Gains in gender pay gap are not the whole story

Even a country's favorable gender pay gap can be rendered almost meaningless if we don't also take into account the percentage of women who are employed in the economy. 

Daiva Repeckaite
Daiva Repeckaite NewsMavens, Malta
Gains in gender pay gap are not the whole story - NewsMavens
President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca, Wikimedia Commons

Why this story matters:

Speaking at a conference called Empowering Gender Equality on the occasion of the state visit by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, Maltese President Marie Louise Coleiro Preca was quoted as saying that the gender pay gap had caught up with Malta "although Maltese women have enjoyed equal pay for decades".

But is this true? If we look at Eurostat, the first data on Malta after it joined the EU in 2004 shows that Malta indeed had a very low gender pay gap in unadjusted form. In 2006, it stood at only 5.2%.

However, if we look at EIGE's data on overall earnings for that year, the gap in Malta was the highest in the EU at 61.9%. Malta only stopped being at the top of the list between 2010 and 2014, which means that women had by far lower pensions and other types of income than men.

Also, the low gender pay gap shortly after joining the EU was when only 37.3% of Maltese women aged 15-64 worked -- this was by far the lowest employment rate in the EU.

In Estonia, which tends to have the largest gender pay gap, three quarters of women were working back then. Women's employment in Malta only crossed the half way mark in 2013, and the gender pay gap climbed to 9.7%. Although the pay gap has fluctuated, the trend is that the more women enter the labor force, the less their work is valued.

The president's interpretation is that "These disparities are a new form of the same old discrimination and inequalities." There may be several mechanisms that explain how the gender pay gap continued to grow alongside female employment: a rise in non-unionized jobs without a collective agreement, where pay depends on the worker's negotiating skills; the emergence of feminized sectors that pit women against one another; a boom in construction and other male-dominated industries, which offer opportunities for low-skilled men while women's wages stagnate, are likely key parts of this puzzle.

In Italy, both the employment rate and gender pay gap have stagnated since 2006, although the latter peaked at 7% in 2013. Greece managed to halve its previously exorbitant gender pay gap (25.5% in 2002) as women's employment stagnated and then dipped below 50% amid crisis and austerity and has not recovered. Malta has overtaken these two countries in women's employment rate.

Details from the story:

  • President Coleiro Preca spoke at a conference co-facilitated by the Mediterranean Academy of Diplomatic Studies at the University of Malta, the Embassy of the Republic of Tunisia, and the Office of the President of Malta on the occasion of the state visit by Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi.
  • She praised her Tunisian counterpart for the "impressive achievement" of 47% share of women in the local council positions in Tunisia and referred to him as a "stalwart of equality".
  • Meanwhile, women occupy only 14% of the Maltese Parliament seats.
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