Economic possibilities for our granddaughters
The famous economist John Maynard Keynes wrote an essay in 1930, entitled Economic Possibilities for our Grand- children. He tried to look 100 years ahead, to what life might be like around 2030. With not long to go, we are still waiting both for the 15-hour working weeks he forecast, and of course, for solutions to the problem he could never have forecast – climate change. But 2020, a little like 1930, is the sort of year when it pays to raise your gaze to the horizon and take a long-term view. Time again to ask of the economic possibilities for our grandchildren.
Or more specifically, our granddaughters. Although it is a widely acknowledged fact, Time Magazine estimates that nearly 50% of males do not believe that there is a gender pay gap and, surprisingly, this is more prevalent in younger generations (Steinmetz, 2019). It is incredibly worrying to think that up to half the population will raise children and grandchildren to be dismissive of institutionalised sexism.
So, let me first convince you about the existence of the gender pay gap and the ways in which it manifests itself.
The BBC’s Analysis podcast released an episode entitled ‘The Real Pay Gap’, which explains the issue to be far worse and far more wide-reaching than is acknowledged by most statistics. For example, at the start of their working life women in the UK earn £2000 less than their male counterparts, which almost always makes it the logical decision to have the woman stay home should a couple decide to raise children.
Consequently, this gap will increase to approximately £15,000 by the time they are in their mid 40s and this figure does not even account for unpaid domestic work (Sieghart, 2019). And in fact, it is estimated that the unpaid childcare sector is the largest economic sector in Australia, so indeed this is a sizeable amount that often goes unrecognised (Waring, 2020).
Another particularly interesting area of discrimination is the sporting industry. The justification for pay discrepancies in these environments is that men are definitively better at sport. I completely agree that males are objectively better athletes. They are stronger, taller, faster and so on and so forth. However, taking a neoclassical view of human value and productivity, one that says your worth is determined by your productive contribution, I question what exactly these elite sportsmen are producing. Their speed is not a tangible good, their height is not traded on a market, their strength is not monetarily quantifiable. Their productive value is the entertainment they provide as capitalised by the media (Fran and Fennell, 2019).
Is society arguing that it is more entertaining to watch a man excel at a sport than a woman? Is the value of a game not determined by how exhilaratingly close it is but rather by the gender of those playing it? Was it not both engaging and powerful to see Cathy Freeman win the 400m in the Sydney Olympics, or was it objectively less so than the male equivalent? I would of course argue that there is more to value and worth than its price tag, but I am simply illustrating the illogicality of the system that justifies this inequality.
But this phenomenon does not manifest itself solely within the elite level. As was documented on SBS’s Few Who Do podcast, there exists a potato racing competition in Robertson, a rural town two hours from Sydney. Guest of the podcast, Melanie Tait, describes her horror at learning the prize for men was five times that of the prize for women. This is not an elite sport and it is not being played by elite athletes and yet the inequality persists. Tait recalls how she fundraised the difference in prize money and presented it as a donation to the competition but was taken aback by the hostility that outpoured from the wider community (Fran and Fennell, 2019). So not only does there exist a high degree of institutionalised economic sexism, but also a systemic resistance to its removal. Perhaps this is in some way connected to the disbelief in the gender pay gap mentioned earlier.
Society has quite evidently paved a poor path for women, and a poor path for our granddaughters to follow. There has been, admittedly, a widespread acknowledgement of these issues, but there needs to be a sustainable and organic way to actually see people not disadvantaged by their gender. There- fore, in the same way Keynes devised his four conditions for inevitable economic prosperity (in his identically titled article, 1930), so will I:
- Fiscal support that acknowledges the unpaid work women do, especially in the domestic setting. Of course, women don’t complete these tasks with the expectation of monetary compensation, however they should be awarded the opportunity to care for their child without financial constraint. Perhaps this comes in the form of a federal child allowance (Flanders, 2016).
- The creation of parent friendly work environments for both men and women. This means flexible contact hours and private areas for women to breastfeed. Maternity leave should be universally available for jobs occupied by women, irrespective of whether their employment is undertaken within the private sector, the permanent public sector, or as part of a base-wage Job Guarantee (Flanders, 2016)
- Increasing the pay within low-wage, female dominated sectors like nursing, child care and age care to emphasise and acknowledge the value they hold in society. And similarly, there should be no situation where a man unjustifiably earns more than a woman.
- Departure from GDP as the ultimate economic indicator. GDP might be a useful measure of economic output. It is not, however, a measure of economic wellbeing nor non-monetary investment. GDP is gender blind and implies that economic prosperity is shared equally,
when of course we know it is not. Economic problems are concentrated and need to be addressed as such. Policy makers need targeted analytical probes to be able to make effective and inform- ed fiscal decisions (Waring, 2020).
I believe that the achievement of these conditions will be synonymous with a change in societal attitude and will constitute real progress. Keynes describes the pursuit of economic bliss, and so it seems interesting or even perplexing that what we are seeking here is not paradise, but an even playing field.
Flanders, Laura. 2016. “Fiscal Feminism: Pavlina R. Tcherneva”. Released on October 4, 2016. The Laura Flanders Show, 26 min. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqmy5F98SAs
Forbes. 2020. The World’s Highest Paid Athletes. https://www.forbes.com/athletes/list/#tab:overall
Fran, Jan and Fennell, Marc. 2019. “Equal pay for equal play”. The Few Who Do. Aired on SBS Radio, June 20, 2019, 33:38 min. https://www.sbs.com.au/programs/audiotrack/equal-pay-equal-play
Hartley, Gemma. 2017. “Women Aren’t Nags – We’re Just Fed Up”. Harper’s Bazaar, September 27, 2017. https://www.harpersbazaar.com/culture/features/a12063822/emotional-labor-gender-equality/
Keynes, John Maynard. 1930. “Economic Possibilities for our grandchildren”. Essays in Persuasion. Oct 18, 1930.
Reality Check Team 2019. “Women’s World Cup: What is the pay gap?” BBC News, Jul 9, 2019. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-48530498#:~:text=In%20total%2C%20Fifa%20awarded%%2020%2430,than%20ten%20times%20as%20much.&text=On%20top%20of%20prize%20money,preparation%20costs%20and%20club%20compensation
Reuters, 2020. “Record LPGA prize money but still far from par”. The Straits Times, January 16, 2020. https://www.straitstimes.com/sport/golf/record-lpga-prize-money-but-still-far-from-par
Sieghart, Mary Ann. 2019. “The Real Gender Pay Gap”. Analysis. Aired on BBC Radio 4, June 16, 2019, 28 min. https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m0005t3n
Steinmetz, Katy. 2019. “Nearly Half of Men Believe the Pay Gap Is ‘Made Up,’ Survey Finds”. The Times, April 29, 2019. https://time.com/5562171/pay-gap-survey-equal-pay-day/
Waring, Marilyn. 2020. “The unpaid work that GDP ignores – and why it really counts”. Filmed on January 23 2020, Christchurch. TED video, 17 min. https://www.ted.com/talks/marilyn_waring_the_unpaid_work_that_gdp_ignores_and_why_it_really_counts
Waring, Marilyn. 1988. If Women Counted. 1st ed. Harper and Row.