Without further ado, to keep this short, I’ll jump straight to the issue. Throughout the world, women make an equal or a greater workforce than men, but in general fall short when it comes to payment or income.
I was wondering why that stands as it is, even in relatively progressive western countries, let alone ours?
From the perspective of equity, it makes perfect sense to grant women equal pay as that to men, regardless of the kind of society and the economic model within which they function. It makes perfect sense in terms of empowerment, egalitarianism and justice. Also note, that gender pay gap is an ‘average’ estimate of the differences between the average earnings of men and women. It does not, in any way, take into consideration of the fact that a certain celebrity female earns more than a certain celebrity male in a certain entertainment industry.
But let us not forget that every time we talk about wage gap among the sexes, we assume the status quo of a super-productive capitalist free-market economic system that is mostly centered around a predominantly western ideology of hard work and profitable outcomes.
Now before jumping to conclusions, I’ll clarify that this blog does not attempt to defend anything in particular. I do not wish to hold the belief that something, no matter how morally superior it looks like, can be an absolute virtue. Another thing I’d like to clarify is my stance that while it is worthwhile to aim for a Utopian society, we may never possibly reach that goal even if we do get closer towards it with every social and political achievement taking place throughout the generations. It’s more like a parabolic curve that never touches the axes, in qualitative terms.
However, in the context of a profit-and-productivity oriented free market capitalist economy, social reforms play a relatively little role whatsoever. I repeat, relatively. For instance, social justice brought a significant proportion of women as well as other disadvantaged non-whites into the workforce, but did not objectively guarantee about equal pay. It shows that in the end, economics always wins.
When it comes to the issue regarding the wage gap, one should in fact focus more on the current economic model under which much of the global economy functions. Since I strongly disapprove of social Darwinism, I do think that the idea of an equal wage is a morally progressive one, but simultaneously also recognize that a major non-intentional hurdle that affects it adversely, is biology.
Biology is the key difference between the two sexes. We may wish to not identify into one or the other, which is a different matter beyond the scope of this blog, but biology cannot be shunned away without proper consideration in economics at least. The fundamental idea, when we talk about wage gap, which is a general estimate, is the general fact that women generally are the ones who do bear the burden of conception, pregnancy and child birth. Yes, in a progressive society, men may opt to take care of their children while women choose to work, but that is still a minority figure. It is always in general, the women who opt to stay, because putting it simply, evolutionary maternal psychology and hormones do kick in most of the time. And since every pregnant woman is a social responsibility, the costs associated with it in view of a capitalistic economy is immense, despite the importance of conception. And this fact hits hard on women’s right to equal pay more than any other reason in my opinion.
Here, people will definitely argue that at least in America, women comprise of a larger workforce, but aren’t even on average allowed a payed maternal leave for that matter as a compensation. Factual claim, but that is an internal American problem. Even those countries like Australia and France to name a couple, who do provide payed maternal leave to women, display a general wage gap of some percentage; with that of Australia amounting to roughly 16%.
Let us now consider the exceptions. Some women may not choose to marry nor conceive for various reasons. It is imperative from a capitalistic economical perspective, that such female workforce ought to be payed as much as their male counterparts, but the presumed idea that they will eventually not be as productive due to their biology, which makes sense as an employer since they cannot model their income structure on an individual basis, hits hard on the right to equal pay. This individual woman, is hit hard the most because of the presumed general idea about women’s biological tendencies such as a possible pregnancy which may affect productivity. And due to this economic selection, women who prioritize their career often sacrifice their family life and this is not at all an freely informed choice but rather an implied compulsion.
Nonetheless, it isn’t also justified to not address this issue just because of the inherent biological differences. Social justice movements do tend to push the line and the argument will not cease until the issue of equal pay is addressed. A solution must be agreed upon, which will not adversely affect the social importance of reproduction and freedom of choice. But what may that be in the first place?
A radical and absurd sounding idea is for the society to neutralize the uterus, bring it outside of the body and establish birthing centers where couples can go and order babies conceived by simulated machines so than no woman has to bear the burden of childbirth. After ensuring this seemingly impossible feat, the government is to provide for childcare with nannies and the sort. Ridiculous sounding idea it surely is. So what may be a more pragmatic and practical solution? There seems to be one.
Universal Basic Income.
When I went through articles written by many economists who propose UBI as a solution for many of the current economic problems such as poverty, I also realized that it somehow touched upon the issue of pay gap between the sexes.
When every individual in a society, irrespective of their sex, financial status or occupation, are provided with a minimum basic annual salary by the government, then people do not have to work extra hours as of now (which may be beneficial for economic productivity but is ruining social and mental health conditions in general) to earn a few extra dollars as they are already being provided with those basic income that can secure them both bread and shelter. A situation won’t arise frequently as of now, when in an ultra-competitive capitalist economy, losing one’s job or staying away from one’s job for too long can mean that both bread and shelter may be at the verge of being lost.
What the UBI also does, is that it also guarantees women (and their partners) the basic income to be able to afford the time away from work to take care of their children. While the gender pay gap may not be eradicated per se, one way UBI could improve on that issue would be to actually give an additional basic allowance on top of the UBI, to women, for their biological tendencies such as pregnancy leave. In this sense, companies themselves do not have to compromise on payed leaves for this faction of their workforce, and it’s more or less a win-win situation for all sides in any ultra capitalist society such as that exemplified by the United Sates of America.
And since I am not an expert on this issue, and this is just an informed opinion based on the works of other economists who have proposed such solutions, I do have to accept the possibility for this solution to not apply to all situations. Countries do set rules which suit their demographics in their own unique ways, so to assume that this particular out-of-the-box idea is the holy grail of all possible solutions, would perhaps be too hasty and too early as well. Which idea suits which society best, perhaps only time can tell. But in my opinion, UBI is worth giving a shot.