The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

That taxing pay gap

I've had a couple of commenters (or maybe the same one twice) draw my attention to a Sydney Morning Herald article proposing that the pay gap between men and women could be bridged by cutting taxes to XXers. Here's the article's explanation:

Basically, their argument boils down to this: the supply of labour of women is more responsive to their wage post-tax, so a reduction in taxes would increase the labour participation of women substantially.
While it's an inventive solution, I don't really think it would address the causes of the pay gap and there would be many practical problems in such a scheme.

From my point of view there are a number of factors that have created and maintained a considerable gap between women and men in the money earning department, including:

1. Longstanding societal pressure on women to not see work as something they do for reasons other than necessity. While this has changed dramatically since the 1950s, there are still many women who grew up when working after marriage, and particularly after having children, was highly stigmatised. Some of these women see their work now as "pin money" and their husbands and children de-value it too. I often work with union members in this position and it's depressing to see the results - poor pay, patronising management, and a lack of support from their family and others when they want to stand up for their rights.

2. Similarly, it is only relatively recently that women have been encouraged to complete high school, let alone seek further training or tertiary education. Many jobs nowadays have set qualifications as a prerequisite, and, as with my previous point, there are many women still in the workforce who never saw university or 'tech as an option. My mother is one - a very smart and capable woman who was convinced from a young age that she was stupid and would probably be only marginally competent at most things she did. It was far more about her gender than her actual intelligence or ability. And while we'd all like to think that young women now are immune to the pernicious influences of such sexism, sadly I think it'll be a while before we have it licked.

3. Due to a paucity of workplaces with flexible working hours or supportive attitudes to workers with caring responsiblities outside work, many women work part time or in jobs with lower levels of responsibility (and pay) because they need the ability to work around their family responsibilities*. They are also less likely to rock the boat if they aren't getting their dues - they don't want to lose the position which has grudgingly allowed them to take the odd long weekend to look after an ailing parent in another town.

4. While there has been significant challenge to the idea that women workers should be corralled into certain jobs, many women still work in "traditional" areas. Which also means they work in jobs which are under-valued, under-paid and often highly casualised. Many of these industries had their unionisation rates decimated in the 1990s, and/or these sectors grew considerably during the time of the Employment Contracts Act when unions weren't able to focus on much more than staying afloat. I believe it is no coincidence that many of those areas with the lowest pay and worst conditions also have low levels of union membership, and often a high percentage of women workers.

5. I also suspect that women are less likely to get promoted into higher paid jobs, because they are women and because of some of the factors already mentioned above. On the one hand, women can be passed over because it is feared they will want to sprog at some point** or because it's assumed they can't handle Teh Pressure, or some silly rubbish justification for sexism. On the other, women sometimes don't put themselves forward, because of a lack of confidence and a concern that they will be seen to rate themselves. I read somewhere once that while around 75% of primary teachers are female only about a quarter of principals are. Not sure if that's true, but we can see the clear gender lines in the CEOs of major companies - yes there are some high profile women, but they are definitely in the minority.

6. And then there's the persistent undervaluing of the work women do - paid and unpaid. It's a theme underlying many of the points I've already made but it bears making explicit. Think of the poorly paid jobs and many of them were done by women without pay in the past, and on low pay now. Cleaning, caregiving, educating and caring for small children, cooking, serving people in various settings; all of this mahi used to be done by wives, daughters, sisters, mothers, grandmothers and other women for free. And now that it is (sometimes) paid work it's often at minimum wage rates, despite the level of skill required.

In my (not-so-humble) opinion, none of these factors would be addressed by giving women a tax cut and raising taxes slightly for men. It certainly wouldn't help those men on low incomes, or encourge them into the lower paid areas where more women are working.
If anything such a tactic could exacerbate resentment of women in the workforce, which would be rather counter-productive.

* And not just caring for their own children either. They could be looking after their mokopuna, their parents, siblings, friends, or their own partners. Or they may have to carry an unfair burden of the household tasks, resulting in less time and energy for any paid job.
** Why is this never a concern about hiring male employess??

(Pic Via)


Insolent Prick said...

