Higher job attrition rates ‘widen gender and ethnicity pay gaps’

While earnings gaps are well known, study suggests they are even wider than previously thought

October 11, 2023
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Higher attrition rates for female and minority ethnic academics mean that they earn “significantly” less than some male colleagues over the course of their careers, according to a study.

Researchers from the University of Canterbury said that while gender and ethnicity pay gaps have been well publicised for academics, most of the research has focused on specific points in time or has used a “standard academic lifespan”.

Instead, the team compared the total lifetime earnings of different gender and ethnic groups with and without accounting for the different lengths of time spent in academia.

They examined a dataset of research performance scores and academic ranks for academics of European, Asian, Māori and Pasifika descent employed at every New Zealand university in 2012 and 2018.

Their results, published in Royal Society Open Science, show that all female groups have a pay gap that is between 5 per cent and 12 per cent smaller than European men when a standard 35-year academic lifespan – from 30 to 65 – is assumed.

They also found that overall, for every ethnicity, women have shorter careers and are more likely to leave academia than men.

And when they adjusted for variation in hiring and leaving ages, the lifetime pay gap for European and Māori and Pasifika women compared with European men became “significantly bigger”, rising to approximately 20 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively.

During their academic careers, all minority ethnic groups – and women – earned considerably less than their male white, European colleagues.

“If academic jobs were poorly paid and leaving early was likely due to moving on to more lucrative employment, or starting an academic career was associated with a pay cut for most people, then a short academic career could be seen as a good thing in terms of entire career earnings,” the researchers write.

“While this will be the case for some, it is unlikely to be the majority.”

The Canterbury team previously found that age and performance account for less than half the earnings disparity between male and female academics, and that some women could buy a house with the amount they are underpaid over the course of their careers.

Their latest findings show that women, especially non-Europeans, are likely to have lower research scores than men, and generally leave academia earlier and with lower lifetime earnings, which results in “highly gender-biased leaving rates” and means that universities are “gendered organisations”.

“That is, universities are organisations in which gender permeates all structures, processes and relationships as a constitutive element, and in which gender stereotypes, norms, institutional resistance to intersectional equity both produce and reproduce inequality,” says the study, written by Tessa Barrett-Walker, Franca Buelow, Lindsey Te Atu O Tu MacDonald, Ann Brower and Alex James.

“Seeing women academics from under-represented minorities plateau or leave while European men advance their careers creates a strongly standardising effect around male-dominated environments.”


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Reader's comments (1)

Well said.