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Gender gap

2021-03-07 | Critique of ideology

If the political game were simply honest, no matter how class-slanted it were, a confusing indicator which makes invisible the most elementary social divisions, such as the gender gap, would have an extremely limited use. However, such an indicator lies at the heart of the Spanish government's program and is one of the main banners of IWD (March 8th). The gender gap discourse has served to hide what was happening in the labor market and to "storm the heavens" of management boards by a part of the female petty bourgeoisie. Now it is beginning to mutate... into something even worse.

In this article...

What is the gender gap

According to the European Parliament, the gender gap or better, gender pay gap is the difference existing on average between the gross hourly earnings of women and men. It is based on wages paid directly to employees before deducting income tax and social security contributions.

From the outset, the concept has a major problem:

It overlooks class differences. The corporate bourgeoisie (the managers and administrators) and the corporate petty bourgeoisie (the bosses) receive in the form of wages a part of their share of the profits. But that difference between income from capital disguised as wages and income from labor, dissolves into the slurry of wage averages, when in fact we are talking about radically different things.

An example of gender gap

To understand what the gender pay gap shows and what it conceals, there is nothing better than a street-level example: a neighborhood supermarket.

The owners of the supermarket, a couple, collect in addition to their profits, a salary. He as manager, she as bookkeeper, plus they hire part-time their daughter as a trainee, two female cashiers and a male shelf-stocker.

First thing: what the owning family collects in dividends is not computed in the gender gap. So we will focus on wages.

Post Individual monthly gross salary

| Manager | 3. 000 |

| Bookkeeper | 1. 800 |

| Trainee
(part-time) | 700 |

| Cashiers | 1. text-align-right" data-align="right">950 |

| Shelf-stocker | 950 |

To compute the gender gap we will add up the income of all males on one side and females on the other and calculate the averages by sex.

Varons Females
Total wages 3950 4400

| Number of persons | 2 | 4 |

| Average salary by group | 1975 | 1100 |

The numbers are not at all far-fetched and synthesize in one example a very common situation. What do we get? Although all workers are paid the same, the 950€ of the Spanish minimum wage, the gender gap is significant. What's more, if we were to divide by salary levels we would get something very similar to the three lower segments of the Spanish gender gap graph.

gender gap spain

The real gap is the class gap within companies...

Evolution of salaries in Spain in 2018. The collapse of average salaries reduces the total wage mass received by the workers who are concentrated around the minimum wage, while improving the salaries of the corporate petite-bourgeoisie.

The first thing the aggregate data tell us is the obvious class gap, a gap that is widened by policies making it cheaper to lay off workers with good wages and hire younger workers for amounts closer and closer to the minimum wage.

The result is the famous U-shaped evolution of the wage distribution, where both the number of people employed at the lowest and highest salary levels rise at the expense of intermediate ones.

This, which as we see in the graph was already brutal in 2018, has worsened as of the new downturn we find ourselves in.

The wage income of the lowest-earning 30% has plunged by no less than 10% while the wages of the corporate petty bourgeoisie and managers drop very little and even go up, widening the class gap.

...but it has a reflection - and a multiplicative effect - based on both gender and age

This movement to lay off older workers in order to hire younger, cheaper and theoretically better-trained ones, has a gender-differentiated reflection. We saw it with brutal clarity during the first years of the 2009 crisis and the Rajoy labor reform. There are more women among active young people, so the gender gap fell drastically in the age groups where the gap was widest: between 55 and 64 (top line) and less and for less time in the 25-54 bracket (green-blue line).

And yet... the outcome between 20 and 64 years old (the khaki line) rebounded from 2014 and only declined minimally again in 2019. Why?

Because many women from a certain point in their lives go on to opt for part-time contracts. Contracts that have grown with the wave of precarization starting in the late 1980s, and these part-time contracts are highly gendered


Among workers from a certain salary level downwards, it is rational for one partner to devote all or part of their time to parenting: what is lost by switching from a full-time job to a part-time job is often compensated by the savings on childcare and associated expenses... leaving more time to enjoy parenting and oneself.

