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Iceland’s Women Strike to End the Gender Pay Gap

Monday afternoon, many women in Iceland left work at 2:38 p.m. Why that exact time? Because thanks to Iceland’s gender pay gap, which means that women earn 14 to 18 percent less than men, 2:38 is the time of day when Icelandic women stop getting paid and start working for free. (Assuming, of course, a 9-to-5 schedule.)
icelands women strike
Image Credit: Moyan_Brenn/Flickr

This isn’t the first time women in Iceland have walked off the job to protest earning less than men. On October 24, 1975, 90 percent of women took a “day off” in Iceland, staying home from work and skipping housework and childcare duties.

“As a result, many industries shut down for the day,” writes libcom.org:

Newspapers were not printed since the vast majority of typesetters were women and there was no telephone service. Many schools were either closed or partially closed as the majority of teachers were women.

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Flights were cancelled as flight attendants did not come to work and bank branches had to be staffed by executives as tellers took the day off.

Fish factories were also closed, with many nurseries and shops also shut or at reduced capacity.

What Would Happen If American Women Went on Strike for a Day?

Imagine the impact of a similar strike on the American economy. PayScale’s report, Inside the Gender Pay Gap, notes that the average woman in the U.S. earns 74 cents for every dollar a man makes. While the controlled gender pay gap is much smaller — 97 cents to the dollar — that’s because women are much more likely to have low-paying jobs than men.

Lest you put that down to lack of ambition on the part of American women, it’s important to remember two important facts:

  1. Women still do the vast majority of the housework and childcare duties in the U.S., even when they’re breadwinners. This allows them less time to build their careers, but beyond that, it reinforces the stereotype that women aren’t able to devote themselves to work like men … which in turn means that even women with plenty of time and dedication are paid less, once they marry and have children.
  2. Research has shown that when women dominate a profession, pay declines. The opposite is true when men take over an occupation, e.g. computer programmer. In Grace Hopper’s time, it was seen as women’s work, and paid accordingly; now, tech jobs are among the highest paying.

In short, women are more likely to be secretaries, administrative assistants, office managers, and less likely to be construction managers, computer software engineers, and industrial production managers:

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Of course, just because a job is underpaid doesn’t mean it’s without worth; often, just the opposite. Imagine if every assistant — administrative, legal, nursing, you name it — walked off the job tomorrow. Industry would grind to a halt. That’s not to mention the hell that would break loose if every stay-at-home mom in America decided to take a day off.

Maybe the women of Iceland are on to something.

Are you underpaid? Find out now by taking PayScale’s free Salary Survey.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s your take on the strike in Iceland? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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