Michael Taft: Ireland’s Gender Pay Gap


From top: pay discrimination in Ireland is the highest in our European peer group; Michael Taft

Now that women have secured a basic human right denied them by the constitutional caprice of the now defunct 8th amendment, what is the next step?

It depends on how people see the issue.

If it was about secularising the constitution, then the next step would be to dis-establish the church in the provision of health and education.

If it was seen as a woman’s issue – an issue of choice and autonomy – then the next step would be to address issues that continue to deny women their rights. (By the way, we can take these and other steps in tandem).

In the workplace, this means the continuing discrimination against women – in pay and working conditions.

The usual way of measuring this is the gender pay gap, a simple calculation that measures the earnings inequality between men and women. This has rightly received a lot of attention. However, there are problems with this measurement.

A pay gap can be due to structural factors, not outright gender discrimination. For instance, occupational segregation could explain the difference in earnings. While 24 percent of women work in the low-pay distributive and hospitality sectors, only 19 percent of men work there.

Because of this and other factors (occupational segregation, educational achievement, number of working years), this simple measurement is called ‘unadjusted’.

The EU Commission states:

‘. . . the unadjusted GPG (gender pay gap) entangles in its measurement both possible discrimination between men and women, in terms of “unequal pay for equal work”, as well as the impact of differences in the average characteristics of men and women in the labour market.’

Eurostat has been working on an ‘adjusted’ gender pay gap – one which removes these structural factors. What is left is called the ‘unexplained’ pay gap and it is in this measure we will find actual pay discrimination.

So how do these compare?

Ireland performs comparatively well in the ‘unadjusted’ pay gap with a lower percentage than the average of our EU peer group (13.9 percent as opposed to 16.9 percent).

However, when we turn to the adjusted, or unexplained, gender pay gap a different picture emerges.

Ireland shoots up to the top. This suggests that actual pay discrimination is the highest in our peer group.

There are a number of strategies to end the gender pay gap: legislation (and highly resourced monitoring and compliance) and transparency which the Government intends to introduce, requiring companies to publish gendered payroll breakdowns.

One strategy that doesn’t get much mention is the attempt to rebalance, however, slightly, the power relationships in the workplace; namely, collective bargaining. Where collective bargaining exists there is a tendency for the gender pay gap to fall. There are two examples of this in unadjusted figures.

First, in the public sector – where workers benefit from collective bargaining – the gender pay gap is much less than in the private sector, where only 15 percent of workers benefit. In the public sector the gender pay gap is 9.7 percent; in the private sector it is more than double – 19.7 percent.

Second, those economic sectors with higher levels of union density (the number of workers who are members of trade unions this can be used as a proxy for collective bargaining) tend to have lower gender pay gaps.

These four sectors have gender pay gaps lower than all the other sectors reporting (curiously, some sectors don’t report for ‘confidential’ reasons). These sectors also have high levels of union density compared to a economy-wide level of 27 percent.

These are strong and positive co-relations between the ability of employees to negotiate collectively with the employer and a lower gender pay-gap. The European Trade Union Confederation also found this:

‘ . . . systems with a focus on centralised bargaining (sectoral and cross-sectoral) and high collective bargaining coverage tend to have been more successful in integrating gender equality issues into collective bargaining . . . the most successful gender equality outcomes are found where sectoral and company bargaining co-exist.’

This shouldn’t be too surprising. When people work together – whether in a social organisation campaigning for the repeal of an odious amendment or in the workplace campaigning for equality – positive change can occur. These are persistent lessons.

And when people work together, the next steps and the steps after that become a little bit easier.

[Note: this data was presented by Ethel Buckley, SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, to a Unite seminar on collective bargaining]

Michael Taft is a researcher for SIPTU and author of the political economy blog, Notes on the Front. His column appears here every Tuesday

Top pic: HR magazine

62 thoughts on “Michael Taft: Ireland’s Gender Pay Gap

  1. Chris

    Would love to know more about how the adjusted pay gap figures are calculated. On the surface it seems counter-intuitive that after “explaining” for some of the unadjusted gap (13.9%), the gap somehow *increases* to 15.8%.

