SA’s gender pay gap shrinks dramatically

By Carol Paton for Business Day 

The gender pay gap has shrunk dramatically, especially among low paid workers since the end of apartheid, but women at the top still face discrimination, a study by a University of Cape Town researcher has found.

In 1997, at the bottom end of the earnings spectrum, men earned 60% more than women. By 2014 this had diminished to 7%, said economist Jacqueline Mosomi in a paper based on her PhD thesis, published by the UN’s University World Institute for Development Economics Research.

The change is mostly attributable to the implementation of new minimum wages. Minimum wages for domestic and farm workers were introduced in November 2002. Women have also had better access to education since democracy, and marriage and fertility rates have declined.

“In general, in SA gender wage inequality was high because there were more women in low-paying occupations. There has been a substantial decline due to the implementation of minimum wages,” said Mosomi.

But at the top, despite having more years of education than men, women remain under-represented at senior levels and occupy jobs that are lower-paying. Mosomi’s paper found that more affluent and educated women were big beneficiaries of employment equity legislation and the gender wage gap dropped sharply from 48% in 1993 reaching 18% in 2014.

The Employment Equity Act, which requires companies to submit plans to the department of labour to bring the workforce in line with demographic categories, was passed in 1998.

“Women who already had high-quality skills were able to benefit from employment equity legislation but once that effect had taken place, the trend began to reverse. Now, even though women have more education than men they receive lower returns,” she says.

Mosomi says that the wage gap at the top does indicate discrimination but is also due to the type of work women do, which is often more administrative and less technical than occupations dominated by men.

Women in the middle of the earnings spectrum have benefited least in the post-apartheid era. At the mean — that is the half-way point in the wage distribution spectrum — the gender wage gap has hardly shifted. Men still earn 23% to 35% more than women. Mosomi says that other research has found that most occupations that fall into the median earning still tend to be male-dominated.

These jobs include elementary, service, craft or operational work. Gender analysis has shown that these occupations and the industries in which they are located are still dominated by men.

At the Jobs Summit held last October, Business Unity SA (Busa) undertook to encourage its members to voluntarily disclose the gap between the top and bottom paid as well as the gender pay gap. Busa said it would do this with a view to making disclosure compulsory over the next 12 months.

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