Facts of the matter: Exploring the gender pay gaps

The pay gap between the average hourly wage for men and women has stuck stubbornly around 12 to 13 percent – that is, women get 12 to 13 percent less than men – since 2007. It’s even higher in the public service.

By Bill Rosenberg

For most of the nineties, the gender pay gap was around 18 percent. It had down over the next decade and reached a lot point of 11.9 percent in March 2009, and since then has gone up a little. As at September this year, the average ordinary-time hourly rate for women was 26.49 for women compared to $30.43 for men. (Statistics New Zealand’s Quarterly Employment Survey).

But as those who have studied gender pay gaps much more deeply than I have will tell you, no single measure really sums the position up.

Incomes are influenced by hours worked, gender differences in pay rates, and differences in rates for part-time jobs compared to full-time jobs. For example, the pay gap on the average ordinary-time weekly is almost 30 percent. The average hourly wage for part-time women workers was 8.6 percent per hour less than for full-timers, and for men the gap was 7.9 percent.

Those who, like recent ministers of Women’s Affairs, are keen to minimise the gender pay gap like to quote median wages (half of the population get more and half less than this) from the NZ Income Survey. It shows a much lower gap than the QES: 9.8 percent.

Why? The median wage is generally lower than the average wage which is stretched upwards by a relatively small number of very high salaries. So the difference between the median and the average – which has been growing since 1998 – reflects income inequality. 

Since more men get high incomes than women, using the median to measure the pay gap in effect says we will ignore that.

In the headlines recently has been the court case taken by Kristine Bartlett and the Service and Food Workers Union to establish that the impoverishing wages paid to aged care workers is due to historical gender discrimination against that whole occupational group, and should be put right.

So it is interesting to look at pay gaps by occupational group. It seems that the gender pay gap is often much greater within groups than it is across the whole labour force.

The NZIS only provides data for eight very broad occupational classes, but the results suggest deeper investigation would be useful. For average wages in June 2014, the pay gaps for three of the four female-dominated occupational groups (Community and Personal Services, Sales, and Professionals) had much larger gender pay gaps – women were paid more than 20 percent than men. In the most female-dominated occupational group, Clerical and Administration, the pay gap was 11 percent.

Within the male-dominated occupational groups, Labourers, Managers, Technicians and Trade workers, and Machinery operators and Drivers, the average pay gaps range from 11.7 percent (labourers) to 15.5 percent (managers).

Most of the female-dominated occupational groups have much higher pay gaps than the average we tend to focus on for simplicity.


This article is from the December 2014 issue of the PSA Journal. You can read back issues of the Journal by clicking here.