How common sense shows gender pay gap is a myth

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OPINION

THE gender pay gap is a myth.

Every year, twice a year on International Womens Day and today, so-called Equal Pay Day figures are trotted out that show on average, women earn less than men, as if this is somehow a scandal in need of urgent action.

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, this year the gender pay gap figure is 16.2 per cent, down from 18.5 per cent in 2014.

Women working fulltime need to work more than 14 months on average to earn the same as men earn in a year, WGEA director Libby Lyons said.

Over a lifetime, compounded by time out of the workforce due to caring responsibilities, the gender pay gap contributes to greatly reduced lifetime earnings and retirement savings. On average, women retire with just half the superannuation savings of men.

The WGEA says that, based on Average Weekly Earnings data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in order to earn the same as men women must work an additional 70 days a year on average to cover the $13,577 difference.

But this is an incredible oversimplification.

Averages can be prone to be misleading, said Dr Mikayla Novak, senior fellow with free-market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs. The differences in pay should be acknowledged to reflect individual choices of balance between work and family commitments.

There are individual forces about what industries people want to work in, for example mining, where there is a certain modicum of danger money thats available.

There are factors that need to be brought into the conversation to make it a well-rounded one, rather than one that says weve got an average pay discrepancy and that the government must step in.

Dr Novak said all the evidence shows the observed pay gap is due to choices people make for themselves, and not some sort of entrenched discrimination by employers.

Or to paraphrase Christina Hoff Sommers from the American Enterprise Institute: If employers could save 16.2 per cent by hiring women, theyd fire all the men.

Even the WGEA acknowledges that the gap reflects the overall position of women in the workforce and does not reflect like-for-like pay gaps for employees in the same or comparable roles.

According to the government, the solution to closing the gap is getting more women into high-paid jobs and leadership positions. According to the unions, its a government-funded parental leave scheme.

But unless theyre talking about paying all women a higher salary than men in the same job to account for their reduced overall time in the workforce, its hard to see what, exactly, gender pay gap campaigners are asking for.

Meanwhile, the WGEA, which has five male and 25 female employees, continues its fight for equality. We receive substantially more female than male applicants for job vacancies, a spokeswoman said.

We hope this changes as we make the case that gender equality is equally important to men and women. We encourage all jobseekers to check our website for current vacancies.