    1. Sophie

      I think it means that in Ireland you might find more men in lower-payed jobs and more women in higher paid jobs than in other countries. However, in a similar position, the wage-gap between men and women is larger… I think.

          1. Michael Taft

            $hifty – I really can’t speak to the survey used in the article. Eurostat is based on data collected by national data agencies (e.g. CSO, UK ONS, Germany’s Destatis). To be fair to Eurostat they are trying to account for structural factors but I’d be surprised if they are finished yet. Hopefully, they will continue to refine their methods so we an get a better picture. I would emphasise that all the adjusted figure does is identify the unexplained part of the gap.

          2. $hifty

            Again, thank you for taking the time to respond, always good to get the info and opinions of those who contribute the articles.

          1. Clampers Outside!

            I just came by this, Denmark, Sweden and New Zealand show the same results, that…

            ” Striking identical results from different countries: the gender gap in income is primarily driven by motherhood. ”

            All three studies in this link:

            – – –

            VOX had a go at interpreting these results also… (I know, VOX… >_< But, the piece does read with less of their usual hyperbolic style, and sticks to the facts)

        1. Cian

          Interesting article. But it should have a few caveats: The EU Commission gender numbers ignore the following
          1. It excludes everyone in “Public administration and defence, compulsory social security” (5% of the workforce is excluded)
          2. it excludes companies with fewer than 10 employees – I.e. ignores 92% of companies, and 28% of employees.
          3. It seems that the main reason that Ireland went from 13.9% to 15.9% was due to a single factor “Enterprise Size”; this pulled the “Explained By” variable by “-14” points.

          Is Ireland unique in Europe with so many small companies? What is the gender breakdown of mall companies? What is the wages of small companies?

          1. Fact Checker

            Ireland has an unusual firm structure.

            A lot of very small enterprises. Ireland is not a big market.

            Quite a few big enterprises (mainly foreign SMEs, supermarkets, banks).

            Not so many in the middle.

    1. Clampers Outside!

      The pay gap is due to sex discrimination myth bingo.

      No one says there is no pay gap, only that the size of the gap being put down to discrimination IS a myth.
      Those that have claimed it is due to sex discrimination did not adjust any figs, and have always only taken the top line figures and said men earn X, women earn Y and screamed ‘sexism!’

      This proves them wrong with the info available to date. As Michael says, of this report, the rest is “unexplained” because there is more work to do on it.

  2. $hifty

    If employers were able to get away with paying women less for the same work a man could do, don’t you think they’d be hiring women left, right and centre and favouring them over male candidates?

    What is being described in the article is more of an earnings gap than a pay gap. Men, as a group, earn more than women.***

    This doesn’t mean there is some inherent bias where women are paid less than their male colleagues who are carrying out the same work. It just means a lot of engineers are male and a lot of nurses are female.

    You might question why that is the case, but this article goes nowhere near addressing such an issue. There was a study last year by the women’s institute that calculated the actual pay gap to be closer to 4% or somthing close to it.

    ***Overly simplistic and flawed, but you get what i mean

    1. Starina

      could be. but then you also need to consider what is perceived as men’s work and women’s work. off the top of my head, for instance, doctors here are very well paid. we all generally have this stereotype of doctors being men. in Russia, however, healthcare is considered womens’ work and they’re paid dismally as a result.

      1. $hifty

        And that would reinforce the point that women generally trend towards the lower paid jobs.

        Do you (or anyone for that matter) think that women who work for Aer Lingus are paid as much, on average, as the men who work for Aer Lingus? Do you think that they should be paid the same, regardless of whether they are in charge of the personal safety of the entire aircraft or if they are in carge of asking whether you want chicken or fish? I’m exaggerating to hammer home the point here, but this mysterious fluff piece by the commission doesn’t give any insight into how the “discrimination” is proven.

