Mitt Romney's bumbling answer to a good question posed in last night's debate, about what a president can do about the U.S.'s persistent 25 to 30 percent gender wage gap, begs a follow-up: How does the U.S. stack up against the rest of the world?
It's not clear whether this is good news or bad news, but America is about average in its economic discrimination against women, according to a study published last year by the International Trade Union Confederation. The ITUC surveyed just under 50 countries across the world, both developed and developing economies.
It concluded that pay inequality had not changed significantly in any of the places studied, for the better part of a decade. Zambia, South Korea, and Azerbaijan had the widest gaps in pay between men and women in their labor force. Slovenia, Paraguay, and Italy had the smallest gaps. The 75-page study can be downloaded here.
Despite a sharp narrowing of the global gender pay gap between the ’60s until the end of the ’90s, we have now observed a stagnation for over a decade. The pay gap remains frozen in time almost everywhere. Asia is the continent with the greatest wage differential between men and women.
Instead, they found significant differences in wage gaps across industries. The research claims to have established a link between high wage gaps and industries with low levels of collective bargaining power—not a shocking focus for a study by a trade union organization, but UTIC claims its numbers hold up.
Sectors that are traditionally unionized tend to have lower pay gaps, such as the public sector. Those with low unionization rates and low wage levels, such as retail, hotels and restaurants, and agriculture, tend to have relatively higher gender pay gaps. This suggests that these sectors suffer from low levels of compliance with minimum-wage regulation.
In the U.S., the highest gender wage gap—nearly 40 percent—was in the finance sector, and the lowest in construction, where it was less than 8 percent. In no sector was there no wage gap for equal work by men and women.
Above: 1973 US Department of Labor Public Service Announcement, via Pinterest