Persistent gender pay gap plagues New Zealand academia to tune of $400,000

23 January 2020

University of Canterbury (UC) researchers have found two types of gender disparities in New Zealand universities – a gender pay gap, and a gender performance pay gap.

  • Ann Brower

    University of Canterbury Associate Professor Ann Brower

Associate Professor Ann Brower of UC’s School of Earth and Environment and Associate Professor Alex James of UC’s School of Mathematics and Statistics analysed the Performance-based Research Fund (PBRF) scores and academic ranks of all academics in New Zealand between 2003 and 2012 for their new research paper ‘Research performance and age explain less than half of the gender pay gap in New Zealand universities’, published in international journal, PLOS ONE today.

Their finding of a gender pay gap supports a number of other studies that find gender pay gaps in many industries.  Over her career, a woman employed on academic staff at a New Zealand university can expect to earn about $400,000 less than a man.  

Their quantification of a ‘gender performance pay gap’ is a world-first, made possible by measuring the research performance scores of all New Zealand university academic staff from 2003 - 2012 – nearly 6000 individuals. Associate Professors Brower and James’ finding shows that, when women and men perform at the same productivity level, women still earn less.

The gender performance pay gap varies by field, but averages about $200,000 over a career– or nearly half the average price of a house in Christchurch.

“We found a man’s odds of being ranked – and paid – as professor or associate professor are more than double a woman’s with similar recent research score, age, field, and university,” lead author Associate Professor Brower says. 

Between 2003-12, women at several ranks improved their research scores by more than men at the same rank, but had lower odds of promotion. 

“Research score and age explain less than half of the approximately $400,000 lifetime gender pay gap in Aotearoa New Zealand universities. Although equity policies in hiring and promotions should narrow the gender gap over time, the ivory tower’s glass ceiling remains firmly intact.”

Within academia, the most popular explanation for the current dominance of older men at the top pay grades is that it’s a hold-over from bygone eras of male-dominated universities; and that hold-over will fade with time.  “Yet new evidence – ours included – shows gender balances in academic staff are changing too slowly to achieve gender parity, suggesting there is more than just inertia at play. Women rise more slowly through the ranks of academia – and are paid less – even if they are research stars.” Associate Professor Brower says.

“Our ability to examine the full spectrum of research performance allows us to reject the hypothesis that male dominance amongst the ‘superstars’ explains the lifetime performance pay gap observed. Indeed, women whose research records resemble men’s still get paid less than men,” Associate Professor James says.

“We offer some possible explanations for our findings, and show that the gender gap in universities will never disappear in most academic fields if current hiring practices persist,” Associate Professor James says.

See also: New data analysis proves: Science is sexist

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