        Here’s a scenario:

        Imagine a company of 200 people. 50 male scientists and 50 female scientists, each earing €100k. The rest of the staff is made up of ancillary work like cleaners, security guards, receptionists, typists etc. By some quirk, every one of those people is paid exactly the same, say €30k, regardless of job, religion or sex. This is the very definition of an equal pay workforce. All men and women are paid the same as their colleagues doing the same job, whether they are scientists or cleaners.

        If the ancillary staff are made up of 20 men and 80 women though, this skews the reading of the statistics. All of a sudden, the men in that company earn an average of €80k per year while the women only take home an average that is less than €57k.

        40% Paygap, outta nowhere.

        The irony is that to correct this imbalance, the correct thing to do would be to fire 30 women and hire the same number of men in their place. How’s that for equality.

        1. Clampers Outside!

          Remember some Tesco staff were saying, a few months back, there was pay discrimination between floor staff and stock room staff….

          But there wasn’t. There were men and women in both sections.

          ‘Stock room’ happens to have more men in it than women, and the ‘floor’ had more women than men…. but because the stock room staff were paid more it was “claimed” there was pay discrimination even though….


          My question, what methods were used in the adjustment? If it’s as poor as the Tesco claims, it’s nonsense.
          That’s why the method used needs to be shown.

          1. Nigel

            So… you had predominantly women in the lower-paid job and predominantly men in the higher-paid job and this proves there’s no wage gap?

          2. Nigel

            Different jobs, and the better paying one has more men in it. Totally proves your point.

          3. Clampers Outside!

            That’s akin to saying women working as majority of nurses are discriminated because engineers get paid more and are majority male.

            Grow up Nigel!

            They are different jobs.

          4. Nigel

            The one with more men in it pays more. The one with more women in it pays less. This also is quite simple.

          5. Clampers Outside!

            And clearly it is different jobs. So any claim of pay discrimination in comparing the two different jobs is like comparing apples and oranges.

            Please stop comparing different jobs.

          6. $hifty

            Should they alter the pay structure as more men/women join/leave?

            Or should we examine the underlying reasons why women generally shy away from the STEM fields?

          7. Nigel

            Two different jobs. The one with more men in it gets paid more. The one with more women in it gets paid less. I know you don’t WANT to make this comparison because someone told you this proved the wage gap was a myth and you didn’t have the basic critical skills to examine the argument from more than one point of view but honestly it’s just there staring you in the face and you’re refusing to even acknowledge it and it’s both sad and funny.

          8. $hifty

            Nigel, the one with more men in it gets paid more cos the work is more dangerous/requires more manual labour/uses a particular skillset etc.

            Just beacuse more men than women take up that job doesn’t mean its sexist or discriminatory. Hell, I’d argue that it doesn’t even need to be ‘corrected’, provided the opportunites to apply for those jobs remain equal.

          9. Clampers Outside!

            Nigel’s a blank slatist from what I’ve seen of his commentry over the years…. it wouldn’t surprise me if he said that the manual labour on a building site being predominantly male and we’ll paid is sexist.

          10. Nigel

            But it’s still more money being paid for a job that employs mostly men. None of the reasons you list require a predominantly male workforce, except by tradition. Clampers claims this case disproves the wage gap. I’m pointing out that it reinforces it. The causes and responses, if any, I’ll leave aside as an exercise for another day.

          11. Nigel

            I don’t know what a ‘blank statist’ is but Clampers you always react well when people categorise you, don’t you?

            The idea that women cannot perform manual labour is laughably ahistorical; the idea that they can’t do it and get well paid for it is sexist.

          12. $hifty

            Nigel that isn’t a pay gap, that is an earnings gap. There may be underlying socio-economic reasons for fewer women taking up those jobs but, provided they have equal acess to them, there is nothing discriminatory or sexist about them.

