Women. Crédito: pxhere

Why it’s pointless to say women should earn less than men

Women study more, work more and earn less. Have you ever wondered why this happens? Find out more on gender wage gaps and their reasons

They menstruate, bear babies, breastfeed and study - more than men, in general. They do most household chores and children care. They also work as much as men do. Still, women get less recognition at work, are less valued and, above all, worse paid.

The 2017 Gender Pay Gap (GPG) Index reveals that in no country in the world women are better paid than men. Among member countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), South Korea is the country with the highest wage gap between men and women. There, women’s monthly wage is 34.6% lower than men’s; that is, if a man earns one thousand dollars, a woman receives US$ 654 performing the same activity. In the USA, the salary difference is 18.2% less for women. In Mexico, 16.5%, and Germany, 15.5%.

Studies show many opportunity disparities between genders. According to the report Estatísticas de gênero – Indicadores sociais das mulheres no Brasil (Gender Statistics - Women Social indicator in Brazil), from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE), women earn, on average, a monthly wage 23.5% lower than men in Brazil.

Formal study and unbalanced routine

In Brazil, according to the report Estatísticas de gênero – Indicadores sociais das mulheres no Brasil, published by IBGE in 2018, 16.9% of the female population aged 25 or older have completed high school education, versus 13.5% of men. While 20.7% of white men have completed higher graduation, 23.5% of white women reached the same level. However, female presence is lower in decision-making, political representation and administration positions: women make up 37.8% of leadership positions in Brazil.

Part of the remuneration problem can be explained by production on demand, according to national and international studies. According to these studies, since women are more involved with household chores and family care, they tend to have less time and conditions to dedicate to a career and find more barriers to be 100% available in their time, and also to overwork, work alternative shifts, and keep regularity and punctuality. IBGE data supports this thesis by showing that, in Brazil, women do mostly part-time jobs (up to 30 hours a week): 28.2% of jobs for women, compared to 14.1% of jobs for men. According to the same publication, unbalanced shared responsibility between men and women regarding household chores has a negative impact on female participation in the labor market.

The Brazilian reality is that, in 2016, women dedicated, on average, 18 hours a week to taking care of people or household chores, 73% more than men (10.5 hours). This may explain why, even though women have higher education, they earn, on average, 76.5% of men’s income.

A survey carried out by the University of Michigan showed that married women have a 7-hour additional domestic workload a week. If the couple has three children or more, the wife then spends 28 hours a week cooking and cleaning. How can one conciliate all these chores and go out to work?

Different conditions

The rationale is simple and unfair: the less men take part in domestic chores, the more women need to put their time and energy into doing the same chores. When women do that, men have more time for their career and, conversely, women have less time for the same.

Even so, women find their way. The 2017 Pnad (National Survey by Domicile Sample), developed and disclosed by IBGE shows that Brazilian women work, on average, 7.5 hours or more than men a week due to their double journey, which includes domestic and remunerated work.

As an attempt to narrow condition and opportunity disparities, Brazilian senator Benedito de Lira (PP-AL) proposed a draft law that bars companies from paying different wages for men and women performing the same professional activity. The bill, drafted in March 2017 and under review in Congress, creates a fine for companies up to 12 times the wage the woman is supposedly entitled to, in case of uncompliance.

The regulation is important to improve the quality of professional relationships. “Discrimination is the greatest barrier faced by women in the job market. Women are often victims of repeated harassment, either moral or sexual,” said Tânia Andrade, legislative advisor in labor, in a technical study. “They are also the most impacted with occupational diseases, resulting from improper work conditions.”

Maternity leave and paternity leave

Other important issue is maternity leave. In Norway, a couple with one baby has the right to a parental leave of 46 weeks, which can be used either by the father or the mother, provided the father uses at least 12 weeks and the mother 9. The wage remains the same, but it’s also possible to take 56 weeks of leave earning 80% of the wage.

Yet in Canada, if the mother has worked 600 hours in formal employment, paying taxes, she may request pregnancy leave (leave only for the mother) or parental leave, which is shared between father and mother. This period may extend to 18 months and the Canadian government pays part of the wage of the person on leave.

In Brazil, the leave, at most, is six months or 180 calendar days for mothers working legally. This period cannot be shared and is granted exclusively to mothers; however, the government warrants a 5-calendar-day paternity leave, which may be extended to 20 days if the company is part of the Empresa Cidadã Program.

“Not counting breastfeeding, men and women have the same conditions to do chores involving care, from changing diapers to providing love and safety,”  said Aline Gatto Boueri, journalist and co-author of the book "Lugar de Mulher (A Woman’s Place)," (Ed. Oficina Raquel, 2017). “So, why aren’t they encouraged to spend more time at home and be responsible for the survival of his descendants in their first months of life?”

The Care Economy

Seeing how much his effort his wife dedicated working around the clock as a cook, house cleaner, home administrator and mother, American Steven Nelms decided to calculate what her remuneration would be like from all that work. Babysitting care, for instance, would cost US$ 705 a week. He would spend more US$ 100 for a simple house cleaning per week. Cooking would cost US$ 240 a week and laundry, more US$ 25.

That’s not all. Home maintenance, which includes food, clothes, shoes and other elements required on our daily lives, would not cost less than US$ 260 a week. A professional for accounting services, paying bills and doing banking services would earn US$ 75 a week. That would reach US$ 6,164 a week. In 12 months, the sum would be US$ 73,960.

He reckons that these calculations are based on actual budgets. Steve said that he himself could not afford theses services. “She loves me, loves our son, and loves our family, so obviously she isn’t doing any of those things for a paycheck or even for recognition.”

He also noted that his calculation is a way to show his wife that he sees and values that work. “As a Stay-At-Home Mom, her appraised salary is nearly double my actual income.  So, in a very weird way, this is my way of saying how much I value my wife and the mother of my child. You are more precious than rubies. And I can’t afford you."

This amount is delivered for free on a daily basis by women in invisible roles that make up the so-called “care economy.” Although unpaid, this work generates remuneration. Men that support free domestic work without taking part of chores convert one else’s job in their own wage. This happens because people need to show up for work with clean clothes and shoes, fed, healthy and rested.

“This does not consider the 5.5 million Brazilians without a father registered on birth certificate. But even when women have a partner, their double journey continues,” completed Marina Ganzarolli, lawyer and researcher of legislative production and gender, violence and harassment in the workplace. “Women work outside the home, and are responsible for food, clothes and grocery. They have the pediatrician’s number on the mobile; they take care of the sick, elders, disabled and children; they visit sons or husbands in jail. They accumulate roles and obviously this has reflections.”

Aline Bouer believes that it’s hard to establish the amount of time dedicated to care, “not only because it’s hard to define work hours – care is an activity that lasts 24 hours a day, 7 days a week –, but because it involves sentimentality.” To her, by requiring an equal division of care tasks, the fight for a more equal society advances. “Here children have their part as revolutionary individuals, as they go from obstacles to protagonists of profound changes in social organization.”

Surely in specific cases it’s possible to find a woman earning more than a man in a leading position or, compared to her husband, having a financial advantage. Even so, data shows that wage disparity is a collective and real problem, which generates significant unbalances and, therefore, should be publicly debated. But Mariana also warns that the debate should go beyond household chores. “Women are polite to negotiate, and not offering counterarguments. Debate and occupation of public space is encouraged only for men. The problem also lies in the way we raise our daughters and sons.”