When I think about the industry sectors with the largest gender pay gaps, I immediately think about finance.
But women in finance, it turns out, are actually doing relatively OK compared to women in the arts.
According to new research published in The Conversation, female artists in Australia earned an average $15,400 in the 2014/15 financial year from their create work, compared with $22,100 for men.
The gender pay gap across the general Australian population is 15.3%.
That massive gap exists in the arts despite female artists being better educated than their male counterparts, and spending more time on their creative work. Women also make up the slight majority (51%) of professional artists in Australia.
It also exists despite many of us believing the arts would be more generally progressive than other industry sectors, and certainly more flexible when it comes to the hours you can work.
David Throsby and Katya Petetskaya from the economics department of Macquarie University undertook the massive survey of practising professional artists in Australia (of which there are around 50,000), with funding from the Australia Council. The department has been undertaking the research since the start of the 1980s, and now has decades of data to see how conditions have changed for professional artists.
The results overall are not good. The study finds that artists earn on average just $18,800 a year from their creative work and a gross income of $48,400 a year when factoring in other work. As indicated above, women are generally earning much less than their male peers. While 66% of artists say they would like to spend more time on their creative work, less than a quarter of professional artists are pursuing such work full-time.
What could be behind the gap? Some say confidence could be a factor — with men potentially pricing their work higher than women, and also potentially putting themselves forward for more paid creative activities.
While the research does not look at the impact of motherhood on female artists, the ‘motherhood penalty’ could also be a factor. When weighing up the hefty costs of childcare against the already low incomes generated from creative work, some working mothers may say it’s simply not worth it.
The authors say that one of the key barriers to a higher income for both men and women is that artists need to explain why they should be paid for what other people do as hobbies — like painting, acting, writing poetry etc. But often these artists have spent more time in education and training and have put in more hours of experience than other professionals. The study found 90% of professional artists have post-school qualifications, compared with 53% of the general labour force.
So why do artists continue? With the long hours or study, the practice and the work that they’re unlikely to be financially rewarded for?
And why do women particularly continue, when they’re being considerably undervalued compared to men?
According to the researchers, it may come down to what economists often call ‘psychic income’. That would be the non-pecuniary rewards that come from pursuing such work: answering the call of that inner drive to create art.