Age and performance ‘fail to explain’ gender pay gap

New Zealand analysis of ‘globally unique’ dataset repudiates common justifications for earnings disparities

January 22, 2020
New Zealand pay protest
Source: iStock

Age and performance account for less than half of the earnings disparity between male and female academics, and some women could buy a house with the amount they are underpaid over the course of their careers, according to research.

A University of Canterbury study, published in Plos One on 22 January, refutes the “male variability hypothesis” – the theory that men’s average earnings are inflated by a prevalence of male “superstars” – as an explanation for career inequities between the genders.

Instead the research finds that sexism is the cause of the imbalance. Lead researcher Ann Brower said the gender gap would never disappear in most academic fields if current hiring practices persisted.

“If we take a man and a woman of the same age and research performance score, the man’s odds are double the woman’s of being ranked and paid as an associate professor or professor,” she said.

The team based their study on New Zealand’s Performance-Based Research Fund, which rates every academic individually on a 700-point scale that reflects not only publications but also other measures of research output – such as supervision and impact – and factors such as awards and editorships. The PBRF also tallies information about the researchers’ institutional salary bands.

Tracking almost 6,000 researchers, primarily across the 2003 and 2012 PBRFs, the team found that even though the average female senior lecturer boosted her score by 21 points more than her typical male counterpart, he was 60 per cent more likely to be promoted.

Even when the team controlled for the differences caused by women taking time out to raise children, the unexplained earnings disparity ranged from 32 per cent in medicine to 58 per cent in engineering.

In lifetime earnings terms, the shortfalls equated to between NZ$97,000 (£49,000) and NZ$471,000.

Co-author Alex James, a mathematical biologist, projected New Zealand’s academic profile for 2070 using current patterns of recruitment, promotion and retirement, and found that the disparities would be only partly erased.

The team found that the most likely cause of the disparity was a “double-whammy effect” whereby female academics were expected to do more teaching and community service than their male peers, and were underrated for these efforts.

“You can tease apart the sexism into a million different reasons, but fundamentally you just keep coming back to sexism,” Dr James said.

john.ross@timeshighereducation.com

POSTSCRIPT:

Print headline: Male superstars ‘fail to explain’ gender pay gap

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Reader's comments (2)

It is interesting to note that females feel hard done by their failure to secure Professorships despite their high rankings in publications, research output, awards, and editorship. In my case when I was a Lecturer at a Western Australian University I was discriminated against being given any promotion despite I ranked in the top 30% in publications, research, seminars. This was because the University decided that they wanted a 50/50 male/female quota for all academics across all faculties. Surely this approach was not the best policy for the students as the best academics who were discriminated against found jobs elsewhere, resulting in a lower standard of teaching and expertise.
Hi jkelmar, for your comment to make sense I have to assume that you were not female.

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