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

6 thoughts on “On Pay Gaps

  1. I get mad when people use the word able-bodied it’s a stupid word. However I have to ask you to read the book the case for discrimination by Walter Block which goes into details. One thing that I find disturbing is that just because somebody is fully employed does not mean they should be equally paid because 40 hrs per week is fully employed and a 50 hrs per week is fully employed. Their specific jobs and productivity is something everyone wants to look over and not take into account.


    1. Out of curiosity, what is your preferred term for those who are not disabled?

      As for the case for discrimination, I don’t buy it at an ethical level. Sure, in a purely utilitarian way it’s best to exploit those who can give you the greatest utility, and discard those who don’t. However, pay doesn’t seem to be commensurate with utility (there are lots of low-paying, high labour jobs), so there’s a disconnect there. And if we’re willing to disconnect pay from utility for some reason (say, high-frequency traders), it seems reasonable that we can do it for others.

      And that’s where ethics come in for me: we live in a capitalist society, meaning that failing to provide the opportunity from someone to earn/acquire capital at a societal level is equivalent to damning that person, and ignores the utility that they can give.

      Even further, for the case of those going ‘above-and-beyond’, working those fifty-hour weeks fully employed … we fought for a forty-hour work week a century ago, and we won it. Now employers are trying to pull that back by creating competition amongst the workers, saying that we can only get the same wages if we can out-compete our peers, despite the fact efficiency and productivity have been rising independently of hours.

      But that aside, even controlling for hours worked, these people get paid less, and their labour is undervalued. In the case of women, they have to put in more work than men in order to be perceived as competent, and even doing the same job, receive less pay.

      Even through a perfectly utilitarian lens, the game is rigged.


      1. Low paying but high labour jobs has to do with diamond-water paradox. Money is not pieces of paper it is a receipt or token of how good you have done and ill gotten wealth is a different issue. Women and men get paid equally for the same job it’s the law of the land. As far as the game is rigged is concerned I will say is life is rigged and and as Sean Stephenson says you can cry about life and complain or you can make a decision to make your life better and other people will help you and respect by the way Sean is a disabled person. On the question of what do we call non disabled person, is label necessary


      2. “Women and men get paid equally for the same job it’s the law of the land.”
        No, they do not, particularly in instances where contracts are negotiated. Furthermore, numerous studies have shown that the pay gap exists (if in a significantly reduced form) once you control for all other variables.

        On top of that, there’s the question of whether there are discrepancies in hiring and promotion (there are). This means that those awards are not going to go 100% best on merit, and if it’s not based on merit, you’re playing with a loaded die.

        As for whether I can complain, or make my life better, I pick the third option: do everything in my capacity to make the world better. We didn’t get the vote just by asking for it, we demanded it. We didn’t get the 40-hour work week by just asking for it, we demanded it.

        And I don’t think it’s unreasonable to demand fairness in a system that has for so long built on the premise of our marginalisation.

        As for whether a label is necessary: yes. Otherwise you have the case of ‘disabled’ and ‘normal’, implying that ‘disabled’ is some sort of abnormality that needs to be pointed out, rather than just one of a factor of many adjectives people have. The word ‘heterosexual’ was coined in much the same way, to create a term for ‘not homosexual’ beyond ‘normal’, which had served to ostracise the queer community.


      3. If somebody enters into a contract then that is voluntary for each party and as long as that condition remains I don’t care what the contract says as long as this condition is met. I would like to counter that the pay gap which does exist has more to do with the a concept called opportunity cost. As far as promotion is concerned the problem is the law that was designed to protect women from harassment has now begun to backfire as many males are hesitant to help women for fear of being called in for sexual harassment. By the way you can’t make a world a better place without making yourself better. On the part of women fight for votes to right I have no problem and in fact I think they did the right thing. As far as demanding fairness is concerned you can ask for it but remember fairness is not cost free and humans are not perfect and that means we will constantly be fighting for fairness but for me if we are close to the ideal I would not complain too much. If disabled means someone with physical disability only then sure I will concede the point for using the word able-bodied but if it includes psychological barriers then I’d like to point then theoretically we are all disabled. By the way have you ever pondered the question what is normal would Einstein and Hawking be considered normal. I am liking this discussion as a side note.


  2. Dewi says:

    One specific contract or work arrangement might be voluntary, but the set of them isn’t, because we have to select one – quickly – due to the diminished state of the social safety net, its failure to fully cover healthcare, the proliferation of debt throughout the economy, the atomization of communities that may once have supported people through unemployment, etc. It is a very long way from a free choice.

    The idea that men are “hesitant to help women for fear of being called in for sexual harassment” seems strange to me – in what way does helping a woman actually work to increase that risk? Whatever the risk is, we still see men choosing to *specifically* invoke sexuality in work contexts; they don’t seem that terrified. There are strong reasons why caution in those contexts is a good idea.


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