Some women are less likely to get promoted into higher jobs because they believe they can't do those jobs because they are women. That's not to say that they can't do them because they are women.

Many women have different priorities in work, and promotion to a level of excellence isn't one of them. For the same reason that women's magazines are loaded with utter shite, would seem to suggest that the women who buy those magazines just aren't interested in stimulated brain activity.

Some smart women are as good as some smart men in work. Most aren't. There isn't actually a pay gap at all in the workplace: there's a performance gap between men and women. I don't see that changing anytime soon.

che tibby said...

good call span. that tax is insane.

why incentivise work through taxation when there's a culture of undervaluing female employees?

and, especially when women are traditionally paid far less than men. kind of says, "here's 2% more to do the same crappy, difficult work. oh, that means you're only 10% behind the average male salary!! good work love." [pats her bum]

Span said...

IP, I love it when you speak for women. You're just so... I don't know... accurate. [/sarcasm]

Actually I kind of agree with your first point, and I covered it in my post. I put it differently of course, but I do think that some women don't apply for higher paid jobs because they don't think they will get them/don't think they can do them - when in fact they could. For me this is another sad example of sexism in action.

I'm curious about this performance gap you see though IP, and at the risk of handing you another shovel, I'd like you to expand. At the moment I'm thinking you mean that actually women aren't as good at paid work as men. Is that a correct reflection? I'll save the gentle corrective commenting until I'm sure exactly how wrong you are ;-)

Span said...

Che, I agree. I also think it'd have to be a pretty big tax drop to close the gap entirely, and actually what would you then do if women started working longer hours and thus over-shooting men because of the tax cut? It would create all sorts of weird situations methinks.

Gerrit said...

Before you started this tax differential between the sexes, will you set a benchmark to what measureable goal has to be achieved for the taxes to once again be equal.

Or is this something that will stretch into eternity to eventually cause revolution with mens sufferage groups having to overthrow the inequality when all work done by the two genders is equally paid but taxed differently?

How would you measure the equality?

Have you run this past Cullen? He has a major aversion to tax cuts!

Span said...

Um Gerrit, did you actually read my post? I know it was quite long, but I disagreed with the idea of tax cuts for women to close the pay gap.

Thanks for pointing out some of the practical difficulties of such a scheme though - I think you would have to set a goal for review but it's all moot cos no one is going to do it anyway.

And I hear Bill English has lately discovered he too has an aversion to tax cuts.

Gerrit said...

I guess my attempt at parody and sarcasm failed.

Will try harder next time.

New Zealand has a major problem with its tax regime. Tax cuts are going to be inflationary. So will government spending on infastructure to slop up the extra revenue.

But to continue taxing at the current levels makes New Zealand uncompetive in the world market.

The risk in New Zealand, with the Australian tax regime just announced in their budget, is that the lure of qualified NZ'ders joining the half million or so already over there has just increased.

This next Cullen budget is going to be interesting. Not just on take home pay packets in regards tax cuts or tax redistribution (think WFF scemes) but more importantly how to get New Zealand back in a competitive footing with the rest of the world.

Anonymous said...

gerrit, how does the fact that this country sits in 5th place in the Wall St Journal's 2007 Index of Economic Freedom fit with your claim we are not competitive?

1. Hong Kong
2. Singapore
3. Australia
4. United States
5. New Zealand
6. United Kingdom
7. Ireland
8. Luxembourg
9. Switzerland
10. Canada

The measures used to formulate are:
* Business Freedom
* Trade Freedom
* Fiscal Freedom
* Freedom from Government
* Monetary Freedom
* Investment Freedom
* Financial Freedom
* Property rights
* Freedom from Corruption
* Labor Freedom

I'm genuinely curious to hear your pov, or that of anyone else who would care to elucidate.

Anonymous said...

Span, I apologise if my post above is terribly diverting. I don't intend to argue points, only to quell what seems sometimes like reactionary scaremongering around our economy.

On the other hand, Gerrit (to whom I apologise for not capitalising your handle above), if you're able to expand on your comments, with reference to my first post, I'd be glad to learn something.

Gerrit said...

While we maybe economically free do we take advantage of it to be more competitive? By competitive, are we able to compete in the world market?

