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“Stop fussing over the gender pay gap,” says economist

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In a report released today, professor of economics at the University of East London Len Shackleton concluded that “we should make far less of a song and dance about the gender pay gap”.

Professor Shackleton raised serious doubts about the supposed benefits of equal pay and anti-discrimination legislation, arguing that such regulation may be counter-productive.

The research found that the pay gap is falling, and is likely to fall further. But the real issues behind the pay discrepancy are poorly understood by policy-makers, let alone the general public.

The principle reasons for the gap, put simply, are the differences in working conditions and the values, preferences and choices of individual men and women, which are beyond the reach of government.

For example, for 22-29 year old men and women, at height of their career, the full-time pay gap is now less than 1 per cent. And for part-timers, women’s earnings are actually higher that their male counterparts.

But the fact remains that men tend to work longer hours and put in more overtime that women. This is only a generalisation, of course, but the findings showed that twice as many male as female managers work more than 48 hours a week. Men also tend to seek higher pay and career success, while more women seek job satisfaction.

However, on the plus side, if you’re a woman, you’re less likely to lose your job or suffer serious injury at work.

Shackleton believes that proposals to introduce compulsory pay audits, give greater subsidies to childcare, use government procurement to support equal pay drives, and increased flexible working are unlikely to narrow the gap significantly

He says: “The widespread belief that the gender pay gap is a reflection of deep rooted discrimination by employers is ill-informed and an unhelpful contribution to the debate. The pay gap is falling but is also a reflection of individuals’ lifestyle preferences. Government can’t regulate or legislate these away – and shouldn’t try to.”

However, this research did find that other pay gaps exist: ethnic; disability; religious; and sexual orientation. But there’s no one solution for this discrimination. Individual cases interact in unpredictable ways and thus make a consistent public policy impossible to achieve

The report has led the IEA thinktank’s Director, Philip Booth, to call for the repeal of legislation that purports to promote equality in the workplace.

Professor Booth said: “In the last decade, in the name of promoting equality, we have had a huge increase in the burden placed upon employers. This can often harm the very people it is intended to help. Indeed, given this new evidence, we should question the need for the Equal Pay Act. It seems to be individual choices and not systematic discrimination that determines pay and conditions.”

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