Socialist Worker

Why are women paid less than men?

Issue No. 2212

It’s hard to believe that today, after years of struggle, women are still paid less than men.

Women make up around half of the workforce in Britain yet bosses pay them on average 17 percent less than men.

Of course it doesn’t say this on job descriptions or application forms, but in reality a pay gap exists because we still have women’s oppression.

The role that this oppression assigns to women in the family is a key reason for women’s lower pay.

There have been immense changes in the way that women, and men, live their lives over the past few decades.

But women are still seen as the primary carers for children. The state doesn’t provide free childcare so that women could work – because it sees childcare as a woman’s job.There’s a similar logic with slashing care for older people and people with disabilities. It’s not a problem because they can be looked after within the family – by women.

It would cost over £50,000 a year to employ someone to do all the unpaid work that women do in the home – everything from the supermarket shop, to the school runs, caring for children and relatives, the cooking and the cleaning.

It is incredibly beneficial to capitalism if women are doing these jobs for free. It is also beneficial if the poorest can also be pressured to do paid work for a pittance.

Compared

One reason why women earn less than men is that they are more likely to work part time.

Almost 50 percent of women work part time, compared to 16 percent of men.

Part time workers earn around 75 percent of the hourly wage of a full time worker.

The major reason for women working part time is childcare. Some 38 percent of women with dependent children work part time compared with 22 percent who do not.

In contrast, only 4 percent of men with dependent children and 4 percent who don’t work part time.

This dual role of women, as workers and unpaid carers, has other impacts that drag wages down.

Women are more likely to take periods off work or “career breaks” when they have children. This makes it harder for women to reach the same level as a man doing the same job.

Even when women do have exactly the same job title as their male colleagues, some bosses will simply pay them less because they think they can get away with it. This reflects the institutional sexism that persists under capitalism.

This sexism also means that, if certain jobs become seen as “women’s work”, the wages suffer even more.

Majority women workforces – like supermarket checkout staff, child minders and cleaners – see some of the lowest wages.

Women have fought, and won, battles over pay. But because women’s oppression is central to capitalism, inequality persists.

The logic of the system is to take something like equal pay and turn it into an attack on the entire working class.

The fight for single status in councils, for example, was about women demanding to be paid the same wages as men for doing similar work.

But the kind of equality the bosses wanted was to level men’s wages down to the level of women’s, not the other way around.

This begs the question: what kind of equality are we fighting for? Socialists want equality – but we don’t simply want working class women to have the same rubbish wages as working class men while a few women manage to make it at the top of society.

It hasn’t improved the lives of ordinary women to have women at the top of some of the nastiest companies in the world.

Nor did it help ordinary women when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister in Britain, or when Condoleezza Rice was secretary of state in the US.

Women are paid less than men because of the logic of the system – and the oppression and exploitation that is central to it.

Struggle can force reforms out of capitalism. But we will only win real liberation when we get rid of the system altogether.


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Tue 27 Jul 2010, 17:54 BST
Issue No. 2212
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