Economic freedom has nothing to do being competive.

I really dont get your point Anon.

David S. said...

I actually kind of agree with IP on this one. He's not saying the performance gap exists because woman are incapable of competing, simply that more woman choose not to. There is no real physical impediment stopping woman from acheiving in business. Sexism still exists for sure, and it may have an effect on the numbers. However, most of the pay gap probably exists simply because woman do not want the lifestyle. More men than woman listen to heavy metal music for example, does that make it sexist by default?

The question is how many woman choose not to climb the corperate ladder because of out-dated ideas like gender inequity, and how many choose not to simply because they have other priorities.

Anonymous said...

Gerrit, a high level of Economic Freedom on that index implies "a good place to do business", which means we are technically very competitive on the world stage. We're not doing badly.

I've just read the Growing Profits thread, and see more clearly how your and my politics differ. Mine are significantly further left of Span's, I think, so our twain will almost certainly never meet.

You seem to be for unbridled capitalism, and seek to engage every last one of us actively in that vision. I ask, when is enough and doing okay, ever enough and okay? Is mine a loserly and outdated attitude?

David S, perhaps women often seem to 'choose' to prioritise endeavours other than climbing the corporate ladder because men are still more free to choose not to accept much, if any responsibility for the caring and other work that supports climbing? I'm sure that point has been made... your blinders are working well ;)

Women are more than willing and able to enter into what was men's world; men, on the other hand, not so keen on entering what was women's world. It makes our hearts sore that so many men continue to make excuses, often time and faux incompetence related, to avoid supporting us and other family members in all the ways we've traditionally supported you all.

I agree that the tax change idea is silly, and goes nowhere worthwhile in terms of addressing the real issues. It would be useful if more men were truly and openly supportive of calls to restructure and redefine what is valued as "work", how workplaces function.

Yeah, yeah, generalisations abound.

Span said...

Anon you are going great guns! Please keep up the good commenting :-)

I'd add that the Heritage Foundation, who compile that economic freedom index, are a right wing organisation, so they are already looking at things through a filter I would dramatically disagree with, and they still find that NZ is incredibly economically "free".

Gerrit - I've had a few people misinterpret my sarcasm too recently (online) which is why I've started putting [/sarcasm] at the end when I'm doing it. I feel your pain at having people think you are serious when you are not!

David S. said...

"Yeah, yeah, generalisations abound."

Abundantly abound, aside from that crack about my "blinders", that seemed to be squarely aimed at me. For the record my father cooks nine tenth's of the meals in my house, I do the vacuuming, my mother gets cups of tea made and brought to her every evening. Coffee in the morning.

Are you saying it's mans fault for not wanting to do "woman's work"? The world is a competitive place, people compete for those high paying jobs, if anyone, man or woman wants a job like that enough they will organise their life according to the demands of the task, that's it. You may not like the fact that it is a competitive place, you may even think that makes it a "man's world", but it's not. Men didn't make the world competitive, it was competitive before human beings even existed.

..and just to remind you of what I posted before.

"The question is how many woman choose not to climb the corperate ladder because of out-dated ideas like gender inequity, and how many choose not to simply because they have other priorities. "

I have very little knowledge about what kind of extra baggage a woman has to put up with while climbing the ladder, and I don't like the idea that a woman has to work harder than a man to get what they want, but sexism may have a variable effect on why the pay gap exists. It may not exist entirely as a result of society's expectations.

Capitalism sucks, and it would be nice if money didn't work the way it does, but whatever part of the gap exists because of gender inequity will not be made smaller by making excuses and blaming other people.

Gerrit said...


"You seem to be for unbridled capitalism, and seek to engage every last one of us actively in that vision. I ask, when is enough and doing okay, ever enough and okay? Is mine a loserly and outdated attitude?"

I dont think your attitude is leserly or ourdated. I'm not for unbridled capitalism. Capitalist think I'm a socialist, while left socialist think I'm a capitalist.

So I bat for both sides. The reason being that venture capitalist need workers jusst like workers need venture capitalist (in a socialist society the venture capitalist are the combined forces of the workers while in a capitalist society they are the users of money derived from family, workers saving schemes, private investors, super schemes, etc.)

