On Pay Gaps

The average woman full-time employed earns roughly 17% less than the average full-time employed man. While people may protest that if you account for women working in different industries, working at lower wage levels, leaving due to pregnancy, and performing unpaid & unvalued labour that the gap is only 3%, they are missing the point and are blindingly oblivious to the one that they’re making. By pointing to this as their ‘gotcha’, they’re establishing that they don’t realise that the 3% remaining is due to direct prejudice (held by all genders). They also miss that these social disparities are part of the problem! Critically analysing why these things are the way that they are is a necessary aspect of understanding both the human and natural world.

Addressing these issues would be an entire blog by itself – or, as it turns out, an entire library of books – but I’m interested in painting a broader picture by discussing pay gaps. Intersectionality is a concept that recognises the myriad oppressions and privileges that we experience due to our intersecting social identities. While ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are the two axes that dominate the discussion around pay gap, there are numerous others ranging from race (e.g. white, aboriginal, Asian, Arabic, African) to sexuality to social class, all of which have an impact on how your life is shaped by those around you.

Furthermore, the interaction of these different axes is significantly more complicated than simply adding the two oppressions/privileges together — a black woman, for example, doesn’t suffer the oppression of a black man + a white woman, but something different to both. Rather than exploring the nature of intersectionality, this blog seeks to offer a brief glance of its impact on the pay gap. Below is a bar chart I’ve constructed from numerous sources, indicating the expected wages for a particular demographic in Australia, relative to a white man.

Pay Gap
The pay gap in Australia: Please note that ’employed’ means ‘full-time employment’.

At a glance, we can see that the average white person earns more than their counterpart Aboriginal people (red), queer people (purple) and disabled people [1] (green), except in the case of lesbian women; this is an example of white, straight, and able-bodied privilege respectively. For example, an Aboriginal woman earns 83% of what a white woman earns (that this is the same proportion that white women earn relative to men is a coincidence), while trans women earn 2% less than this.

This chart, however, only really explores the intersection of woman/manhood with one other identity (sex + race, for example), and is in itself failing to be intersectional: what does a disabled Aboriginal man earn? A disabled trans woman? How about an Australian of Asian descent? African immigration? Unfortunately, the data for these groups is incredibly hard to find – any search involving ‘pay gap’ or ‘wage gap’ will return articles on gender inequality, even if you include terms like ‘disabled’ or ‘queer’ – and far too small to be reliable, especially for Australia-specific detail. As it is, the value for employed trans men is something I find dubious, but included for completeness.

Even worse, this graph of mine actually diminishes the wage gaps. While most of the values can be taken as qualitatively reliable, the sources have had various sources of data manipulation to treat everyone ‘equally’ (note that this shows the failure of considering intersectionality when choosing a criterion).

The employment criteria are all for full time work: every group has a lower rate of full-time engagement than white men, and so the majority are excluded from being counted towards average wage. This is particularly true for disabled people, whose full-time work engagement is under 5% (meaning the average disabled person could be earning 4% of the wages that an employed white man earn in wages. Similarly, trans people suffer significant unemployment (especially trans women of colour), something that I have included an underestimate of in the ‘trans woman’ and ‘trans man’ categories: their actual earnings would be much lower.

Similarly, the value for Aboriginal incomes have been normalised across regions, which serves to erase the fact that rural income tends to be lower than cities, and many Aboriginal people tend to live in rural areas: if the data is not normalised, their proportionate incomes drop by a third.


This was largely an unfocused blog, and drifted from topic to topic to illustrate the complexity of this matter. There are two points that I wish to impress upon the reader: there is more than one pay gap, and the interaction between various social identities is complex, and includes much more hidden detail than can be shown in a single metric.

I may later write another blog, going into significantly more detail on individual aspects of this phenomenon, if it’s desired. For now, I just want to apologise for taking so long between posts: the research took me longer than anticipated, and with PhD work piling in I took it to be more important to write something short for now.

[1] Note that I was unable to find how ‘disabled’ was defined in this document; presumably those considered so for Centrelink purposes only.


On Pay Gaps