The obvious question is why it is mostly women who do this. If the reason were an established social discrimination in the labor market two things would happen:

  1. The number of women engaged full-time in child-rearing would increase as wages fell, as happened in Spain until the 1970s and in Japan until the 1990s. But as we can see above this is not the case. The total number of inactive people engaged in child-rearing and housework has not stopped falling among women since 1989... while the share of wages in income declined and the Spanish birth rate was among the lowest in the world.
  2. The wage/hour ratio within the couple would be either constant over time, or would progressively escalate in favor of the male. However, this is not the case. Clearly the ratio of hourly wages reverses after the first child.

What does this mean? That in most cases the decision to engage in partial parenting, sacrificing income/hour is not a strictly economic decision. There is clearly an ideological element that we do not intend to discuss now. In any case it is clear that its influence on the gender gap does not point to sex discrimination in the workplace or in the labor market.

What the gender gap is telling us

  1. The bourgeoisie and corporate petty bourgeoisie are much more masculinized than workers, especially younger cohorts of workers.
  2. Underneath the gender gap lies an obvious class gap that the indicator conceals, especially among younger, more precarious workers of both sexes. The wage gap in favor of managers and executives is so high that the gender imbalance in middle and senior management positions affects the overall performance of the entire company even when employees are mostly women and all have the same salary, as in our example.
  3. As wages become more concentrated at the extremes, i.e., as executive and managerial wages (the bourgeois classes in the firm) grow and workers' wages tend to concentrate around the minimum wage, the more the class effects of the gender gap multiply.
    1. As bourgeois women have more incentive to fight for (and get) top positions, the gap tends to decrease at the top.
    2. As workers' wages fall the gender gap tends to grow at the bottom because it becomes more expensive to raise a child relative to the wage and therefore part-time work will be more attractive to working women.
  4. The increase in part-time work after the first child in working families has an economic rationale - low wages and the high cost of childrearing- but which is reflected as an increase in the gender gap not because of easily detectable discrimination in the market or in companies, but for ideological and cultural reasons

What is the gender gap used for

If the political game were simply honest, no matter how many class biases it had, a confusing indicator concealing the most elementary social divisions, such as the gender gap, would be of very limited use. Yet it lies at the heart of the Spanish government's program and is one of the main IWD's banners.

The truth is that it has served as a framing slogan for a whole section of the female petty bourgeoisie to storm the boards of directors -that is, to ascend to the bourgeoisie- dressing up their aspirations as the need of women as a whole. The current Spanish Minister of Labor stated this with overwhelming forcefulness before entering the government.


Appendix: From gender gap discourse to the "equal value" discourse

The fact that gender gap discourse is central to kind of feminism reaching out to workers is actually a weakness of feminist strategy. That is why so-called working class feminism and governmental feminism are expanding the discourse from the gender gap into a new field, specifically targeting workers. The new formula is same pay for jobs of equal value.

What does that mean, how is that different from equal work, equal pay? The ILO (International Labour Organization) guide tells us that there are jobs with equivalent value despite having different wages. What do they mean by value? Certainly not what capital understands by value and which is nothing more than the product of all the unpaid work it extracts from exploiting all the workers and which knows no gender difference.

What they mean by value is a measure of supposedly gendered social recognition. For instance, physical jobs that receive hazard bonuses - and are therefore more highly paid - tend to be performed by males and to be recognized as more important.

Height cleaning, more highly paid for its physical risks measured in deaths and injuries from occupational accidents, would also be more highly regarded than surface cleaning. The former is mostly performed by men, the latter by women. Its value, for feminists, would be the same despite the difference in wages.

Are they proposing to eliminate dangerous jobs? No. Eliminating these jobs would be the progressive thing to do, though. Are they calling for equal access for men and women to all jobs (especially those that are gendered ghettoes)? No. They propose us, while using one of those casuistries they love so much, to create a sexual label by sector to then either level the ground downwards -most of the time-, or to raise by law the salaries of women in certain positions by forcing gendered quotas in order to prevent employers from switching female workers for cheaper male workers right away.

In any case, instead of working towards equality, they institutionalize the sexual division of labor and move towards what has always been the feminist-unionist goal: different bargaining agreements for men and women, that is, to dig a trench between workers of one sex and the other in order to better govern them at their own expense. Something after all perfectly predictable in an identitarianist movement which always abhorred the socialist movement's principle of egalitarianism.