So the Women and Equalities Committee has released its report on the gender pay gap:
The 19.2% gender pay gap that exists in the UK is much more than an equality issue. It represents a significant loss to UK productivity which must be addressed in the face of an ageing workforce, a skills crisis and the need for a more competitive economy. There is a clear case that tackling the underlying causes of the gender pay gap can increase productivity, address skills shortages and improve the performance of individual organisations.
It boggles that anyone could say that. Productivity is the measure of the value of output from an hour's work measured against the cost of employing someone for an hour. Thus the lower the pay on offer, holding output static, the higher the productivity is. The claim here is that women earn less than men but are as productive. The gender pay gap therefore increases UK productivity by the amount that women are paid less for their output than men are.
Fortunately the committee does get told the truth:
Professor The Baroness Wolf of Dulwich, from King’s College, London, told us there was little evidence that direct discrimination is a major factor in the gender pay gap today. However, she did acknowledge that discrimination had been an issue for older women in the past:
Among people under 40, in comparable jobs, with comparable time in the workplace, there is no evidence of continuing gender discrimination in pay. Among cohorts over 40, and especially those now over 50, we can still observe the impact of having started work in more ‘discriminatory’ times, but this is a carry-over.
Their major focus in this report was the pay gap for women over 40. That is part of the answer, this is the other part:
The Institute of Directors and Chris Giles suggested that, as younger, better educated women move through the system, we should see the gender pay gap fall. Mr Giles pointed to evidence that:
There is a generational shift … Women in their 20s closed the full-time pay gap in about 2004; in 2012, by the time they reached their 30s, it had disappeared. It has halved for women in their 40s since the data series began in 1997. In contrast, there has been no significant improvement for working women over 50.
That really is the answer. There most certainly used to be discrimination against women in career choice, working options after childbirth, education and so on. We've made the changes to society that take care of those: all we're doing now is waiting to see those changes pass through society along with the age cohorts. We're done.
Oddly enough it's a Guardian column that manages to get this right. There is still, even after all that education, change in social attitudes and so on, a pay gap. But it's not caused by employers at all:
Take a glance at the British Social Attitudes survey, and it might seem as if the British public still supports the traditional family model. But look more closely, and it’s clear that change is coming. When asked whether they agree with the statement: “A man’s job is to earn money; a woman’s job is to look after the home and family”, only 4% of men and women aged 18 to 25 agreed. There was little difference between the genders. Attitudes toward parental leave reveal a similar change. Asked whether paid leave should be divided between the mother and father, 44% of those aged 18 to 25, and 26% of those aged 26 to 35, agreed that it should, compared with just 13% of over-65s. Yes, baby boomers, your kids turned out all right. But we can’t start celebrating just yet.
The current ability to share parental leave comes from an analysis we published here: we know who picked it up, ran with it in policy circles and thus it became law. So we feel rather proprietorial about this point. Currently some majority of the population have those gendered opinions on who should be running the household and who should be providing for it. Our own opinion is that this isn't unusual in a mammalian species but we're perfectly happy with the idea that those attitudes will change at some time. It might well be this coming millennial generation that changes. Currently mothers earn about 10% less than non-mothers for each child they have. Fathers seem to earn (after adjusting for age and all that) some 6-8% more than non-fathers. American research shows that there is no pay gap for those with equal and equivalent familial duties. Primary carers of either sex earn less than primary providers of either sex.
If this is a problem then so be it, declare it to be a problem. But the solution is not in law nor is it with employers. It's with the attitudes toward family life of the population. And as the good little liberals we are we're entirely happy that people get to live their lives as they wish, make the decisions they wish to make. And if those decisions change then so be it.
As we have been saying for a decade now, and when we started saying it it was a very lonely thing to be saying, there are differences in the gross pay of men and women in the UK. The cause is not discrimination by the State, employers or the society at large, but discrimination by those who have children and how they wish to raise them. We might call it a caring pay gap, a motherhood pay gap, a child pay gap, but it is no longer a gender pay gap. We don't regard this as a problem that needs solving, you might. But given that this is the cause the only solution is however people decide to raise their children, something that's really rather up to them we feel.