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Collateral Damage: Why Coronavirus Might Widen the Gender Pay Gap

Women earn about one-fifth less money than men around the world and coronavirus is likely to widen this gap.

Published
Women
5 min read
Collateral Damage: Why Coronavirus Might Widen the Gender Pay Gap
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Snapshot

“Women will end up bearing a big brunt.”

Even as numbers from across the world show than men may be at more risk of contracting the highly contagious coronavirus, a large section of women are likely to bear the economic consequences – including a widening gender pay gap.

While some might argue that issues such as gender pay gap should take a back seat while the world is fighting a pandemic, the said crisis is likely to make inequities worse.

Women earn about one-fifth less money than men around the world, reflecting factors from motherhood and employment in lower-wage jobs to stereotypes in promotion decisions, according to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). A new ongoing study conducted by researchers at Northwestern University, the University of Mannheim in Germany and the University of California, San Diego shows that the coronavirus pandemic is likely to widen this gap.

Here’s why the gender pay gap in India is likely to widen due to coronavirus.

Collateral Damage: Why Coronavirus Might Widen the Gender Pay Gap

  1. 1. What Is the Gender Pay Gap?

    Gender pay gap is essentially the average difference between the remuneration received by working men and women. It is often confused with unequal pay, which is a situation where women are paid less for doing the same work as men.

    Expand
  2. 2. What Is the Gender Pay Gap Situation in India?

    Oxfam’s 'Mind The Gap-State of Employment in India', says that women on an average are paid 34 percent less than similarly qualified male workers for performing the same tasks.

    According to the ILO, India’s gender wage gap was the highest among 73 countries that it keeps a track on.

    In another widely quoted report – The Monster Salary Index – it was revealed that the median gross hourly wage for men in India was Rs 242.49 against 196.30 for women. The difference is a big Rs 49.19.

    And this pay gap spans across sectors. In the IT industry, the survey showed men earning 26 percent more than women. In the manufacturing sector, men earned 24 percent more while in healthcare and social work, men earned 21 percent more.

    The gap also rises for women with more experience. For example, women with 6 to 10 years experience earn 10 percent less than men. For those with over 10 years' experience, the pay gap widens to 15 percent.

    Expand
  3. 3. Why Is Coronavirus Likely to Widen This Gap?

    A general consensus is that the pandemic will have a definite impact on worldwide economy, especially of those countries that are on lockdowns to contain the surge of COVID-19. This in turn would shoot up unemployment levels and would especially witness the disappearance of lower-wage jobs.

    “Across the world, the gender gap is likely to increase this year as countries are likely to see their lower-wage jobs disappear,” said Anita Bhatia.

    She is the assistant Secretary General and deputy executive director of the United Nations’ women’s agency. As more women face unemployment, or are forced to quit their jobs post the pandemic, the pay gap is likely to widen as it is based on median and mean wages of men and women. PayScale's Gender Pay Gap research, based on United States, points that women are likely to face more unemployment as a result of the pandemic – thus widening the overall pay gap.

    Expand
  4. 4. What Are The Reasons For This?

    Women in India are largely employed in low value-added sectors such as agriculture, textiles, and domestic services, where the wage disparity is already quite striking. Being a part of low-value-added industries mean women continue to be on the lower end of the pay scale and earn 35-85 percent of what their male counterparts make. These jobs are likely to be affected due to the pandemic.

    Speaking to The Quint, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, All India Progressive Women's Association, said:

    “Like during demonetisation collapse, women will also bear the effects of coronavirus.”

    In corporate India too, the situation is likely to get worse. Around 53 percent of top Indian companies have a male to female employee ratio of 10:1 or worse, revealed data collected from top 500 BSE lsited companies in India, analysed by Corporate Responsibility Watch (CRW), a think-tank consisting of 14 civil society organisations.

    Krishnan further points out that the increased household burden during coronavirus means women will be pulling a greater load – given the expectation to be primary care-givers. This, she says, will give an excuse for companies to "falsely claim" that women are "working less" and justify the pay gap.

    “In general, unemployment means there are more people desperate for a job. The employer is able to use people’s desperation to pay them less. Every social weakness will be exploited for that. While the employer may also be struggling, this is another excuse to pay women less,” said Krishnan.

    Another reason responsible for the widening wage gap is that India's female labour-force participation is among the lowest in the world and worse, it hasn't been getting better for the last few years. Women participating in workforce fell to 18 percent in 2019, from 37 percent in 2006, said a report by Azad Foundation.

    “The role of caregivers is going to be far more and in patriarchal society, that burden falls on women. They are responsible for taking care of both children and elderly. I am scared that organisations will be keen on getting rid of women in workforce,” said Ranu Bhogal, Director of Policy and Research at Oxfam India, to The Quint.

    Citing how organisations hesitated to hire women employees who were in their prime reproductive age after the maternity leave was increased from three to six months, Bhogal says that it is likely that that perception intensifies as a result of the pandemic.

    Expand
  5. 5. What Is Happening in the US and the UK?

    According to the United Nations in 2019, it would take at least 70 years for the US to achieve equal pay parity.

