Jump to Main ContentJump to Primary Navigation

“Every little helps when it comes to achieving equal pay” Lucy Mangan on the gender pay gap


Stylist columnist Lucy Mangan tackles the deep-seated discrimination at the heart of the gender pay gap

Well. This is a bit of a facer. Let’s go through it together.

New research, from economists at Cornell University in the US, suggests that one of the main reasons the gender pay gap persists is that when women move into a field formerly dominated by men, pay rates simply… fall. The same work literally becomes valued differently because women are now doing it. For example, according to census data, between 1950 and 2000 in America, more women than men started working in summer camps, or as ticket agents, housekeepers and designers. During that time, the average pay in each field fell by between 21% and 57% as a result.

Over here in Blighty, a moment’s thought will add further examples to the list. Think of clerks. In the days of Dickens, this was a weighty, well-paid job for men. Fast forward a few decades and despite it now being a much more difficult job than scratching numbers in ledgers, it’s done by women, is now called secretarial work and will rarely be enough to raise a family on in 2016.

And the same thing also happens in reverse. Women used to dominate gynaecology, computer programming and cookery. When men moved into those areas of endeavour en masse – surprise! A massive upswing in prestige and pay (and, in the case of chefs, size of hat) for them all.

In case these statistics and numbers are hurting your soft lady brains, let’s put it more simply: work done by women pays less because women do it. Or to put it even more simply: nnnygggghghhgh!

Lucy Mangan

The Cornell researchers suggest that around 38% of the wage gap can be put down to this deep, deep-seated discrimination. So what should we do in order to break this awful Catch-22?

First of all, I think we should use it to remind ourselves of a truth we often forget in our eternal willingness to shoulder burdens other than our own: that it (or at least about 40% of it) really is not Us – it really is Them. Gender bias is real, pervasive, intangible and we need to be constantly vigilant about it. To remind ourselves that we are not being paranoid. We are being realistic.

The second thing is that it suggests no piece of the fight For equality is ever wasted. I used to be very impatient with feminist campaigns about ‘little’ things. I used to think that we needed to concentrate on the big things, like pay, like abortion rights, like rape conviction rates and so on. But I am beginning to see that it’s the little things – like who’s on a five-pound note, catcalls in the street, the expectation that tea will be made by the woman at the meeting, whether a tiny handful of tennis players at the top of their game get paid the same as another tiny handful of tennis players at the top of their game – that affect and maintain the context in which big things are able to happen. Challenging any of them makes it a little bit harder for the world to treat us all how it has treated us in the past.

Every time we do, we make greater things possible. And they feed back and make the smaller inequities impossible – and on it goes, a virtuous circle at last, where the world pays according to the work done, and not according to the prevalence of a penis in the field. I think that’s fair.


Photography: Ellis Parrinder, iStock

To read this week's issue of Stylist, download from app.stylist.co.uk


pay inequality.jpg

The gender pay gap has barely improved over the last four years


Hollywood's leading stars discuss the gender pay gap


Read Jennifer Lawrence's call to arms on the gender pay gap

shared parental leave.png

Breaking down the budget: what does it mean for women?

women in leadership.jpg

Why are there so few women in leadership roles?


“It's shitty men are paid more for doing the same thing”


Bradley Cooper speaks out against the gender pay gap


How to ask for a pay rise as women 'work for free' until end of year


The gender pay gap extends to sellers on eBay



Lucy Mangan on the art of saving money

“In debt? Allow me to confiscate your cards”

by Lucy Mangan
15 Jan 2017

Lucy Mangan guides us into the New Year

“So here it is! 2017: a user’s manual”

by Lucy Mangan
01 Jan 2017

Lucy Mangan doles out her annual awards

“And the award for the worst year ever goes to...”

by Lucy Mangan
09 Dec 2016

Lucy Mangan on the hope in the abuse headlines

“The silence that protects people who do terrible things is breaking down”

by Lucy Mangan
05 Dec 2016

“Happiness is getting acquainted with Mother Nature”

Lucy Mangan steps outside

by The Stylist web team
04 Dec 2016

Why ladylike language can sod off

Lucy Mangan is pleased that we have reached gender parity on swearing

by Lucy Mangan
04 Nov 2016

“Pure bliss is having the house to yourself”

Lucy Mangan on the pleasure of being home alone

by Lucy Mangan
25 Oct 2016

Feeling powerless? Don’t worry, we all are

Lucy Mangan on fighting a feeling of helplessness

by Lucy Mangan
18 Oct 2016

Lucy Mangan on why female victims of crime are not ‘asking for it’

“How rich and famous are we allowed to become before it is OK to rob us at gunpoint?”

by Lucy Mangan
11 Oct 2016

Lucy Mangan on why celebrations have become so expensive

It's a birthday, not an investment opportunity

by Lucy Mangan
10 Oct 2016