More Social Innovation Necessary for Gender Justice

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Jutta Allmendinger (left) and Achim Wambach (right) discussing gender justice at the fourth #ZEWBookTalk.

How can gender inequality be minimised? Jutta Allmendinger, president of the WZB Berlin Social Science Center and professor of educational sociology and labour market research at the Humboldt University Berlin, has been dealing with this question for over three decades. At the fourth #ZEWBookTalk on 5 May 2021, she not only provided interesting insights into her new book, but also discussed with ZEW President Professor Achim Wambach the so-called Gender Lifetime Earnings Gap, why a pandemic promotes the traditional role distribution and which measures counteract gender inequality.

“A woman living in West Germany earns about 1.3 million euros in the course of her working life, whereas a man earns about 1.5 million euros. This is what is called the Gender Lifetime Earnings Gap,” Jutta Allmendinger stated at the beginning of her book presentation on lifetime earnings in Germany from a study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung. If children are added to the equation, the gap becomes even wider: mothers only achieve a lifetime earnings income of around 600,000 euros, while fathers can even increase their income somewhat – to around 1.6 million euros.

“Mothers earn around one million less in their lifetime than fathers, but a gap is also evident when comparing the income of women and men without children. These differences in income result primarily from longer periods of time women take off from the labour market, for example due to childbirth, childcare or caring for relatives. In addition, mothers tend to work part-time more often than fathers, which directly translates into a lower income,” explained sociologist Jutta Allmendinger.

Gender justice can only be achieved in a joint effort

The COVID-19 pandemic reinforces a traditional distribution of gender roles, Allmendinger noted, adding: “This is because women more often have to manage remote work, household tasks and childcare at the same time.” According to Allmendinger, childcare problems for parents due to pandemic-related school closures have come to the attention of politicians far too late. Public discussion should shift its focus back on finding solutions, she said. “What we really need to achieve gender equality is more social innovation. To this end, incentives must be created so that in the future it is not automatically the older or more career-advanced partner who is the breadwinner, while the other takes over childcare,” WZB President Allmendinger asserted.

In the subsequent discussion with ZEW President Professor Achim Wambach, the study by the Bertelsmann Stiftung mentioned at the beginning was taken up again. “Isn’t it mothers who are affected by the Gender Lifetime Earnings Gap, rather than women in general?,” asked the ZEW President. Allmendinger, however, did not see this as a problem of mothers alone. There are still clear differences in income between women and men, regardless of whether they have children or not. “The federal government’s gender equality strategy has already initiated concrete measures such as a legal right to all-day care at primary schools, the expansion of measures for female founders and entrepreneurs and better pay for long-term care,” Allmendinger stressed. However, policymakers should not rest on their laurels, but implement further targeted measures in order to close the gender gap in income and care work.

“What does it take to create more gender equality?,” Achim Wambach wanted to know. Would an increased offer of work-from-home arrangements help to tackle this challenge? No, a single measure would not be enough, Allmendinger explained to the approximately 170 members of the audience, adding: “We need more flexible working time models, opportunities to promote women, for example in STEM subjects, new tax models, but also a general rethinking in society as to why fighting gender inequality can only work in a joint effort.” However, Allmendinger concludes that this can only be achieved through the cooperation of women and men.