Living in the Red

Many of
us are aware of the sorry state of pay equality in Ontario but are uninformed
of its full breadth. To that end, the Equal Pay Coalition (EPC) has declared
April 9 Equal Pay Day in Ontario. It
is an important day meant to address and raise awareness of the woeful gender
pay gap in Ontario, which currently stands at about 28%.

On April
9, the EPC asked people to wear red in order to highlight the fact that female
workers are “in the red” as compared to male workers and to show support for
efforts being made to close the gender pay gap. Gender pay inequality is an
issue 365 days a year and the EPC’s efforts to reserve at least one day to bring
attention to this issue is admirable and highly called for.

Why there is a Gender Pay Gap – Education &

there may be many causes of the gender pay gap, one significant factor is
education. There are presently more female university students than there are
Yet women tend to earn less than males when exiting university. This has been
attributed to the selection of different Majors. Males, for instance, are more
likely to study more lucrative technical fields, while women are more likely to
study less lucrative fields like social sciences or the arts. As a result, female
workers are more concentrated in professions with traditionally lower pay[2].
This could account for the gap to some extent, but not for the difference in
study choices.

Though it
may be tempting to say that women simply have different interests than men and
conclude the matter there, the truth is more complex. Evidence suggests that
gender differences are not inborn. They are learned behaviours. Parental and
social expectations go a long way toward shaping how a person will act. Almost
from the get-go, g
toys and/or giving gender based assignments shape a child and begin the process
of socialization.[3]
Stated another way, girls are taught to be “girls” and boys are taught to be “boys.”
Such gender socialization perpetuates the pay equity gap and contributes to
lower pay among women throughout their lives and increases the likelihood of
poverty among retired women.

socialization greatly impacts a gender’s belief about its chances for success. Even
where the genders share the same study preferences if there’s a difference
among them in their belief about success in a given field, they’ll pursue
different areas of study[4].
That being said, women have been found to have similar confidence in their
abilities as men in fields like engineering. The reason women are
under-represented in this field is likely because women don’t believe they’ll
enjoy studying engineering[5].
The reason, however, that this belief exists could be that girls are raised to
put a premium on more “feminine” things. Thus, while there might be a similar
belief in ability, the belief that success in a field will be fulfilling or
unfulfilling may be on account of socialization.

Girls are
socialized to believe they must live up to different expectations than men. Many
girls are raised with images of Disney princesses and trained to ascribe too
much importance to beauty. Girls are raised to think that it doesn’t matter if
they can solve a quadratic equation if they’re not traditionally “pretty” and
feminine. To be beautiful is the greatest success. Fields relating to math,
science and technology don’t fit this bill. These fields simply are not as much
a part of the expectations for females as they are for males. This is despite
the fact that there’s no evidence women can’t be as successful as men in these
fields. Different societal expectations lead to different beliefs and result in
lower interest among women in pursuing such interests. Women are steered away
from technical fields by social expectations, not by a lack of ability.


On top of
the challenges women face in the educational sphere, the belief that women will
have children that will interrupt their career progression negatively impacts
the view of female job applicants in the eyes of prospective employers[6].
Motherhood has been found to lead to a reduction in women’s wages and an
increase in the gender pay gap. Motherhood often leads to an absence from the
labour force, diminished work-experience and a preference for more flexible
work schedules, such as those attained via part-time work. Thus even when a
woman can overcome the negative effects of socialization there is still another
hurdle to equal pay.

Closing the Gap – Changing Expectations

has shown that the best way to close the gender pay gap is through the
encouragement of women and girls to not merely believe but to know that they can perform just as well
as men in any field, and to encourage interests in those fields once
demonstrated.[7] The
source of the next great scientific advancement could be fulminating in the
mind of a young girl at this very moment. However, if she grows up with the
false belief that science is the rightful domain of her brothers and that she
should turn her attention to something more “feminine” we could all suffer an
inestimable loss. The broader question is why jobs traditionally filled by
females pay less.

So what
is the rationale for valuing female contributions to society at such a discount
compared to male contributions? The answer might just be deceptively simply
after all. Given the history of struggle women have had to go through merely to
be recognized as “persons”, the reason why traditionally female jobs are
undervalued may be because women have traditionally been undervalued. The current
situation has gone on for far too long; it cannot be allowed to continue. Girls
and women must not be forced to live in the red because of social expectations
and the realities of motherhood. No woman should be forced by gender-based
factors to live out her golden years in poverty. There must be a change. There
must be an Equal Pay Day.

To learn
more about the gender pay gap issue and to ask Premier Wynne to declare April 9
Equal Pay Day in this province, just as President Obama did in America on April
17, 2012[8],
the EPC’s website may be visited

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