Is “Equal Pay Day” a myth?

Due to the gender pay-gap, British women are effectively working for free from November 10 onwards. According to figures released Friday from the Office for National Statistics, men who work full time earn on average 9.1 percent more than women, and the gradual closing of the pay-gap has been slowing. The World Economic Forum now gathers that it will take 217 years, around eight generations, before women earn the same as men. However, the Institute for Economic Affairs (IEA) and its new editor Kate Andrews are speaking up about what they call the “Equal Pay Day myth,” claiming how the information released by the ONS is misleading.

According to the IEA, the women’s rights group The Fawcett Society and their Equal Pay Day campaign are tailoring numbers to suit their cause when quoting the mean average figure of 14 percent rather than the median 9.1 percent in their report, effectively widening the pay-gap on paper. They claim this to be deceptive as the mean average can be raised by a small number of high values, and that the numbers released by the ONS are not accurately comparing the jobs men and women do like-for-like. The Equal Pay Day campaign is also criticised by IEA for not including Northern Ireland, which has a -3.4 percent negative pay-gap for full time workers, in their report. Andrews claims this encourages women to “adopt a victim-hood narrative while burying information that might empower them.”

However, no matter how Andrews twists and turns the figures, they still won’t work in women’s favour. She calls the pay-gap of -0.8 – 2.2 percent among 22-39 year olds “negligible”, readily admitting its existence but deeming the low numbers to be insignificant. Why then should the equally low figure of the -3.4 percent negative pay-gap in Northern Ireland be a cause for “celebration”, especially considering how the wage gap will widen with age? It was these implications The Fawcett Society wished to represent by quoting the mean average, as a variety of factors contribute to women earning less than men.

The IEA’s roundup awkwardly dodges the implications of motherhood on women’s careers, referring to it as “the motherhood factor” or even the “lower wage progression”. They try to spin the -5.4 percent negative pay-gap for part-time work as something positive, without questioning why so many women end up working part-time in the first place. Again and again they admit to the problems they attempt to negate, but ask us not to pay them any attention. Andrews is accusing The Fawcett Society of only focusing on the negative, while she and the IEA seem to think that one good result means the battle is won. Perhaps we should not dismiss obvious inequalities the moment we feel them to be less acute.


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May 2022
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