Mind The Gender Pay Gap – A BBC Programme We Don’t Have To Listen To


The BBC has a radio programme about the gender pay gap today. Fortunately, as the opening paragraph of this Guardian article by the maker shows, we don’t have to listen to it. Because she’s simply not got the basics of the subject under discussion:

We never hear politicians or pundits arguing that men should be paid more than women. Yet this reality is fundamental to the organisation of our society. The mean gender pay gap for full-time work runs at 14.1%, rising to 18.4% if part-time work is included. And these pay gaps are just one aspect of the unequal division of wealth between the sexes.

It’s a decade now since the Statistics Ombudsman told us all that we should not use the mean here. For that places much too much weight upon the very few who earn very large incomes. In fact we shouldn’t use the mean when we’ve a distribution bounded upon one end and not upon the other. We don’t record negative incomes in our wage or income statistics, even though such obviously do exist – we can’t explain bankruptcy without that now, can we? There’s also no obvious upper limit upon incomes. We are thus abjured not to use the mean, we should use the median.

Emma Griffin is professor of modern British history at the University of East Anglia

So much for the UEA and their professor of modern history’s command of basic statistics.

We also shouldn’t be mixing and matching the concept of a flow – income – and that of a stock – wealth. That’s another economic no no. Therefore, obviously, we don’t need to listen to the programme which is a relief.

When we look at how men’s and women’s labour has been rewarded in the past, we are forced to drop that comforting assumption. For hundreds of years, virtually all work has been segregated by gender, and men have always been paid more. Occasionally men did physically demanding work, which might command a wage premium.

Yes, as we knew it would, it does get worse. From, say and around and about, 6,000 BC up to perhaps 1850 or so the majority – the vast majority at the beginning then tapering down – of people were peasants. Farming the fields that is, straight agricultural labour. Which is indeed a matter of muscular heft. There are of course women who can handle an ox-drawn plough, Flemish farmers are famous for seeking them out as wives. But they’re in short supply even in Belgium. The gender division of labour is not some imposition by The Man, it’s, or at least it was, innate in the gender disparity of the human form. Especially in those millennia when an adult woman would, likely as not, spend her entire adult life either pregnant or lactating.

That cultural practice has lagged the change in technology is not exactly a great sociological finding even if it does come as a surprise to a historian or two.

No, no need to listen to this programme at all. Even if we might want to ponder why our taxes are spent upon making it – and yes, the BBC licence fee is a tax, Gordon Brown said so.