An important sign of gender inequality across the world is the pay gap between men and women doing the same job and with the same level of productivity. Globally, women earn only 77 cents on an average for every dollar earned by a man. This gap is present in India too, and may be worsening over time. Between April and June 2022, the female wage rate ranged across states from just over 50% to 93.7% in rural India, and from just under 50% to 100.8% in cities. The gap in rural areas has worsened over the last decade in most states. The urban gap has, however, diminished. The data have been released by the National Statistical Office in the report, Women and Men in India 2022. In some states where the male wage is among the highest in India, the gender gap is also the widest. The data do not reveal any obvious patterns. According to the report, in the states of West Bengal, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh, the rural wage gap has increased by more than 10% between 2011-12 to 2022. These three states have different patterns of development, ranging from very rapid to quite slow. The figures are perhaps indicative of the deep-rooted patriarchal belief that women are less productive and more likely to leave the labour force or be absent.
The pay gap is not only unfair in terms of the ethics of equal pay for equal work but it also has long-term consequences for the economic development of a nation. The lifetime earnings of women turn out to be less compared to men. Women often end up in poverty despite having similar wage employment. Poverty is disempowering. Thus, the ability of a woman to have an effective influence over decisions affecting her own life, such as education, health, personal expenses and childcare, is likely to be poor. This engenders low self-esteem and self-worth, reinforcing beliefs of gender inequality. Psychological stress is also the result of embedded discrimination. In some situations where women may have other job opportunities available, they may not work for the same employer for long. This creates a self-fulfilling condition of lower productivity for women. This is caused by the fact that they are either constantly on the lookout for higher-paying jobs or for matrimonial alliances to augment their access to a higher family income. Getting rid of the wage gap and other forms of discrimination is not too difficult, provided there is adequate political will among those who govern.