Monday, July 12, 2010

Wage inequality from a Catholic perspective

A feminist group in Sweden is upset because women are not paid as much as men. To bring attention to this situation, the group staged a protest where they burned 100,000 Swedish Crowns. What are we to make of this and is pay inequality morally acceptable?

From a Catholic perspective, men and women are equal in dignity and share the same rights. Therefore, they ought to be paid the same for the same work and qualitifications. Pay inequality is morally wrong on the any basis beside professional considerations.

But I think there is something else going on in Sweden. Sweden is very much concerned for equal rights between men and women. They are a very progressive society, sometimes progressing in the wrong way. Why would such a country have an issue with pay inequality. It doesn't seem to make sense. We are simply not hearing the full story.

In most Western countries, an organization is legally obliged to pay men and women the same pay for the same work. In the past, there were actual differences in minimum wage. I remember reading the minimum wage from around 1950. It would say "men: $0.50 per hour, women: $0.35 per hour". This is a clear example of pay inequality. But that doesn't exist now.

Men and women in fact do get paid the same for the same work. The difference is that men take professions that pay higher in a given area, due to greater risk and general undesirability of a career. For example, heart surgeons are paid higher than family doctors for many reasons. The job of the heart surgeon is more complicated and risky, involves variable and long hours, and is less desirable. On the other hand, a family doctor has very reasonable hours normally, mainly works in an office setting, and has little risk. Men choose to become heart surgeons more than women, who tend to become family doctors more frequently. It would not be fair to say male doctors are paid more than female doctors in this case. It would be more accurate to say heart surgeons are paid more than family doctors.

Most hospitals would have an equal pay policy. If a male and female doctor were both heart surgeons, worked the same hours, had the same level of experience, etc. they would be paid the same.

There are more factors as well. Men often take generally riskier jobs, like fighter pilot, bodyguard, police officer, soldier, alaska crab fisherman, etc. Women on average take more office jobs which involve little risk, therefore men are compensated for the additional risk. Again, if a woman took one of the risky jobs, she too would get paid more.

Another factor is that women are more likely to stay at home with their children to raise them or for maternity leave. Taking maternity leave would reduce a woman's income by a large percentage.

If a company is clearly in violation of pay equity laws, as in they pay women less for the same job as men, then they should be prosecuted. But to burn thousands of dollars of money is an unacceptable way to get attention.

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