Is Australia winning at wage equality?

Disparity between men’s and women’s salaries has long been a cause of heated debate. Conflicting data from the United States and Australia begs the question; if the pay gap is getting worse, why do we think it is getting better?

A recent survey from the United States shows that views on the gender pay gap differ, with many women in Generation Y stating more needs to be done to achieve equality in the workplace whilst denying that they have personally been discriminated against or paid less than male counterparts.

Earlier this year, the Pew Research Centre ran a survey of 810 Millennials (better known in Australia as Generation Y) on the topic of gender in the workplace. The findings were collated in the On Pay Gap, Millennial Women Near Parity – For Now report, released December 2013.

In Australia, numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that women working full time are typically paid 17.5% less than men but the Pew Research Centre survey shows that the pay gap in the U.S is closing, particularly for Gen Y workers.

The research showed that the gap for those aged 25-34 had narrowed to 7 per cent in 2012. This seems like a surprising improvement but when viewed in context, it is clear that one main reason for the shift is that men, particularly in the younger age bracket, have experienced a significant decline in wages since 1980 which has brought them closer in salary to their female colleagues.

In Australia, the gap has actually widened since 2005 from 15.1 percent to the current 17.5 per cent. With the U.S economy being hit much harder by the GFC, this could create speculation that a tougher economic climate could positively affect pay equality between genders.

One of the main findings from the Pew study was that while both men and women aged between 18 and 32 thought that pay inequality was declining, there were still many areas for improvement. A significantly high proportion of respondents believed that more changes are required to enable gender equality in the workplace – 75 per cent of Millennial women, in addition to 57 per cent of Millennial men.

Anecdotally in Australia discussions around gender pay disparity are often rife with myths, such as the numbers being skewed by part time workers or that the gap exists only in isolated cases in specific roles or industries.

The issue of family responsibilities is clearly a pertinent one here and is one area where employers can take action, and must ensure they are complying with current legislation. See our Parental Leave FAQs for more information.