They are however mutually dependent. One cannot operate without the other.

Therefore I try and work in a realistic and achievable scenerio. To use capitalism to gain workers rights.

That means you need to know how capitalism works in order to negotiate a better deal.

Hence it is important to know what the return on investment is so that any profits above this can be negotiated back to the workers.

When is enough enough? That is up to each and every individual. Their goals and asperasions(sp?).

You cannot set a benchmark of what is enough for every individual.

Anonymous said...

David, I put a winky after the "crack" about the blinders to try to make it clear that, although frustrated that you seemed to have missed a point already made, I did not mean to antagonise.

Yes, I am saying that men do need to take some of the "blame" for ongoing inequity. While you and your father are clearly somewhat evolved ;) (please laugh with me!), there are many men who would not do even as much as you do. Do you ever need to be reminded to vacuum, by the way? It does add to the domestic burden when women need to remind, rather than things simply being attended to regularly.

Don't mean to pick on you personally at all, but given the evidence you've stated, I wonder who in your home, and others like it, cleans the bath(room), toilet, dusts, mops the vinyl, cleans windows, tends the dishes, bakes, shops - not just weekly grocery shops, but prep's for celebrations, birthday/Christmas(if applicable) gift shopping, maintains the social networks by keeping in regular touch with and organising get-togethers of friends and family? This list is an enumeration of the areas commonly still attended to by women, within families - even where the family is a couple without children. And, I don't mean to have this answered as applies in your home, David, only to exemplify the division of labour on the home front as still occurs in a large percentage of homes. Granted, most men often still do the lawns and edges (though seldom weeding) and maybe wash the car.

In numbers of homes these days, some of this work is 'outsourced'. In homes where this happens things will look more equitable. However, unless the person(s), often female, who are paid to do this work are paid a living wage hourly rate, there is still a problem with how this sort of work is valued.

I'm going to mash up your points about capitalism sucking and competition now, by saying that I'm very well aware that we've been schooled to believe in the innateness (if that's a word) of competition for resources / rewards. I'll simply say that I disagree that that is so. If others would care to expand, go for it, though I suspect as relevant as the argument that accepts competition as an absolute, a certainty, it may be an expansion beyond the intent of this thread to go there.

Degrees of sexism still present in the work place? Manyfold. One point I will make in the broadest and unseemliest of terms, so that I am sure to be read as blaming rather than naming, is the continued existence of what I will term in short The Boys Club. There are ways of conducting business that have been going on for an awful long time, well before men needed to adjust (and still haven't in many cases) to the presence of women in the work place, especially in professions and other traditionally male endeavours - politics for one.

There was a book written by a former MP, a woman (may've been RR, but am unsure now. help!?) who spoke of men who had been not of one mind in a meeting or chambers, returning from the Mensroom all sorted and shaking (freshly washed) hands. Consensus via urinal?

An MBA weilding, then DHB manager of my acquaintance shared with me the discomfort of the men at his level with the presence of women peers when it came to the social aspects of their business lives, the evening and out of town conference boozing and schmoozing that, for men, always included sleazy bars and brothels.

Even if this is completely outside your experience, and you wonder if I'm making it up to pick on men, please consider that I, and other women who have had these and similar experiences and the slightly-outside-looking-in perspctive we do, albeit by dismissal worthy 'anecdote', that may well just be telling it like it is.

More later in response to Gerrit and Span, unless the conversation deteriorates markedly while I'm off attending to some domestics (and putting my feet up for awhile, too).

David S. said...

"David, I put a winky after the "crack" about the blinders to try to make it clear that, although frustrated that you seemed to have missed a point already made, I did not mean to antagonise. "

It wasn't the joke that annoyed me, it was the idea that I missed the point. I didn't, I think my point is the one that's been missed.

The problem is that not everything in society that is good makes money, and not everything that makes money is good. That is not an issue that should be related to gender issues.

To do so ends up with us defining roles in society as either feminine or masculine. Staying at home with the kids, being a home maker should not be considered a feminine role any more than being the director of a company is a masculine role. It is an issue that affects people on an individual basis. To assert otherwise undermines the very basis of equality.

