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Equal pay for women

August 31, 2011

On the BBC Radio 4 Today programme this morning, John Humphrys interviewed someone about a recent report claiming that progress towards equal pay was slow, despite women doing the “same job with the same motivation and skills”. For middle grade executives the gap was claimed to be about £14,000 per year.

Humphrys of course went into his typical “soft interviews for leftists” mode, and opined that “it was a crying shame”, “something must be done”, “surely we need more/stronger legislation”, and completely missed the chance to ask whether the differences might be explained by other factors.

How can they persist in a free market?  Can independent firms, with shareholders baying for profits, really fail to see the benefits of employing more women. If we are to believe the report, the women would work just as hard, just as long hours, take just as much work home, but be paid £14,000 less.  That’s £14,000 pure profit every year, for each female executive employed.

Equal pay advocates would have us believe that firms are foolish, and can’t see £14,000 waiting to be picked up.  Perhaps they employ too many men!

But it is far more likely that there are subtle differences in the value to firms of male and female employees, detectable to employers, but not captured in job descriptions.  We all know what they might be.

Most families still arrange things so the man tries as far as possible to develop a full time career, move with his job, and take few or no career breaks.  Most women are happy to take lesser paid jobs, change jobs if their spouse moves, and take career breaks to have children. Not every family is like that, but for most it’s a sensible division of labour, making the most of the biological fact that only the woman can bear children.

We may want life to be different, and perhaps men should take on more household chores, and move for their wife’s career.  But surely a BBC interviewer should at least ask whether such differences might explain the observed pay gap.

Jim Thornton

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