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HomeLaura PerrinsLaura Perrins: Gender pay gap explained. Men choose tough subjects leading to...

Laura Perrins: Gender pay gap explained. Men choose tough subjects leading to well paid jobs


If you want to know why there is an earnings pay gap, go to this link, the snappily titled report “How English domiciled graduate earnings vary with gender, institution attended, subject and socio-economic background” from the IFS and scroll down to page 13.

In it we have the gender breakdown as to who takes what subjects at university. Not surprisingly men dominate more difficult subjects leading to the better-paid jobs.

It has been said time and again that more women than men enter university – in fact we use this statistic ourselves to demonstrate that it is frequently men who lose out in the modern education system.

I, however, have for some time been wary of this statistic because university is not what it used to be. We know now that anyone can go if they want, and the IFS has confirmed recently that for some subjects, especially the arts, graduates often will earn less than non-graduates. It is also the case the women dominate in education and nursing in university and although I think these are incredibly worthwhile areas of study, they will not lead to the best-paid jobs (if that is what you are interested in).

The graph I mention is interesting. It splits subjects as follows, STEM: subjects in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics; LEM: subjects in Law, Economics and Management (Business) and OTHER: All other subjects.

On first reading I thought men would dominate STEM, and they do by about 1,400 in 1999 and 1,000 in 2002. But the breakdown of the subjects was telling.

For maths and computing 1,532 men entered compared to 430 women in 1999 and in 2002 this was 1414 v 345. Engineering and technology is even more male dominated – 775 v 109 in 1999 and 835 v 117 in 2002. Interestingly, business was pretty much even between the sexes as was creative arts. In 2002 nearly twice as many women read law than men and education is dominated by women by nearly 1,000 in both 1999 and 2002.

The fact is although well paid areas such as law and medicine have more women than men, the very well paid areas of maths, computing, engineering and technology are totally dominated by men.

This makes a mockery of all these dire predictions that all men are going to be unemployed when the computers and robots take over. I can accept that many machines will take over male jobs, but I don’t think the female service sector will be immune either.

The key question is, however, whom do you think will be writing the code for the machines, and whom do you think will build the damn robots? That is right – mostly men. Sure these companies will still need HR departments run by women, but the humans they will be resourcing will be men.

So enough with the earnings gap already. We know it is not discrimination but subject choice, and even subject choice within subject choice (eg. Law – women dominated but as so many, although not all, go into family and criminal law they will not be as well paid as those who go into commercial).

It also makes a nonsense of pieces like this bemoaning the cost of returning to work after a child because of the ‘gender pay gap’ and childcare costs.

We are told: “The gender pay gap makes the daunting decision about work even more fraught. Finding the money to pay for childcare is tricky enough, and every pound counts. A £5,700 pay increase would be a good start.” (the amount of the alleged gap).

Yes, because that is how the market works. The magical money monkey just comes along with some spare cash to give to women who decided creative arts was a good degree choice and it is just not fair that all the computer graduates earn more than them. The market pays what the market pays, as any economics graduate will tell you (205 men v 54 women 1999 and 176 v 45 in 2002) and no amount of feminist misinformed moaning is going to change that.

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