Liisa Pakosta: Why is the salary gap narrowing? ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Liisa-Ly Pakosta.
Liisa-Ly Pakosta. Source: pakosta.ee

Narrowing the wage gap depends on many different decisions – a person's own choices, support of colleagues, decisions by employers and legislation. The most important thing in 2020 is to quickly overcome the economic slump as major crises usually impact the situation of the weaker part of society and people earning modest salary, causing differences to deepen, Liisa Pakosta writes.

Statistics Estonia calculated for Estonia the lowest gender wage gap in 2019 since relevant efforts were launched. The average man earned 17.1 percent more an hour than the average woman.

The salary wage gap last grew after the previous economic crisis and has been closing ever since. The indicator reflects the big picture, not how much money your neighbor or people who do the same work make.

Why measure gender wage gap if you cannot even learn the salary of your neighbor?

Work comes along best when it's what the person likes to do and the pay is fair. It is useful in all kinds of ways to know why people who work just as hard for an hour get paid a different wage.

Scientists have found out some of the reasons – women and men choose different careers, men are more flexible at work, women experience career disruptions and change jobs and vocations because of children, expectations for salary differ etc.

Even more exciting is the question how much of it is really the person's free will and how much is forced on them.

For example, does the mother of a young child really want a lower salary just when her expenses are growing?

Are young women less likely to choose well-paid technical positions because they were told to take the cheaper choir practice instead of the already full robotics class when they were younger? Add to that a few choice remarks on how girls cannot do mathematics anyway, and so it goes.

Is staying home with the child for an extended period of time a choice or lack of a suitable kindergarten place?

Would the considerable cost associated with an employee having a child not make it easier for companies to hire men to fill more important positions?

Social norms that we take with us from our childhood might be difficult to break through for both women and men. This expectation that people meeting certain criteria do certain things or refrain from doing them based on a silent agreement. This covers restrictive gender stereotypes or the idea of how someone should act based on whether they are a woman or a man.

For example, there is no law to state that men should go to the men's room, while that is generally what they do and going to the ladies' room is frowned upon. A woman seeking a high-paid job often meets the same kind of obstacles a man does trying to go to the ladies' room without any agenda: "Where are you going?! You should be doing other things instead of pursuing a career! This is not a suitable job for a woman! Go home, you have children to raise! Etc."

It is not sensible nor are there any reasons why men and women should work differently or sport different attitudes toward taking care of the elderly or doing housework. What matters are an individual's self-determination and the economy's need for workers that is not limited to half the population.

Why is the gender wage gap narrowing in Estonia?

The gender wage gap has been closing all over the world since the 1980s. We are adjusting to the laundry getting done with the help of the washing machine. Those four hours previously spent on doing the laundry by hand can now be spent earning a salary.

These kinds of changes also mean new social norms. Virtually every family now has a washing machine, we have laundromats and if someone measured whether someone else is a good lady of the house based on how much laundry they can do by hand over four hours, they would be considered odd.

There has been a lot of talk of the gender wage gap in recent years and talking about it helps change social norms to better correspond to modern labor market needs. Talking about it has also proved useful in terms of narrowing the wage gap in other countries. Employers are increasingly motivated, executives are paying more attention to salary organization and how to marry work and private life.

It is likely that last year's improvement also owed to a considerable hike of the minimum salary (from €470 in 2017 to €540 in 2019) because more women work low-paying jobs than men.

The "golden age" of the wage gap is around the time when children are born. Since the spring of 2018, women have been allowed to earn more money while on childcare leave than previously – that also helped narrow the gap. One can now earn up to 1.5 average salaries (€1,774.05 in 2020) without having one's parental benefit cut.

88 percent of parental benefit recipients are women, while the relative importance of men among them is growing, which in turn promotes equal opportunities on the labor market. Salary advance in sectors that mostly employ women also work to reduce a country's wage gap – for example, 86 percent of Estonian teachers are women, while the average salary for a pedagogue exceeded €1,500 in 2019.

Since 2018, the state has allocated millions for reducing administrative burden – and because taking care of elderly relatives has been keeping mostly women away from the labor market, reducing this burden has probably also had an effect on the wage gap in 2019.

Reducing the wage gap depends on many different decisions – a person's own choices, support of colleagues, decisions by employers and legislation.

There can be times a person is not free in their decisions. Even in mandatory secondary education, a scenario is possible where everyone in class wants a technology course but because there are not enough places, girls are sent to do crocheting because it's not suitable for boys. There are very few 10-year-olds who can and dare stand up against this social norm of gender allotment.

The most important thing in 2020 is to quickly overcome the economic slump as major crises usually impact the situation of the weaker part of society and people earning modest salary, causing differences to deepen.

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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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