Babies, not the private sector, are the real villains behind the gender pay gap crime, argues Comment Central. 

Gender pay inequality has long been a rallying cry for the feminist movement. Just last month The Independent ran an article bemoaning the gender pay differentials between male and female graduates. Meanwhile even the Labour leader is not immune to accusations of gender pay bias.

Policymakers have been clambering over themselves to champion new initiatives aimed at tackling the problem. Transparency is seen as being the remedy to all ills. Plans are afoot to force larger companies to publish information on bonus payment differences between the genders in the hope that companies – fearful of the penetrating glare of public scrutiny – will decide to cough up more dosh for their female workers.

That men earn significantly more than women is not new. But what is lacking is a more rigorous scrutiny of the contributing factors behind the gap. Is it a symptom of chauvinist male bosses, eager to do down their female subordinates, or is it caused by something far more nuanced?

Helpfully, a new study by the Institute of Economic Affairs serves to answer this very question. The study finds that men earning more than women is not uniform across all ages. In fact, for the age groups 20-29 and 30-39, women’s average earnings are higher than men’s. This chimes with the well documented evidence of girls outperforming boys academically, combined with evidence that women are delaying the average age at which they have their first child.

But what about the differentials across age groups as a whole? The report’s authors find that the median gross hourly earnings pay gap (excluding overtime) for those men and women in full-time work is 10 per cent (a seven per cent reduction compared to 1997).

Crucially, the report’s authors explore the factors behind this divide. As we have identified, the gap is not uniform across all age groups. Instead, the pay gap only really manifests itself with the advent of children, with many women dropping out of work to have babies. When they return many opt into part-time work, or jobs with fewer responsibilities. The end product of this is lower pay and fewer opportunities for promotion. Exacerbating the divide, fathers – often as the sole or largest breadwinner – tend to work longer hours and focus more on their careers than single men.

So, yes, while the gender pay gap is apparent, the evidence indicates that far from being a symptom of a chauvinist culture in a male dominated working environment, it’s instead the product of families working as a collective unit and choosing the path they deem best for them.

Policymakers would do well to look at the detail before punishing the private sector for a crime it hasn’t committed.

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