The big debate: Do women really earn less than men, and if so, why?

Recently figures showed it will take 57 years for the gender pay gap to close and for women in the workplace to be earning the same amount as men. ClearDebt’s Jacqueline Cohen decided to take a closer look specifically at the statistics for women in debt and came up with the following conclusions.

Recently figures confirmed it will take 57 years for women in the workplace to be earning the same amount as men. ClearDebt’s Marketing Manager, Jacqueline Cohen, decided to take a closer look at the statistics for women in debt and has the following views on the gender pay gap.

As a woman, I readily admit this particular topic of debate has always been of great interest to me.

Before I begin, there are a few things I need to confess – particualrly to any of our male readers:
– I’m a feminist in the sense I believe women should be strong, ambitious characters – just as men should be
– I believe in equal rights
– I believe and strive for idealism but accept it’s often unachievable
– I believe behind every great man, there is often a great woman, but find myself wondering why she’s never in front?

Yesterday the national press confirmed the majority of working women earn 25% less than men. When talking in the office about this statsitic, we decided to look at ClearDebt’s own client data and see how it compared.

Surprisingly, it actually showed women in debt as higher earners than men – until – they reached the big 4-0.  Now I know the saying tells us life begins at 40, but it seems for many women, it actually goes downhill from there!  According to our data, women in debt and under 30 earn, after tax, an average annual pay of £19,200.  That means they take home nearly £1,600 more a year than men the same age who are also in debt.  Interestingly, the research also shows that although we may earn more, indebted women under 30 owe an average of 121% of their take home salary, whilst men of the same group spend an average of 141% of their lower take home salary.

This in itself implies a few things…particualrly from a woman (myself), working in a male driven industry.

The reason I believe women earn more in the first few years of their career is, for any woman with ambition, this is when you have to make your mark.  As a woman, particularly when working in a male industry, you need to be clear of your career path and leave little, if any room for error.  Whatever we’d like to believe, sexism and gender sterotypes still exist and that often means having to prove ourselves to be at least equal to our male counterparts in order to get the salary and position within a company we are aiming for.

The debt issue, is a tricky one.  No matter how idealistic we like to be, the truth is, image is still everything, most of the time.  As a society, our “leaders” and “icons” are not necessarily business or political ones, but more often than not, celebrities.  And the notion that the better we look, the more successful we become, is often why women spend so much time and money purchasing clothes, shoes and handbags – not to mention the hair and make up products we buy into.  As much as we’d all like to say image doesn’t matter in the workplace – I think, deep down, we know it does.  There – I’ve said it.

Men on the other hand, spend more of their take home pay, but on what?  Certainly not hair and make up 😉  I suspect, the key difference is, whilst women believe  “image” and connotation of “success” is in how you look, many men beleive it’s in what you have.  So whilst we buy many lower cost items, men will spend their hard earned cash on high value status goods such as electronics, game consoles, cameras, flat screen TVs and of course, cars – so naturally, at the end of the month, their expenditure bill is higher.

So – so far, I’ve explained my reasons why I think women earn more in the first few years of their career – because, right or wrong, they have to work harder, be in the office more, and generally be more efficient than men in the same workplace, if they want to get ahead.

I’ve also addressed where I think the debt comes from and how it accounts for the expenditure that builds up – because, particualrly for women – image = success; at least it does in the movies 😉

But why then, does it all change when they hit 40?  In my opinion, the answer is childcare.

Women, in most cases, have children in their late 20’s/early 30’s.  If they go back to work, they normally adapt their hours slightly but can still, in the early years, do an 8 hour day.  Still – it’s not the 10 or 12 hour days they used to put in before.  And then as the kids get older and start school – who picks them up?  I don’t see many dads cutting their working hours to collect the children from school at 3.30pm?  Do you?  So the women do it – along with their job.  And so…starts the downhill struggle – one which they will undoubtedly lose.

Although I can argue a working mum’s day starts at 6.30am and doesn’t often finish until 9/10pm at night – the difference is,  men can stay in the office during those hours and enjoy the pay rise which rewards it.  Menawhile, women  juggle smelly nappies and read bedtime stories – which although offers its own rewards, doesn’t come with salary projections.  Honest.

By the time we reach the age of retirement, men are bringing home a whopping £600 more than women.

Despite having the right to vote since 1907, it seems we still have a long way to go before we’re rewarded in the workplace for the quality of work we do, rather than the quantity.  How many times does a man need to be told, it’s not what you do, it’s how well you do it 😉

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  1. I agree with the points mentioned about women who have had children being unable to put in the extra hours and this ultimately having a negative effect on their future career prospects ( and pay rises!) but I can’t see an easy way for things to change – that’s probably why the newspapers have reported it’ll take till the year 2067 for everything to even out.

    Let’s not forget a lot of businesses are struggling in the current economical climate and unfortunately for most, this means they see “married-to-the-job” types as a better long-term investment than employees who have a life outside of the job.

  2. It’s my experience that women can be at least as married-to-the-job as men. More so in fact.

    But I’ve no doubt the child rearing thing plays a huge part. It means that, age for age, a person who has taken, say, five years off to give a child a great start in life is, when s/he returns to the workplace, going to have five years less experience than the colleagues who haven’t had a career break. The only way to equalise this is if society changes and recognises that men, as well as women, have the right to stay at home with their children and let the most effective partner be the breadwinner.

    One might say that men earn more because the role of father is devalued in today’s society.

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