In the UK and many other developed countries, it is illegal to pay men and women different wages for the same work. Yet the gender pay gap – how much more men earn on average than women – refuses to go away. There are countless explanations for why men are paid more on average but for many people, the buck stops at gender: women are paid less because they are women.
An Ipsos survey of what 27 countries felt is the most pressing issue for women suggests that the majority of Europeans feel that there are bigger issues, such as sexual violence, facing women. In Sweden, known for its liberal views, just 36% of respondents felt that equal pay was the most important; in the UK, 30%.
One source of the especially polarising opinions that revolve around the gender pay gap is that it has become so heavily politicised. Nevertheless, a growing body of work shows that women are more likely to take roles that are lower-paid, such as nursing due to their higher emotional intelligence and, due to family structures, many cut short their careers due to childbirth.
That is not to say that women do not face discrimination in the workplace, of course. One glance at the #MeToo campaign or the countless claims of sexual harassment at work quickly dispels that idea. However, blaming the pay disparity between men and women on just one parameter – gender – when there is a myriad of other factors at play, which may or may not be linked to gender, is an overly reductionist view of what is clearly a very complex issue.
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