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David Quinn: Sexist employers are not to blame for gender pay gap - children are


The pay gap between RTÉ’s Bryan Dobson and Sharon Ní Bheoláin does not tell the whole story.

The pay gap between RTÉ’s Bryan Dobson and Sharon Ní Bheoláin does not tell the whole story.

The pay gap between RTÉ’s Bryan Dobson and Sharon Ní Bheoláin does not tell the whole story.

The row over the gender pay gap at RTÉ obscures a wider truth; nothing will finally eradicate the gender pay gap in society short of social engineering on so massive a scale that it would amount to an attack on the freedom of both men and women.

When you hear that women in Ireland earn on average about 15pc less than men (according to the latest data from the EU), it is likely you imagine that this means a woman working in the same job as a man with the same level of seniority is earning that much less than her male counterpart. Maybe this is happening sometimes but it doesn't even come close to explaining the gender pay gap in overall terms.

The gender pay gap is normally calculated by taking the hourly average of what all men earn and comparing it with the average of what all women earn. This is comparing apples with oranges.

Men and women often work in different occupations in different sectors. Earnings between many occupations and sectors cannot be meaningfully compared.

In addition, and crucially, far more women than men work part-time, and want to work part-time. This obviously affects their hourly earnings over time. Someone working part-time isn't going to get to the top of the career ladder as fast (if ever) as someone working full-time, and since more men than women work full-time, more men than women make it to the top of their professions. Naturally this will be reflected in greater hourly earnings on average.

So, what do you do about this? Do you force women and men to work in the same occupations and in the same numbers? Do you force them to work the same number of hours? Or if you don't go quite that far, do you do the next best thing which is to make it virtually impossible for a family to live on one income, or one-and-a-half incomes, meaning more and more people have to work full-time, like it or not? This is what social engineering looks like. The Swedes have been at it for years.

Sweden has arguably done more than any other country in the world to close the gender pay gap. For example, day-care is very cheap and almost every child above the age of one is in day-care. This has raised the general tax level, of course, making it harder for a family to live on one or one-and-a-half incomes.

But despite this, the gender pay gap in Sweden persists. In fact, according to EU data, Sweden's gender pay gap is slightly higher than our gender pay gap. Did you know this? More probably you have heard that Sweden is the country to follow. I remember a few years ago debating someone from the National Women's Council concerning the gender pay gap.

She was asked what we need to do to close the gap. "Copy Sweden," she said. When I pointed out that the pay gap in Sweden is slightly higher than here, it made not a blind bit of difference to her. We still need to copy Sweden, she reckoned. Even though we have a lower gender pay gap.

In fact, Ireland's gender pay gap is lower than the EU average. Did you know this? Again, probably not, because no one has told you. This means the gender pay gap debate is taking place in an almost fact-free vacuum that amounts to fake news.

Indeed, you might be interested to know that the EU country with the lowest gender pay gap is Italy, which is not known as a bastion of political correctness. Romania and Poland are also found among the five EU countries with the lowest pay gaps. They would not lead the PC charts either. Shockingly, Finland and Denmark have pay gaps that are higher again than Sweden's and therefore higher than here as well.

In this debate, we're led to believe that the most relevant fact is that RTÉ's Bryan Dobson is earning so much more than his fellow newsreader, Sharon Ní Bheoláin, and that even in ultra-PC environments like RTÉ, where they like gender-balanced panels and production teams, they appear not to give equal pay for equal work.

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Here's something else you probably don't know. The gender pay gap varies by age. On average, the pay gap is lowest when you're young and highest in middle age. Why should this be? Well, at the start of their careers, both men and women work full-time but as time goes on, more and more women have children and then change their working arrangements.

Some drop out of work altogether for a few years and then move on to part-time work and often never again to full-time work.

This explains why the number of women who work part-time is two-and-a-half times greater than the number of men who work part-time. Now, you might be wondering if women are happy with this state of affairs. Maybe all these part-time women workers wish to work more hours.

Well, the Central Statistics Office has found out the answer to this because it asked part-time workers if they would like to work more hours. What they have discovered is that about 70pc of women respondents said they don't want to work more hours. (Note that they never ask full-time workers if they'd like to work fewer hours).

So, let's ask again; should we force all these part-time women workers into full-time work, or maybe force some men into part-time work? If we really want to eradicate the pay gap, we're going to have to do this.

Old-fashioned discrimination might explain some part of the gender pay gap, but a far bigger explanation is children. Many women change their priorities when they have children. They scale back their hours in paid employment.

Another recent study from the CSO found that about 70pc of parents look after their children at home and the great majority of these parents are happy with this choice. The only way you can accomplish this is if one parent stays at home altogether or else works part-time.

Feminists, allied to employers, don't like this. They want as many women as possible working full-time, meaning as many children as possible must be in day-care. But this isn't what most parents want. So the only way to achieve the aim of eradicating the gender pay gap completely is to override the wishes of vast numbers of people, and that would be the most authoritarian thing this country has seen in years.