UW prof explores wage disparity

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Since the 1980s, the Ontario public sector has worked to remove gender-based wage disparities, however, according to a new UW study published in partnership with WLU, the province&rsquo;s private sector industries still have considerable progress to be made.&nbsp;</p>

The study — which was conducted by Ana Ferrer and Tammy Schirle, professors at UW’s and WLU’s departments of economics respectively — explored how much progress Ontario has made in closing the gender gap in private sector jobs since 1997. Through their research, they were able to conclude that certain jobs become harder to attain for different genders based on how the skills needed from those jobs are perceived.

“Recent studies have concluded that most of the gender gap is ‘explained’ (which means linked to productive characteristics) once one considers the occupation. This suggests that the problem is that women choose occupations that pay less than the occupations men choose,” said Ferrer in an email interview with Imprint.

Based on data collected by Ferrer and Schirle, men and women do tend to choose professions differently.

“However, when considering what you need to perform your job, how [many] analytical, communication, or strength skills you need to do your job, the results indicate that the problem is on how [these] skills are paid, not on the fact that women choose less skilled occupations,” Ferrer said. “Women in some industries are not being paid the same when they perform jobs that require the same skills that men use.”

Ferrer and Schirle’s interest in the topic stems from their curiosity to understand how the gender gap has continued to shape Canada’s economy. 

“Despite incredible progress in leveling the field for women in the labour market since the early ‘80s, the gender gap has not closed,” Ferrer said, adding that research into the topic is still much needed. “Women should be aware that wage parity is still harder to achieve in some industries or occupations relative to others and that investing in human capital is still the best way to reach it.”

“Since the gender gap started to be a matter of active public concern, in the 1980s, it has been reduced by around 15 percentual points,” Ferrer wrote, adding that improvements have come as a result of “tremendous advancements that women have made in education and labour market attachment, unionization, etc.” 

According to Ferrer, this study was not an “exhaustive analysis of all 300 industries” found in Ontario’s private section, although on average wage gap within the private sector is 22 per cent. The largest factor influencing this gap is choice of industry, although other factors include union coverage and tenure privileges.  

“In general, the [wage] gap is larger in male-dominated industries (construction) and some gender balance industries (professional, scientific, and technical services),” Ferrer wrote. However, in other industries where females are dominant, for instance social work, nursing, or retail, there are larger portions of the gap that still remain unexplained. To Ferrer and Schirle, this suggested “differences in the way same characteristics are paid.” This is also true for certain male-dominated industries like construction that are also prone to unexplained gaps.

These unexplained gaps fail to provide a clear basis for why the gender gap has lasted so long. 

“Unexplained differences are like a black box that do not tell us much about why the gender gap persists,” Ferrer said. “Jobs that value education, allow flexibility in hours, and where analytical ability and communication skills are important are the ones in which women have made the most progress.”

The wage gap is further influenced by a “lack of flexibility in high paid industries and reliance on women to supply most of the household care.” Women, when faced with the added condition of choosing between their families and career, are often “forced to opt out of good paying industries and occupations in favour of more flexible ones,” said Ferrer.

According to Ferrer, the best method to improve these conditions would be pushing employers for greater flexibility and accommodations. “While it is true that some industries are more amenable to these changes, I do not think everything that can be done has been done.”

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