A recent OECD report on the gender pay difference looks at the situation in Switzerland.
Across the OECD, young women are better educated than young men, do more work in total – paid and unpaid – yet earn less. In 2015, the average pay difference across the OECD was around 14%. Over the 5 years from 2010, Switzerland’s pay gap shrunk by around 3% to reach 17%, still above the OECD average.
The idea that women get paid less than men for the same job has been debunked. A recent study by Korn Ferry shows that women get paid 98% of what men do for the same job. This figure, which is an OECD average, holds true in Switzerland too.
So why in aggregate is there such a large gap in average pay?
In Switzerland, the percentages of boys and girls that are all-round low achievers at school are roughly the same, with a small difference in favour of girls. In addition, the percentage of men and women graduating from university shows only a small difference. So at this point in life things look broadly equal. For some reason it doesn’t translate to equal pay.
First is the choice of subjects. Degrees in some fields lead to higher paid jobs. In Switzerland, the percentage of female university graduates in the well-paid fields of science, mathematics and computing is around 35%, behind the OECD average of 41%.
This difference first appears at school where boys outperform girls in mathematics. It is not clear why. But in countries such as Korea, Finland, Norway and Sweden, girls outperform boys in school maths. And this typically translates to more female graduates in mathematical fields. For example, in Korea, 24% of computing graduates are women, compared to only 9% in Switzerland. Other places where girls do well in school maths all beat Switzerland on the share of female computing graduates: Finland (24%), Norway (13%) and Sweden (30%).
Some of it could be cultural. At 15, 15% of boys versus 3% of girls in Switzerland say they expect a career in computing or engineering. The OECD reckons this difference is likely to be explained by stereotypes and expectations. Interestingly, Korea, Finland, Norway and Sweden show a similar career expectation gap. Perhaps this underscores the importance of doing well in school mathematics regardless of career aspirations at 15.
Second is the impact of motherhood. Unlike becoming a father, becoming a mum can be a significant career setback. This is partly driven by parental leave inequality. In Switzerland, mums get 14 weeks while dads get essentially none. This encourages couples to favour men’s careers, even when some mums are better educated than their partners. Old attitudes that equate having children with a lack of ambition are another issue. The recommended fix is to offer dads more parental leave. An initiative calling for 4 weeks of paternity leave in Switzerland is already on its way.
Making it easier to work and have children also helps, and has an oversized impact on women who shoulder most childrearing responsibilities. Switzerland’s tradition of sending school kids home for lunch is a big challenge for parents trying to combine work with parenthood.
The report points out that gender discrimination cuts both ways. One suggestion is working to change attitudes towards men who take time off to look after children. If men don’t do more of this work then it is difficult for women to do less of it.
The report also highlights a key reason for promoting career equality. In Switzerland, divorce hits women far harder than men. 61% of divorced women see their disposable household income fall by at least 20% post divorce, compared to 20% of men. Only the Netherlands is more unequal when divorce strikes.
OECD report on gender equality (in English)