It may be an issue that affects more woman than men, but that is quite different from an issue that specifically discriminates against woman, simply for being woman, and not because of the choices people make for themselves.

Anonymous said...

Okay, I do hear what you're saying, David. What I am saying, however, is that much as great numbers of men and women might wish it weren't still so, we haven't yet gotten past what was a stricter gendering of roles, positions and ways of conducting oneself in all spheres of society. That gendering is still around. There are minds and ways and means that have yet to adapt, or to adapt fully.

Saying it shouldn't be stated in the ways it still exists doesn't help make what still exists go away, by speaking/framing differently.

I do appreciate how language and the way we may choose to express ourselves influences in some ways the mindsets around that of which we speak. Othertimes, obfuscation is all that ensues.

Gerrit, thanks for your patience. I do have some appreciation of both (all? for it is surely more complex than duality) sides, though it would be true to say that my base-line is always about people. Capitalism neglects our humanity when it reduces us largely to units of production or potential producitivity.

There are numbers of people who do not value profits over people, all people, and capitalism's seeming insistence that people don't matter so much in the equations is then, to me, always wrong.

Many workers don't want more than a decent days pay for a decent days work. Why is it not acceptable to have priorities other than acquiring wealth? Why is it not possible to expect simply a living wage for a job of work well done? Does the answer to the problem of a low wage economy have to require workers who have little or nothing to spare, to engage in the risk taking that employers do, or settle for a lowly, insufficient lot?

I had some questions about how you imagine Aoteroa/NZ could be more competitive in the global market, but they're not well formed, so I'm going to trail tired-brain-offedly now - not because the topic is too hard for my poor feminine mind, but because I'm not seeing clearly the way to engage seriously with you from my own frames of reference and pov.

A couple of comments, though. With regard to the Index above, it's obvious to me now, in light of that, why Helen Clark says there's nothing to be done about the property market. Our ranking might drop if we messed with that in ways that would genuinely well serve many of our own people. Our ranking would certainly diminish if lower wages moved up to ones people could actually live on by working just the one job. Clearly the Labour Govt needs to be seen to deliver an economy attractive to the wide world of business to retain power and some of the faith of some of the people who could go either way next election.

If our good standing is not paying off, then it can hardly be blamed on the govt, can it. So, what is 'wrong' with us, apart from arguably high taxes on business and upper income earners?

I hear lots of talk about the need to grow our population, although if Insolent has his way we'll be in dire straits there! What happens when we get to some magic number population-wise, a tipping point, after which it all just grows like topsy (gotta love those ol' cheese guys), and IT still doesn't happen? It being, among other things, a trickle down that does.

Maybe we're just too far away from the rest of the world. State of Australia, anyone? I recall the excitement around the idea that we should do as Ireland did, when it grew and grew/recovered/joined the rest of the world, however one chooses to phrase it... It occurred to me then that we are not well situated geographically to do as they have. Not to mention that Dell was a big part of their turnaround and the downsides of making bargains with the US made that solution rather unattractive to me at the time, and many others, I suspect.

Therefore, I submit, we might as well pursue my utopian vision, a deeply left, rather than liberal/progressive left ideology!

Whoops, did I just deteriorate the thread, markedly?

Span, I had intended to include the word "may" to the sentence where I positioned my politics with regard to yours, so that it should have said "Mine MAY be significantly left of Span's". Hope not to have offended. And, yeah, those Heritage folk... Well, the Wall Street Journal is not exactly known as a left wing publication.

Also, apologies for heterocentricism up there in all the men and women stuff, though it's not uncommon for hom. couples to operate at a butch (v.?) femme level too.

Didn't mean to be dissing sex workers either. Despite how it looked I do not play from within the Madonna/Whore paradigm. The comment was meant to highlight the discomfort and probable hypocrisy of numbers of good, respectable fathers of the community, good family men types have with women, any women defined as respectable, being all up in their 'business'.

Span said...

No probs Anon, no offence taken here. You may wish to get yourself a handle though so that we can tell you apart from other Anons - you don't have to hot link it to a page or an email.

Those following this thread may be interested in the points in this brief (American) post about some of the differences mothers face in the workforce: