Women Are Still Earning Less Than Men In Malaysia. Why?

It’s 2017, and women are still earning less than men in Malaysia.

According to the Department of Statistics’ Salaries & Wages Survey Report 2016, male employees receive a mean monthly salary of RM2,500 compared to the RM2,398 received by female employees. The mean salary is an average salary, and so is prone to being dragged disproportionately upwards or downwards if sections of the population – like actors, perhaps – are paid overwhelmingly more or less than others.

The median salary is a better indicator, as it is the exact middle point between the highest and lowest salaries in a population. Here, male employees earn a median monthly salary of RM1,721 while female employees earn RM1,685.  

Photo: Department of Statistics Malaysia

While this is an increase over the previous year for both genders, the gap is certainly a curious thing, especially when you consider the considerably poor position of women in Malaysia’s economy.

So what’s the reason behind this gender wage gap in Malaysia? Unfortunately, the Department of Statistics provides no explanation behind the gap, though the numbers paint an interesting picture.

Is it because women work in lower-paying fields?

No. The statistics show that men are routinely paid more than women within the same industry (except in construction, where women are more likely to work in semi-skilled or skilled positions compared to low-skilled male labourers). So are women being paid less for the same work or are they taking lower-paying positions?

Is it because men are more highly-educated than women and hold higher positions?

No. Men with tertiery education earn more than similarly-educated women– with a median monthly salary of RM3,500 versus RM3,118. In fact, men earn more than women at every education and employment level.

Male managers and professionals also out-earn their female counterparts, with male managers earning a median monthly salary of RM6,000 compared to the RM5,000 earned by women. Male and female professionals earn a median monthly salary of RM4,810 and RM4,121 respectively. Not only that, according to the Department of Statistics’ Labour Force Survey Report 2016, there are nearly 3.9 male managers for every 1 female manager, despite the fact that women professionals outnumber their male counterparts.

However, the Salaries & Wages Report does not go into which fields these managers and professionals work in, and certain fields can display both a gender- and wage-skew. A manager at an investment bank will most likely earn more than a manager at a creative agency, for instance.

Is it because women take maternity leave?

Perhaps. According to the statistics, women in the 25-34 age bracket actually out-earn their male counterparts on average, but the mean wage gap widens significantly after that.

This coincides with the time when women generally start going on maternity leave. Doing so can seriously harm their career trajectories and affect the overall earning power of women. Most women do not return to the workforce after a maternity break, and those who do return often face discrimination, lower pay and job opportunities.

Related: What Happens When You Take A Career Break

Worldwide however, it’s interesting to note that maternity leave doesn’t seem to be the driving factor behind the gender wage gap– pay inequality exists even at the fresh graduate level, long before women start having children.

Unfortunately, wage data based on years of employment was not available in the Department of Statistics report for Malaysia, so we could not investigate this for ourselves.

Is it because women don’t negotiate for higher pay?

Maybe. But negotiating for more pay can turn out badly for women, with both male and female employers being less likely to want to work with women who negotiate during a job interview.

So what can we do?

The gender wage gap is a complex issue, but men and women deserve the same amount of pay for doing the same jobs. Some experts say it’s up to employers, policy-makers, and government bodies to even out the playing (paying?) field, but until then, we can all still do our best to advocate for equal pay. Even if that takes open discussion and negotiation.

Statistics and visuals: Department of Statistics Malaysia, Salaries & Wages Report 2016