The gender pay gap has been a big issue in the news in recent months, especially in the film industry, with fans irate that female stars are paid a fraction of what their male counterparts get. In Singapore, the issue came to the fore last week when the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) released a study that showed Singapore’s adjusted gender pay gap narrowed from 8.8 per cent in 2002 to 6 per cent in 2018. MOM’s study looked at the median monthly salaries of Singaporean and permanent resident full-time workers aged 25 to 54 from the Comprehensive Labour Force Survey of about 33,000 households. The study found that the median pay for women for full-time work was 16.3 per cent less than that for men, up a tad from 16 per cent in 2002. The study then drilled into how factors such as age, education, occupation, industry and usual hours worked affected the pay gap. After these factors were accounted for, the remaining gap was 6 per cent.

The study provides welcome data on the progress of Singapore women in the workforce. The 6 per cent figure compares favourably with the United States (8 per cent), Canada (7.7 per cent to 8.3 per cent) and China (18.3 per cent). What accounts for this 6 per cent gap? MOM postulates that this might be due to firm type and job scope, parenthood and work experience. The cost of parenthood is a factor, as is bias. Sociologists use the term “motherhood penalty” to refer to the opportunity cost women face at work for having children. Research in the US suggests women lose 4 per cent of hourly earnings on average for each child they have, while men earn 6 per cent more. This may be due to perceptions that mothers are distracted, while fathers are deemed mature employees. More studies would be useful to determine if having children indeed similarly affects workers’ wages in Singapore.

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