’t mentioned that federal public servants no longer have to leave the service when they marry… female ones, that is.

    Until, as Jane mentioned, the caring-sharing industries have equal or better remuneration scales than simpler ones which deal with bits of paper or numbers, rather than living, breathing, complex human beings such as accountancy or merchant banking, then there is still work to be done.

    When was the last time you heard of a multi-million dollar bonus for a nurse or a teacher, no matter how outstanding her work is?

  3. Tim Dymond

    I’m sorry – you cannot dismiss this report as ‘mostly rubbish’ when you don’t even address the traditional undervaluing of predominantly female occupations. This was the whole basis of the Social and Community Service sector Pay equity case which the Fair Work Commission issued numerous rulings over the last few years. Your so-called Fact check is ‘mostly rubbish’.

  4. samquigley

    It’s about scarcity. The market is amoral. I don’t like it and you don’t like it, but that doesn’t affect the facts of the matter. It doesn’t mean a teacher or a nurse is less valuable to society than a naval engineer, but there are a lot more of them, and society isn’t (directly, obviously) paying engineers’ salaries.

    Now, as to why fewer females attempt (let alone complete) engineering degrees, there is absolutely a brodude culture that needs to be redressed.

  5. Jenny

    FFS Don’t you realise the comment “males tend to be over-represented in higher-paying fields” is just another way of saying men are paid more? Why do you think male dominated industries have higher wages than female dominated industries? Even unskilled male labourers in mining & manufacture earn more than skilled female workers in childcare. This was the whole basis of the pay equity court case.

  6. paddy

    I think the Fib-O-Matic has it about right.

    Despite all the contortions to explain why women aren’t *really* all that worse off….

    This article is “Mostly Rubbish”.

  7. D Marshall

    Jane: “I would suggest it is arguable that nursing, teaching, child care, aged care – even GPs – are devalued because we devalue women and the work women do.”

    I would disagree. Those jobs have lower pay because they’re generally government jobs.

    Government jobs are generally paid less than corporate jobs. Compare accountants, HR managers, IT admins, whatever. Govt employees generally receive lower pay than their counterparts in the business world.

    In fact we are having trouble recruiting a finance manager into my govt dept because we cannot offer the money that suitable candidates are already earning elsewhere. Due to our grade/award system we can only offer $104k for a financial controller – same role in same size private organisation would be on at least $130k.

    I have done the SAME job in both fields and have seen this first-hand. It’s because govt jobs often have other perks – flex time and security – which corporates can’t offer so you get more money instead.

    Gender is IMHO far less of an issue in your example.

  8. Shaniq'ua Shardonn'ay

    Thank god my Mum encouraged me NOT to go into any traditional female industries. I think it is important for women to understand that on average they will be paid less in any ‘caring’ roles and doing a traditionally ‘male’ job the likelihood is that they will be paid better. I think that those in the female dominated industries also have to look to themselves to organize and unionize themselves for better pay in the same way Men in, say, the construction industry have.
    Regarding this article, I can see nowhere on the WEGA article any assertion that Men and Women are being paid significantly differently for doing the same job. Yes Graduates they may be paid significantly differently for the same ‘occupational areas’ but that’s not the same as the same Job. By my thinking the only thing that is ‘Mostly Rubbish’ is Crikey’s Byline.

  9. JamesH

    This article’s viewpoint is myopic. The fact that having a child or seeking flexible working hours to raise children permanently lowers one’s earning potential is itself evidence of gender bias.
    An important reason that caring work is low-paid is that people in caring fields are effectively in competition with unpaid women who have left the workforce to do caring. So the expectation that women should be willing to do unpaid housework/childcare/etc drags down female wages both directly and indirectly.

  10. Jimmyhaz

    ‘So while a gender pay gap does exist in Australia, it does not seem to be the case that women are paid much less simply because of their gender. Choosing lower-paid careers, a temporary break in earnings to raise children and a need for flexible or part-time working hours all hurt women’s earning potential.’

    Total rubbish, I remember a very recent study that shows that even with all those factors controlled for, there is still a very real, and statistically significant pay gap between men and women.

    This article seems like something out of the counter-counter-culture movement of the ’80’s. It already has its’ answer, and it is working back from there.