Women earn less than men – how much less exactly?

Calendar entry with Pay Day

Image: ronstik | Getty Images

Depending on who you ask and how you calculate, the difference is smaller or bigger – figures for Europe and a surprise from Switzerland.

Traditionally, surveys on wage differences between men and women yield different results, depending on the sender of a study. For example, employers’ associations often calculate and interpret differently from unions. Selected methodology and other factors additionally influence the results and thus the figures on the gender pay gap.

A reflection on inequalities and on falsified results

An interesting comparison comes from Eurostat, which calculates the gender pay gap for Europe. What is impressive here are the huge differences between individual countries. And thus also the question, what for example in Italy or Romania runs completely differently in comparison to Estonia, which could explain these differences exhaustively.

Another surprise comes from Switzerland. Namely, the realization that a directly affected group deliberately distorts the results on the wage gap between men and women. Not for base motives, but with a remarkable and unexpected motive.

First the unadjusted gender pay gap in Europe

The unadjusted Gender Pay Gap in Europe is collected by Eurostat, the Statistical Office of the European Union. The evaluation shows the share of the average gross wage of men that women receive less for their work.

In the "unadjusted" Gender pay gap differences are particularly glaring because structural differences such as part-time work, position in the company or different industries are not taken into account. Once these factors are taken into account, the differences are inevitably much smaller, but they still persist.

As an indicator, the unadjusted version of the statistics is meaningful because it shows that men and women do not participate to the same extent in the economy – women generally have less money at their disposal. This is partly due to the fact that women more often perform unpaid care and housework, and it is also due to the fact that jobs with a high proportion of women are generally less well-paid.

Chart with wage comparisons men and women in Europe

Graph: Statista.com

Impressive differences between countries

The Eurostat analysis is also interesting with regard to the country differences. While the average gap across all EU countries is 16 percent, Estonia pushes the average up considerably to 25.6 percent. Among the top gap countries are the Czech Republic with 21.1 percent, Germany with 21.0 percent and the United Kingdom with 20.8 percent.

At the lower end of the scale are Italy and Romania, where the differences in earnings are only 5 and 3.5 percent, respectively. Structural differences aside, Italians and Romanians seem to follow a recipe not shared by all states.

In the graphic from Statista.com is not shown separately, but is included in the Eurostat survey and amounts to 17 percent. The analysis with the detailed figures of all countries can be found here.

Surprising insight: skewed results in surveys in Switzerland

If (adjusted) wage differences are surveyed directly on the basis of reported wages at companies, the results are obviously different compared to direct surveys of wage earners. The surprising reason: couples falsify women’s share of joint income.

This is the conclusion of a study conducted by ZEW (Centre for European Economic Research) Mannheim and the University of Basel. The authors of the study compared the income data in a survey in Switzerland with the data of the respondents from the official statistics – with the result:

Many respondents indicate in the survey that the wife earns just a little less or just as much as her partner. The number of people who state that the woman earns more is significantly smaller. However, official data for the same individuals show that for couples in which the woman actually earns more, the information given in surveys often deviates from the true income.

In surveys, women’s share of income is often systematically set below 50 percent. Why?

The reason: gender norms influence income data

In the survey, especially those people make false statements in whose partnership the share of income of the woman is over 50 percent. Both women and men make false statements with regard to their own income and the income of their partner, respectively," says the co-author of the study. of the female partner. However, the tendency to overstate the man’s income is more pronounced for both sexes. Since the share of women’s income is systematically set below 50 percent, the study authors interpret this response behavior as an indication of a traditional social norm: the man is considered the breadwinner and main earner.

"Our data show that among those who make false declarations, the proportion of couples is larger where the woman earns more even though the man is more highly educated or equally educated.", says the co-author of the study, Dr. Michaela Slotwinski, Researcher in the ZEW Research Unit Social Protection and Distribution. "This may be because it threatens male identity to admit that a woman earns more, despite not having more education than a man. The same applies if the woman works fewer hours or the same number of hours and still earns a higher income. These couples are also more common in misrepresentations."

Survey data makes pay gap look bigger than it really is

So while one might conclude based on survey data that women adjust their labor supply to avoid earning more than their partner, it turns out that’s not the case at all. What can be established, however, is that the income data respond to the norm above a female income share of about 48 percent. Consequently, survey data might sometimes be less informative about individuals’ behavior than previously thought.

Michaela Slotwinski on the topic:

These misstatements lead to a systematic underestimation of women’s incomes and an overestimation of men’s incomes in survey data

"That can lead to it", Slotwinski continued, "That the skewed survey results portray the gender pay gap, or gender wage gap, as larger than it really is".

The study authors conclude that the true gender pay gap is overestimated by 9 to 13 percent based on the survey data they looked at. And they warn that these inaccurate numbers could affect the design of policies to address the gender wage gap that rely on these surveys.

Conclusion and the study for download

Surprising and new is the realization that directly affected people and wage earners can be among those groups that deliberately falsify results. To make sure that at least the basis of the numbers is correct, one of the more reliable methods is probably to record the effective wages in the factories. Even then, there is still a lot of room for exponents from different camps to use different weighting of factors or imaginative interpretations to make the wage differences appear smaller or larger.

The study by authors Michaela Slotwinski and Anja Roth goes into detail and is available in English. The PDF can be downloaded free of charge from ZEW, via the link immediately below.

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