            That Tesco case was due to the warehouse staff doing shift work and having to work in freezers etc. It was worse, physically and mentally, than the shop floor work. Just because more men were willing to do it doen’t mean its unfair that they are paid more than the shelf stackers.

          13. Nigel

            I’ll take your word for it about the difference in terms. I think there’s more to the gender disparity in the job than just willingness, or rather that there may be factors at work affecting the level of willingness, but the fact is, the opportunities to earn more in that situation fell to the predominantly male workforce.

            (I worked in a supermarket stock room for a while myself – ah this brings me back.. absolutely no women at all in those jobs. This suggests that there are at least a few now, so some progress.)

          14. Clampers Outside!

            Sex differences Nigel. Do u ever think about them?

            You do believe there are sex differences in the choices made by m/f’s in the labour market, yes?

            Sounds like u do not, hence the suggestion that you may be a ‘blank slatist’ – someone who believes there are no sex differences but socially constructed ones.

            If u don’t think that u believe in social constructionism, you should really rethink some of your arguments…imo

          15. Clampers Outside!

            “….some progress” or… lack of choice of jobs in the market, which is a likely strong factor, coupled with the necessity to put food on the table.
            But none of that indicates discrimination.

          16. Nigel

            ‘Blank slatist’ sounds like something you have a fixed idea about that is of very little relevance to me.

            I don’t think ‘sex differences’ are enough to account for low numbers of female participation in some areas of the work force. But you seem to have already made your mind up on the matter. Unless you’re using the phrase to cover every difference in choices and outcomes between men and women, which seems pretty hand wavey.

          17. Nigel

            Clampers have you noticed that according to you this case now shows that men do tend to get jobs that earn them more than women, and it’s because of sex differences?

            I’ll just leave that there.

    2. Michael Taft

      Shifty – the unadjusted pay gap refers to the earnings gap. The adjusted pay gap is the attempt to account for the male engineers / female nurses. The adjusted pay gap is the ‘unexplained’ (that is, after the structural factors are removed). That doesn’t mean that the entire percentage of below-male pay is down to discrimination. But it is in this measurement that you will find it.

      1. $hifty

        Thank you for taking the time to reply.

        As clampers has previoulsy stated, an insight into the formula or basis of the calculations behind the adjustment would go a long way to lending credence to the claims upon which they are based.

      2. Clampers Outside!

        But you’ll see plenty will use this ‘unexplained’ to claim it is discrimination, as has been happening previously.

        Thanks again Michael, love your contributions here on BS

    3. Lobster

      That depends a lot though. I am an engineer, and have had bosses who openly refuse to hire women engineers, regardless of their qualifications or experience. When forced by senior management to hire women, those women would never had their bosses support for pay rises, and would have gotten worse reviews than their male counterparts, reducing their chances of promotion.
      I have also seen women leave this industry because, particularly young women, sometimes get dogs abuse while trying to do their jobs, and are left out of the social style work discussions, where you are likely to benefit from the advice of someone who maybe previously solved a similar problem to the one you work on.
      Thankfully I currently work for a very nice company, with a bunch of sound heads, but this is direct lived experience, shared by pretty much every woman who graduated from an engineering degree with me.

  3. Fact Checker

    I don’t have time to dig it out but the last time I checked the real pay gap was between women with children and everyone else.

    There is very little pay gap between childless women and men.

    1. Cian

      Yes. Women under 35 are paid something like 15% better than men in the same age group.

  4. Bob

    Good article, and the author wading into the comments too, brave.
    Am I on the wrong website?

    Very interesting points, I especially like the suggestions about collective bargaining. It would be greate to have more pay transparency and fairer pay for all, not just the biggest blaggers.
    Sure they’ll find some way to use bonuses to distort the pay again, but at least we can hope for base pay to become fairer.

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