Ed West Ed West

The gender pay gap isn’t just about sexism

‘More work needs to be done,’ is what people say whenever some unachievable social goal is shown to be another 200 years away. And it was said a lot this week after it emerged that women still earn 18 per cent less than men on average. As the Guardian reported:

The Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) also found that the gap balloons after women have children, raising the prospect that mothers are missing out on pay rises and promotions. That was echoed by a separate report yesterday suggesting that male managers are 40 per cent more likely than female managers to be promoted.

What’s odd is that almost nowhere in the supposedly intelligent press, let alone BBC Radio – where biological explanations for almost anything are taboo – can I find an attempt to explain why this is, other than societal explanations that can be solved by government intervention. For example, as Ben Southwood of the Adam Smith Institute points out, the gender pay gap has much to do with choice:

Actually, there is a gender pay gap, but the entirety of it is determined by ‘legitimate’ factors—things which make men’s and women’s labour different. As well as women having jobs they rate as more pleasant, and jobs that are objectively less risky, as well as doing more part-time work, women leave the labour market during crucial years, setting them substantially back in labour market terms. That is, the gap comes down to women’s choices.

This is not necessarily a bad thing, since childcare seems to contribute to mothers’ well-being and happiness, and looking after children is certainly not an unimportant task. But it implies that, whether or not society as a whole, through schools, culture, upbringing and so on, is the reason women do most of the labour in the home and in child rearing, firms are not discriminating against women.

This is a point also made by Cynthia Than (AKA Ninja Economics), on

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