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Closing the Pay Gap

Despite the advancement of women in the workplace over the past several decades, the median pay of women working full time remains lower than the median pay of men working full time. We wonder: Which of the following G-20 countries has the smallest gender pay gap in full-time employment?

A. South Korea
B. France
C. Germany
D. United States

A. South Korea … is not correct.

The gender pay gap among full-time employees has been a particularly significant problem in Asia. (It is also stubbornly persistent in Europe and North America, however.)

South Korea – the world’s 15th-largest economy – has by far the highest pay gap between men and women of the 35 advanced economies tracked by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

In 2015, South Korean women received a median wage that was 62.8% the level of median male wages – a gap of 37.2% of the men’s wages.

Japan – the third-largest economy in the world – has the OECD’s third-highest gender pay gap. There, full-time working women earn nearly 25.7% less than their male counterparts.

The pay gap is defined by the OECD as the percentage by which the median full-time earnings of women falls short of men’s.

B. France … is correct.

On average, the 35 wealthy economies of the OECD countries have a pay gap of 14.3%, using the most recent data for every member country. France’s most recently available data, from 2012, puts its pay gap at 13.7%. That is below the OECD average, although not by much.

Ireland and the Netherlands are the closest OECD members to the average, at gender gaps of around 14.4% and 14.1%, respectively.

Worldwide, one of the primary reasons for the persistence of the gender pay gap is an out-dated idea of men as the family breadwinner and women as a secondary earner. Under this view, the man ought to receive higher pay than a woman, even when performing the same job.

However, the effects of the pay gap can have serious consequences beyond simple unfairness. Wage inequality is especially dire for women who are single parents, for example. Children of single mothers are more likely to grow up in poverty and have fewer educational opportunities.

Wage inequality over the course of a working life can also lead to far lower levels of retirement savings, putting women at greater risk of poverty in their old age.

C. Germany … is not correct.

Based on data for 2014, the most recent data available for Germany, the country’s full-time female workers earn almost 17.1% less than men. That gap is slightly wider than the OECD average of about 14%.

German government data show the gender wage gap is significantly smaller in states of the former communist East Germany than in formerly West German states.

Nearby Norway and Denmark easily outperform Germany, with gender pay gaps of just 7.1% and 5.8%, respectively.

The United Kingdom is about tied with Germany. The United Kingdom’s gender pay gap was 17.1% in 2015.

The European Union’s average gender pay gap across its 28 member countries, as of 2014 data, is 19.1%.

The OECD country with the smallest gender pay gap is Belgium, where full-time women employees earn only about 3.3% less than men. This is due, especially in recent years, to aggressive regulatory efforts and comprehensive collective bargaining focused on shrinking the pay gap.

D. United States … is not correct.

In the United States, the median full-time wage for women was 18.9% less than for men in 2015. The U.S. pay gap is generally even larger for non-white women.

As elsewhere, the reasons behind the U.S. gender pay gap’s persistence are hotly debated. One study, focused on the United States, estimated that about 59% of the pay gap could be attributed to specific factors more complex than direct pay inequities between male and female employees in the same job.

These complex factors included differences in occupation, industry, experience, ethnicity, unionization rates and so on. Together, they translate to about 11 of every 18 cents on the dollar in the pay gap in the United States.

However, these factors still reflect gender inequities, too. For example, the average wage in an occupation tends to decline significantly as more women join it. That means American women cannot achieve equal pay simply by obtaining jobs in higher-paid, male-dominated fields.

Experience in the labor force – accounting for 10% of the pay disparity in the United States – can be affected by social or financial pressures on women. These manifest themselves in working fewer hours (or dropping out of the work force for years at a time) to be caregivers either to children or to elderly parents.

Most of the countries with smaller pay gaps than the United States seem to have much more comprehensive social support programs to prevent women from having to drop out of the workforce for family finance reasons, in addition to less cultural pressure.

These complicating factors do not change the gender-related realities of the pay gap, of course. Adjusting them will require more than simple legal regulations against direct paycheck discrimination.

Editor’s Note: For a list of with data points for all the countries included in the data analysis (provided in this case by the OECD) that underlies this quiz, click here.

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