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Despite equality acts spawning left, right, and centre in the UK, recent research suggests we still have a long way to go until gender equality is achieved. It has been found that there is a significant gender gap between the wages of people who earn a first class degree, and the classification itself is more important for men than women. So why is social opinion lagging behind the legislation? Do we still live in a patriarchal society?
London School of Economics researchers, Andy Feng and Georg Graetz, analysed the exam marks of 2,649 undergraduates throughout a five-year period. Researchers selected those students who lie on the borderline between a first and a 2:1 and then gathered results from the twice-yearly Destination of Leavers of Higher Education survey to discover where their graduates were based in their first year after graduation. Combined with estimated earnings from the Labour Force Survey, stark differences were found. Unlike men, women with a first class degree earned no more than those with a 2:1.
These weren’t the only worrying findings to arise from the research. Researchers stressed that the deciding factor, between a first and a 2:1, was pure luck; they argue that it is simply good fortune to achieve the former over the latter. Essentially, their reckoning suggests that for students near the boundary, it isn’t academic ability, or even innate intelligence, that categorises students into degree classifications. Instead, it simply depends on the mood of the examiner, and it’s completely their choice how to reward the student. This is worrying, and it goes against everything the education system stands for.
The reasoning for the report’s findings is unclear. The researchers suggest that males “may be more likely to ask for or be given a higher wage offer”, but I think this is more of a scapegoat than the true reason. This reasoning creates the impression of a boisterous businessman storming into the Human Resources office, demanding higher pay, but I don’t think that scenario is all that feasible. There must be something else, ingrained in company policy, which is responsible for the gender gap.
Perhaps we have individual groups of management to blame for the gap. The legislation is in place, but it appears to be a much more individual issue that needs to be tackled internally. Author Heather Jackson says that managers must realise that gender diversity is beneficial for business performance, so nurturing female talent from the onset is vital. There has been plenty of encouragement for females to enrol at university, yet this must continue in later life too.
Frances O’Grady, general secretary for the Trades Union Congress, acknowledges that women pay a “huge motherhood penalty”, but still fears that earnings disparities are occurring earlier than we originally thought. The amount of males and females attending university is now essentially equal, but this research shows women are still getting a “raw deal for their talent”. Tackling gender equality is feasible in theory, but becomes much more difficult in practice.
The results of this research are worrying, and they do give evidence that we’re still living in a patriarchal society. Tackling the issue is difficult, but I’d like to think it’s a generational shift that will eventually play out as desired. As the current student population grows old in a world of gender equality, we can only hope that finances will adapt in a similar way. A society of equality and openness is just around the corner. Eventually, we will make it.