    According to PayScale’s 2020 Gender Pay Gap Report, women currently make 81 cents for every $1 a man makes. This is likely to worsen as women are more represented in lower-paying jobs compared to men, who comprise a higher percentage of the "professional sector." Women are also more represented in occupations with a social or service sectors. For example, 68 percent of community and social services workers are women, 70 percent of educators are women and 77 percent of personal care and service workers are women.

    In the UK, on the other hand, women were about one-third more likely than men to work in a sector that has been shut down, as they make up the bulk of retail and hospitality workers. One in six female employees worked for businesses hit by the lockdown, compared with one in seven of their male counterparts.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

What Is the Gender Pay Gap?

Gender pay gap is essentially the average difference between the remuneration received by working men and women. It is often confused with unequal pay, which is a situation where women are paid less for doing the same work as men.

ADVERTISEMENT

What Is the Gender Pay Gap Situation in India?

Oxfam’s 'Mind The Gap-State of Employment in India', says that women on an average are paid 34 percent less than similarly qualified male workers for performing the same tasks.

According to the ILO, India’s gender wage gap was the highest among 73 countries that it keeps a track on.

In another widely quoted report – The Monster Salary Index – it was revealed that the median gross hourly wage for men in India was Rs 242.49 against 196.30 for women. The difference is a big Rs 49.19.

And this pay gap spans across sectors. In the IT industry, the survey showed men earning 26 percent more than women. In the manufacturing sector, men earned 24 percent more while in healthcare and social work, men earned 21 percent more.

The gap also rises for women with more experience. For example, women with 6 to 10 years experience earn 10 percent less than men. For those with over 10 years' experience, the pay gap widens to 15 percent.

Why Is Coronavirus Likely to Widen This Gap?

A general consensus is that the pandemic will have a definite impact on worldwide economy, especially of those countries that are on lockdowns to contain the surge of COVID-19. This in turn would shoot up unemployment levels and would especially witness the disappearance of lower-wage jobs.

“Across the world, the gender gap is likely to increase this year as countries are likely to see their lower-wage jobs disappear,” said Anita Bhatia.

She is the assistant Secretary General and deputy executive director of the United Nations’ women’s agency. As more women face unemployment, or are forced to quit their jobs post the pandemic, the pay gap is likely to widen as it is based on median and mean wages of men and women. PayScale's Gender Pay Gap research, based on United States, points that women are likely to face more unemployment as a result of the pandemic – thus widening the overall pay gap.

ADVERTISEMENT

What Are The Reasons For This?

Women in India are largely employed in low value-added sectors such as agriculture, textiles, and domestic services, where the wage disparity is already quite striking. Being a part of low-value-added industries mean women continue to be on the lower end of the pay scale and earn 35-85 percent of what their male counterparts make. These jobs are likely to be affected due to the pandemic.

Speaking to The Quint, Kavita Krishnan, Secretary, All India Progressive Women's Association, said:

“Like during demonetisation collapse, women will also bear the effects of coronavirus.”

In corporate India too, the situation is likely to get worse. Around 53 percent of top Indian companies have a male to female employee ratio of 10:1 or worse, revealed data collected from top 500 BSE lsited companies in India, analysed by Corporate Responsibility Watch (CRW), a think-tank consisting of 14 civil society organisations.

Krishnan further points out that the increased household burden during coronavirus means women will be pulling a greater load – given the expectation to be primary care-givers. This, she says, will give an excuse for companies to "falsely claim" that women are "working less" and justify the pay gap.

“In general, unemployment means there are more people desperate for a job. The employer is able to use people’s desperation to pay them less. Every social weakness will be exploited for that. While the employer may also be struggling, this is another excuse to pay women less,” said Krishnan.

Another reason responsible for the widening wage gap is that India's female labour-force participation is among the lowest in the world and worse, it hasn't been getting better for the last few years. Women participating in workforce fell to 18 percent in 2019, from 37 percent in 2006, said a report by Azad Foundation.

“The role of caregivers is going to be far more and in patriarchal society, that burden falls on women. They are responsible for taking care of both children and elderly. I am scared that organisations will be keen on getting rid of women in workforce,” said Ranu Bhogal, Director of Policy and Research at Oxfam India, to The Quint.

Citing how organisations hesitated to hire women employees who were in their prime reproductive age after the maternity leave was increased from three to six months, Bhogal says that it is likely that that perception intensifies as a result of the pandemic.

What Is Happening in the US and the UK?

According to the United Nations in 2019, it would take at least 70 years for the US to achieve equal pay parity.

According to PayScale’s 2020 Gender Pay Gap Report, women currently make 81 cents for every $1 a man makes. This is likely to worsen as women are more represented in lower-paying jobs compared to men, who comprise a higher percentage of the "professional sector." Women are also more represented in occupations with a social or service sectors. For example, 68 percent of community and social services workers are women, 70 percent of educators are women and 77 percent of personal care and service workers are women.

In the UK, on the other hand, women were about one-third more likely than men to work in a sector that has been shut down, as they make up the bulk of retail and hospitality workers. One in six female employees worked for businesses hit by the lockdown, compared with one in seven of their male counterparts.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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