The myth of the gender pay gap

Euro notes. Photo credit: Pete (flickr)
Euro notes. Photo credit: Pete (flickr)

Today marked International Women’s Day, a day that celebrates the social, economic and political achievements of women. It is also a day used to highlight issues that affect women across the globe.

In Dublin, the major issue highlighted this year was the Eight Amendment of the Constitution, which effectively prohibits abortion on our shores. A lack of abortion services does indeed affect Irish women, with over 3000 making the journey to the UK every year to avail of such services.

However, an issue that doesn’t affect women in Ireland – or indeed across the Western world –  is that of thegender pay gap”.  But every International Women’s Day, this pervasive myth is dredged up, and this year was no different.

In honor of the day, Eurostat released figures, showing that women in management in Ireland earn 16% less than men. However, it is worth noting that figures such as the aforementioned are based on average pay. Average pay does not offer a reflective view of reality. It doesn’t take into account factors such as occupation or position. It merely offers a simple answer. Tackling this untruth, however, is not that simple.

The simple answer

With attention spans rapidly decreasing, many fail to look past provocative headlines and scratch beneath the surface. In this era of immediacy, most of us just want quick simple answers. A half-truth – rather that the in-depth full truth- is easier and less time consuming to grasp.

However, figures like the one above are simplistic and don’t take into account factors that contribute to the discrepancy in men and women’s earnings in the West.

So what is the myth?

The myth

Two colleagues of each sex working side by side, with the same degree and the same hours worked will be paid different wages, with the male employee taking home between 15% and 25% more.  In practice, however, this scenario is far from the truth. First and foremost, EU law makes it illegal for women to paid less than men, it “prohibits direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of sex in relation to pay”.

So, what are the factors that contribute to this gap?


It mostly comes down to choice. It may come as a surprise to some, but the sexes make different choices. According to the CSO, at third-level, women tend to study subjects  such as the Arts & Humanities and the Social Sciences, whereas men gravitate towards higher earning professions such as Science and Engineering.

Another factor is that men work longer hours and are far less likely to work part time. A common reason put forward for this disparity is that women are left to mind their children, thus forcing them to work part time.

Speaking to the, Associate Professor of Economics at UCD, Kevin Denny stated: “Some of it is certainly based on gender but it is tied up with household issues like having and bringing up children. It’s the fact that women do more than their fair share [that] accounts for much of the gap. The gap between non-parents is much smaller.”

However, in the same report published on Monday, Eurostat  revealed that even women with no children were more likely to work part time, thus earning less than their male counterparts.

“With or without children, women are more likely to work part-time than men in almost all EU Member States” – Eurostat

In addition, men also are  far more likely to work in jobs that prove fatal such as farming, mining and deep sea fishing. These precarious jobs would command higher wages. As they should.

Inconvenient truths

When all factors are taken into account, the gap reduces to the point of irrelevance. Differences in pay are not based on an employee’s gender. It would be more accurate and less incendiary to name it for what it is: an earnings pay gap, not a “gender” pay gap.

In this post-truth world , too few of us are willing to scrutinize the information that we take in. We are comfortable in our bubbles. Exposing ourselves to inconvenient truths can be jarring  but as American feminist Gloria Steinam says: “The truth will set you free but first it will p*ss you off.”


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