12 Dec 2013

Gender pay gap widens: why are women earning less than men?

After years of steady progress on closing the wage difference between men and women, the gender pay gap has widened in the last year. Channel 4 News looks at the story behind the stats.

The latest ONS report into average earnings in the UK contains all the data you could ever want on what’s been happening to our salaries over the last year.

The headline finding from the report is that average earnings have risen by 2.2 per cent – less than the 2.4 per cent rate of inflation. The average annual salary is now £27,000 for the year ending April 2013.

But the report also found that the gender pay gap has widened for the first time since 2008, from 9.5 per cent to 10 per cent for full-time workers.

For part-time workers, the gap is much wider, and it rose from 19.6 per cent to 19.7 per cent in the last year.

The new figures will deliver a blow to attempts to equalise the labour market, and follow years of steady progress towards reducing the gender gap. TUC analysis of the data based on mean, or average, figures found that the gender pay gap for all workers was actually 15.7 per cent.


One significant factor is that a much higher proportion of women do part-time work, and part-time work tends to pay much less per hour than full-time, said Tiffany Tsang from the Work Foundation. Part-time jobs make up around 26 per cent of the total number of UK jobs: within this sector, women make up 20 per cent while men are employed in just six per cent of part-time posts.

During the recession, when there are fewer jobs around, women appear to feel under more pressure to take on whatever work is going, even if it is at a lower rate of pay, or part-time. “Men are more likely to become unemployed, and are ‘inactive’ when there are fewer jobs, while women more likely to go into part-time work,” said Ms Tsang.

And while it is good news that wages have risen slightly, the fact that inflation is still beating the rate of wage increases, shows that many workers are still feeling the presure of rising housing costs, food prices and childcare.

The baby factor

Then there is the question of children. Women are still considered the main carers and are entitled to more paid leave than their male partners after they have a baby. And they are having more children, said Ms Tsang: “Women are having more children and having them later, and what we could be seeing is a penalty for leaving work, and moving into part-time work.”

Another factor is varying pay for different industries: there tends to be more women employed in badly paid industries. This is a problem that Charlie Woodworth of the Fawcett Society called on the government to address: “Women’s position in the labour market and their wider financial security are at grave risk.

“More must be done to tackle occupational segregation – women continue to be shockingly under-represented in better paid industries such as science and technology.”

Ms Tsang agreed that young women need to be better informed about the variety of career options available to them, so they don’t automatically fall in to jobs like childminding, hairdressing and working as teaching assistants – all of which are on the low-end of the pay scale, and have part-time potential.

More openness and transparency about wages in companies, would also help equalise pay structure, she said.

“On a macro sense, society maybe puts a lower value on certain sectors that should be important,” she added, “and that’s something in the long-term that we need to address.”