Gender pay gap exists even at New Zealand universities - study

Research has shown women are vastly undervalued in the workplace, but the results from a new study conducted right here in New Zealand might hit a little close to home for those crunching the numbers.

The gender pay gap exists in New Zealand universities too - male researchers earn about $400,000 more in their lifetimes than women, new figures from the University of Canterbury and Te Pūnaha Matatini released on Thursday show.

And less than half of this difference can be explained by differences in performance and age, they say.

"The analysis revealed that a male researcher at a New Zealand university has over double the odds of being ranked professor or associate professor than a woman with similar age and research score," journal PLOS ONE said in a statement.

"The average male researcher earns more in a lifetime than the average female researcher, with research score and age accounting for only 40 percent to 70 percent of the pay gap, depending on the field."

The study also debunked a common claim from those who think there is no pay gap - that men are more likely to end up higher-paid positions, skewing the results.

"A pay gap persisted even between men and women with similar career trajectories. Between 2003 and 2012, women whose research scores improved more than those of their male colleagues still lagged behind in moving up the academic ranks."

Research in 2016 found fewer than a third of professors at New Zealand universities were women. 

Study co-author Ann Brower put it simply.

"If we take two academics, a man and a woman, of the same age and research performance score, the man's odds are double the woman's of being ranked [and paid as] an Associate Professor or Professor. 

"The lifetime difference in pay for men and women of the same research performance adds up to the equivalent of a quarter of a house to a whole house, depending on field."

Isabelle Sin, a senior fellow at Motu Economic and Public Policy Research, said it was a "disappointing finding, but not surprising".

"The relatively structured nature of the promotion system in academia might be expected to disadvantage women less than more ad hoc systems, but is clearly insufficient to achieve gender equality."

University of Waikato science professor Troy Baisden, President of the New Zealand Association of Scientists, said it was easy to miss the gender inequalities at universities with so many women present in academia.

"Anyone who counts the number of men and women along the hallways of New Zealand's research institutions or speaking at conferences, and compares their job titles, will tend to suspect we have lingering problems with gender equity. Yet, many remain blind to the issue, and assume we have a meritocracy."

Dr Brower and co-author Alex James say one possible explanation for the disparity is that "universities might demand more teaching activities from women than from men, without sufficiently rewarding the work".

"A 'double-whammy effect', in which universities over-demand and under-reward women's teaching and service, might explain our findings in part," the study reads.

Another possibility is men don't ascend the ranks faster than women, but are hired into the system at higher levels to begin with.

They say current hiring practices will "never close the gender gap in most academic fields".

"Although equity policies in hiring and promotions will narrow the gender gap over time, the ivory tower's glass ceiling remains intact."

The research was published Thursday in journal PLOS ONE.