The term ‘gender pay gap’ is being used more and more but what exactly does it mean; and how wide is it currently? According to the Australian Government’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the gender pay gap refers to the difference between women and men’s average weekly full-time equivalent earnings, the measure expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the gender pay gap currently sits at 18.8 per cent. Over the past 2 decades, this figure has consistently sat between 15 and 19 per cent. This is not a statistical anomaly, this term exists because women have been paid less than their male counterparts for as long as their wages has been measured and recorded.

There are many reasons why the gender pay gap exists. Some of these include:

• The lack of value placed on the types of work more commonly performed by women, or what is seen as ‘women’s work’.
• ‘Industrial segregation’ and ‘occupational segregation’ or women and men working in different industries and jobs; with female dominated industries and jobs often attracting lower wages than male industries and jobs.
• Women’s more precarious attachment to the workforce, largely due to their unpaid caring responsibilities. Additionally, decisions to share paid and unpaid work responsibilities are often made based on greater earning potential in relationships; further enforcing the gender pay gap.
• Both direct and unconscious discrimination.

Addressing the gender pay gap will go a long way to improving gender inequality and additionally, research suggests it will reduce women’s reliance on the public purse. If women are in a position to earn more, they will end their working lives with higher levels of savings and superannuation, reducing their reliance on the age pension and other benefits. It has been reported that reducing women’s reliance on the age pension by only 10 per cent would conservatively save $2 billion per annum currently and $8 billion per annum by 2050. At 18.8 per cent Australia still has a long way to go to close the gender pay gap but considering the associated benefits, even smalls steps towards parity will go a long way to improving equality.

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