Is the Art World’s Gender Pay Gap Wider?

An exhibition in the Urban Nation Museum For Contemporary Art. Photo: DPA | Image source:
An exhibition in the Urban Nation Museum For Contemporary Art. Photo: DPA | Image source:

Historically, there’s always been an apparent imbalance in the art world when it comes to female representation. However, it’s only been in just the last few years that government agencies and professional researchers have studied just how deep the disparity is in everything from giving female artists a bigger platform to how much they earn in comparison to their male counterparts.

W.A.G.E., “Artist Payment Graphic,” excerpt from W.A.G.E. graphic poster of artist survey results in 2011. | Image source:

According to the National Endowment for the Arts, female visual artists earn 81 cents for every dollar made by male artists; despite the fact that women outnumber men in the sector as 51% of visual artists are women. The Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) and the National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) surveyed over 200 museums. They found that women were significantly underrepresented in the country’s top art institutions. The AAMD and NCAR Gender Gap Report 2017 found that women in art museum directorships were at a “salary disadvantage; on average, female directors earned 73 cents for every dollar that male directors earned.”

A research published in the Sage Journals in 2016, titled An Asymmetrical Portrait: Exploring Gendered Income Inequality in the Arts also reports that women in the arts make about $20,000 less than men per year. The study was led by Danielle J. Lindemann an Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lehigh University and former Assistant Research Professor and Research Director at the Center for Women and Work, Rutgers University. Using data from 33,801 individuals who have received degrees in the arts, Lindemann in collaboration with Steven Tepper and Carly Rush assessed the earning gaps between genders for artists and non-artists. They compared the salaries of people working within the arts with those from other industries to find similar gender wage gaps. However, upon focusing on art professionals, they found that the women earned $43,177 on average while the men made $63,061 per year.

Laurie Simmons, Long House (Orange and Green Lounge), 2004, Cibachrome. 48 × 60 in. Photo: courtesy the artist and Salon 94, © Laurie Simmons. | Image source:

Closing the gender pay gap demands action from people willing to challenge and expose inequality. To protest the gender pay gap, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago is offering a discount on admission to the “Laurie Simmons: Big Camera/Little Camera” exhibition that runs from February 23rd to May 5th, 2019. For anyone who feels they’ve been adversely impacted by the gender pay gap, the rate of admission is $12 as opposed to their regular $15 ticket price. According to MCA director Madeleine Grynsztejn, the reduced price is to align with “Laurie’s activism to expose inequality across the lines of gender, sexuality, and race.”

And thanks to initiatives like #MeToo and Time’s Up, there’s now a glaring spotlight on the pervasiveness of workplace discrimination, harassment, and inequality. For decades, women have been too scared to speak up, accepting lower wages and allowing society to treat them unfairly.

Women’s Pay Disparity in the Global Art World

Despite pay inequality being illegal in the U.K. for over four decades, the gender pay gap exists to this day. To identify the severity of the difference in wages, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission required businesses employing more than 250 people to report the average differences between the hourly rates of their male and female employees. Over 10,000 firms published their data, revealing that approximately 78% of U.K. companies pay their male employees more than women. On average, men were paid 9.7% more per hour than their female colleagues.

Mary Turner/Getty Images News/Getty Images | Image source:

In May 2018, the UK government compelled auction houses along with other companies to submit their payroll data. The data exposed how the women at Bonhams earned 37% less than their male counterparts. Female employees at Christie’s and Sotheby’s made 25% and 22%, respectively, less than men in their organization.

Ironically, the Global Director of Communications at Bonhams is a woman. And to address the issue on their company’s gender wage gap, Lucinda Bredin says, “We fully recognize that we have work to do to address this issue, which is a reflection of the fact that Bonhams has more men than women in the senior, more highly remunerated roles.” 

Bredin adds that Bonhams will establish a task force to “look at ways of ensuring that more women have the opportunity to move into these senior positions.” Their initiatives will cover “mentoring, career path transparency and work-life balance.”

Davos 2018: The World Economic Forum (WEF) reports that it could take 202 years for women to earn as much as men because the global pay gap is so vast and the pace of change so slow. | Image source:

In September and October 2018, Arts Professional, British arts management journal, conducted a study on more than 2,600 professionals working in the art industry in the U.K. The survey revealed that the average salary for a woman is $37,300 while her male equivalent made $41,800.

According to an ArtsProfessional salary survey, “the gender pay gap in the arts sector is greater than the national average, with women earning up to £5,000 less than men at a similar stage in their careers, despite being better educated.”

Art Council England (ACE)’s Executive Director Liz Bushnell says the gender pay gap is getting smaller thanks to the promotion of workforce diversity and the focus on achieving pay equality. By the end of March 2017, “the mean difference between the average salaries of men and women working for the Arts Council was 6.7%.”

What’s curious is that at the time of the survey and the calculation of the gender pay gap, 66% of the Art Council’s staff were women. While there were no women in C-level positions, 60% of the Senior Managers were women, and they held 71% of the Senior Officer and Relationship Manager roles.

Women artists pay disparity in the global art world
Joan Mitchell (1925-1992) who’d been largely obscured by her male contemporary abstract expressionist superstars, Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock etc. | Image source:

In Australia, it’s evident that the gender pay gap in the arts is more comprehensive compared to other industries. According to a 2017 economic survey led by David Throsby and Katya Petetskaya titled Making Art Work: An Economic Study of Professional Artists in Australia, the female artist, despite being better educated than her male colleague, earns much less. The study is the most recent from a series that dates as far back as the 1980s.

When it comes to the gender wage gap, the biggest culprits are severe under-representation and a long history of gender inequality. Female artists still make nowhere near as much as male artists. Inescapably, it remains this way despite many studies that prove that audiences cannot differentiate art created by a man from art made by a woman.


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