Highest and Lowest Gender Pay Gap as an Index for Gender Equality
Gender equality is a global imperative that requires collective action across borders and sectors. It is not a straight-forward task to measure gender gap in different cultural or socioeconomic contexts, but gender pay gap is one of the clear indices that reflects inequality between men and women in society. The gender wage gap refers to the difference between median earnings of men and women relative to median earnings of men.
The visual content above lists five countries from OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) members + other EU countries with the highest and lowest gender wage gap. I pulled the rankings from OECD data on Gender Wage Gap. The number indicates the percentage of how much median pay of women is less than median pay of men in a specific country.
The data concerns full-time employees. For example, in South Korea, median pay of a full-time female worker is 31% less than median pay of a full-time male worker. In other words, a full-time female worker earns 69 while a full-time male worker earns 100. Looking at the list, below are some interesting observations.
Asian OECD Members Struggle to Fill the Gender Pay Gap
There are only two OECD members in Asia: Japan and Korea. Unfortunately, both the countries made the list of the highest gender pay gap. As mentioned earlier, women in Korea earn 69 while men earn 100. Similarly, women in Japan earn 77 while men earn 100. Adding to this index, these two countries were ranked relatively lower in the Global Gender Gap Index 2021 rankings of the World Economic Forum. One of the reasons for the region’s gender inequality may be their political histories of misusing or distorting traditions established within the framework of ancient philosophy, such as Buddhism and Confucianism.
However, the good news is that both the countries are aware of the importance of gender equality. The Minister of Gender Equality and Family of South Korea, Chung Young-ai, said the following in a recent interview with Bloomberg: “South Koreans must focus on solving chronic problems such as income disparity, a low birth rate and systemic gender-based discrimination that rank among the worst in the developed world and put strains on growth.” Japan also shows its commitment to bridge the gender gap by announcing initiatives with the Fifth Basic Plan for Gender Equality. These initiatives particularly aim to increase women’s participation in the political scene and policy-making processes, setting specific targets for political parties.
An Index is Not a Perfect Mirror: Rhetoric Behind the Latin America
Now coming to the countries with the lowest gender wage gap, two of the top five were from Latin America: Colombia and Costa Rica. However, this result may come as a surprise for some because of their economic circumstances. As was found in our previous visual content “Does Having More Wealth Mean More Social Progress?,” there is a correlation between wealth and social progress. Generally speaking, the wealthier, the more social progress, but with outliers. Social progress here includes gender parity. In other words, we could say the wealthier, the less gender gap (expected). The two Latin American countries are seemingly the outliers because their GDP per capita are relatively lower than those of the other countries in the top five:
- #1. Luxembourg: US$122,740,
- #2. Colombia: US$15,184,
- #3. Costa Rica: US$20,667,
- #4. Bulgaria: US$25,471,
- #5. Belgium: US$53,973.
In fact, reviewing the Social Progress Index, both Colombia and Costa Rica underperformed in one of the gender-related indicators, “Women with advanced education.” Furthermore Colombia ranked at 115 out of 163 in “Equality of political power by gender.” Then how come these two achieved the lowest gender pay gap?
An OECD report explains the rhetoric as the following: in Colombia and Costa Rica, “small gender pay gaps are the result of ‘selection effects’, whereby for various reasons only more highly-qualified female workers tend to remain in the labour force, inflating female median earnings.” Simply put, the median earnings of women used is not the reflection of the actual earnings of overall women in these countries. Rather, lower-qualified women possibly do not even take part in the labour force. The reality could be much more serious than what the index shows.
Why Not Equal Pay for Equal Work?
Activists have long raised voice for equal pay for equal work since as early as the 19th century. Centuries have passed but women still remain subordinate to men in many aspects of life. Unfortunately, financial discrepancies only reinforce the status. The fact that multiple factors contribute to gender pay gap makes it even harder to give a good cut. Such factors could be conscious or unconscious, individual or collective, cultural or social. Many of these factors entangle each other, forming a complicated web.
So, are we giving up on closing the gender gap?—NO. The important thing is taking an appropriate approach that matches to the country, region, sector, or organization. For example, as mentioned above, Japan is first setting the goal for its political field. This can work in Japan because the country has a top-to-down decision making culture. In other words, social reforms are likely to take place with the initiatives from the leaders or the government in Japan.
Likewise, if each part of the world and society is able to come up with ‘tailor-made’ solutions, equal pay for equal work is achievable. Shifting mindset and embracing changes can be time-consuming and challenging; however, gender equality will definitely enhance human development because almost half of the world’s population is female. Then, empowering the half of the population will benefit all of us to create a better and stronger world.
We Have More on Gender Issues
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