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Not all wait staff are equal: gender pay gap in Australian tourism and hospitality sector


Jessica Nelson
10 May 2018

Women in the Australian tourism and hospitality sector earn almost 10 per cent less than their male colleagues, according to a study led by Southern Cross University Associate Professor Michael Kortt.

The study, published in Tourism Analysis, used data from the Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey to estimate the gender wage gap for the sector.

“The principal findings suggest that female tourism employees earn 8.5 per cent less, and hospitality employees earn 7.5 per cent less than their male counterparts,” said Professor Kortt from the School of Business and Tourism.

“There are a number of possible reasons for this observed gender wage gap. Firstly, women may possess less human capital than their male counterparts, with education being a noteworthy factor. However, differences in the returns to education do not appear to be a compelling explanation.

“Secondly, women accumulate work experience at a slower rate because their participation in the labour force is traditionally interrupted by major life events like maternity leave and child rearing. The gender wage gap may, in part, be due to the slower accumulation of human capital by women.

However, Professor Kortt explicitly controlled for educational attainment and work experience in the study, in addition to an extensive range of demographic and social characteristics.

“Even after controlling for these factors, our results indicate that female employees still incur a wage penalty. It appears that women may face discrimination in the tourism and hospitality labour market,” he said.

Professor Kortt called for efforts to be devoted to eliminating any remaining gender pay disparity.

“Work in the policy space needs to ensure there are no discriminatory hiring practices, and employees are provided with flexible work arrangements and opportunities for career development and advancement.”

Professor Kortt said his study contributed to the literature by providing the first results for Australia, where the tourism and hospitality sector makes a substantial contribution to gross domestic product (GDP).

He said the next step would be to look at particular jobs within the sector to see whether wage discrimination exists for specific roles.