Liina Puusepp: Gender wage gap in Estonia - myth or reality? ({{commentsTotal}})

In Europe, Estonia has highest wage gap between genders. Yet, many see it as pseudo-problem, if a problem at all. Liina Puusepp examines the matter for its contours and substance.

On daily basis, the wage gap isn’t given much thought. Perhaps due to the nation´s history, Estonians tend to work hard, mind their own business, and hope that their efforts are appreciated by the superiors. Few have ever heard of Equal Pay Day, or only heard about it, for the first time this year on April 14, as it became the focus of media attention.

Even fewer are aware of the reason why this day is always celebrated on a Tuesday in April. Both illustrate the additional time women must work to equal the average salary of men: two days per week and four months per year. Multiply this over a working-life, and the magnitude of the injustice becomes clear. Nonetheless, some still view this as a pseudo-problem, if at all.

So, is there a wage gap between genders? The facts speak for themselves.

According to OECD estimates in 2010, Estonia has one of the highest wage gaps for full-time workers among its 28 member states, second only to South Korea. Estonia’s Ministry of Social Affairs reports that average wages differ by more than 30 percent.

This is surprising considering that 22.6 percent more women than men have higher education, yet; 33 percent fewer women are posted in well-paying managerial, or senior positions.

Some say that the wag gap is accounted for by women choosing lower-paying occupations. It’s true to an extent. The Estonian Labour Force Survey reports, in 2009, that women are concentrated in lower-paying sectors; specifically health and social work (92 percent women), education (80 percent), financial and insurance (75 percent), and accommodation and food services (74 percent). Salaries in those sectors are indeed lower than elsewhere.

Nonetheless, it’s also obvious that men working in those sectors earn more than than their female counterparts. It proves that the pay gap is not merely the result of career-choice.

A widespread opinion, among employers in Estonia, is that men must be paid more to be recruited. As principal breadwinners, they’re assumed to have higher requirements. But this fails to address social changes of the past 20 years.

Fewer people are getting married; more men shirk responsibility for their children; single mothers are filling the breach; so, the breadwinner argument is losing force. However, in a way, women themselves are helping to keep the breadwinner argument alive by hanging on to their jobs, even as they settle for less.

Most women´s issues turn on family and children. Employers offer lower salaries to women in their childbearing years, penalizing them for the years they might spent at home child-rearing. By contrast, no one asks a man during a job interview whether, or when, they might start a family, how many children they have, or if they have a ready babysitter.

The double standard is loudly announced in the saying “this is a good salary for a woman,” implying what’s good enough for a woman is inadequate for a man.

So, how can the wage-gap be reduced? By raising general awareness of gender issues, for a start, to change public perceptions. Examples of western countries show that providing enough information about gender issues is imperative to making sure the problem is not denied.

Investing in human capital, by increasing levels of education and work experience, also reduces differentials in earnings.We must encourage women to study even more, increase the number of women with master´s and doctoral degrees, and provide them courses about setting and achieving career goals.

Finally, there’s a need for less labour market segregation. It goes without saying that companies should be encouraged to promote people to managerial positions based on merit, not gender.

Liina Puusepp is a Lecturer in Sports Management at Pärnu College, University of Tartu.

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