With so much conversation about the pay gap in recent years, it can be tricky to decipher the facts and figures and know what it actually means for women in 2019.
What does it mean?
First, it’s important to note how the pay gap is defined. ONS measures the difference in percentage between men’s and women’s median hourly earnings across all jobs in the UK. It is not comparing men and women doing the same job.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported in 2018 that the gender pay gap fell to 8.6 per cent among full-time employees in 2018. Among all employees, the gap is higher, however, at 17.9 per cent. This is largely due to the larger proportion of women in part-time jobs, which receive lower pay (“an average hourly rate is £9.36 compared with £14.31, excluding overtime, for full-time jobs”).
In 2018, ONS reported that the gender pay gap was nearly zero between 18- and 39-year-old full-time employees. At age 40, however, it widens. Across all employees, the pay gap widens after age 30, coinciding with an increase in part-time work. Since 1998, the gap has closed the most for workers ages 40 to 49.
The pay gap is not about women getting paid less in the same job as a man, although there is research to support that this is also true for many. The pay gap means that women overall receive less pay than men in the UK. A more in-depth look at the evidence, and more importantly, the reasons behind the gap can help one recognize the systematic gender issues facing the UK when it comes to pay.
Why does it exist?
Many believe that this “myth” of a gender wage gap can be debunked and explained away by saying that women are more likely to work fewer hours in a less lucrative job, such as care-giving or teaching. Men, on the other hand, are said to be more likely to work in higher paying jobs.
“There is a belief, which is just not true, that women are in bad occupations and if we just put them in better occupations, we would solve the gender gap problem,” Claudia Goldin of Harvard University said in an article by the New York Times.
Like Goldin said, there is a belief that this gap is simply because of women’s choice to work less and in a low-paying occupation. However, this belief completely disregards the societal expectations and discrimination that contribute to women earning less—for example, statistically there are more female nurses and more male doctors.
This discrimination also arises when a field becomes more male-dominated and in turn, begins to be more lucrative. Historically, computer programming was a female-dominated field, until the 1980’s when men began to take over these jobs. When they did, the jobs gained more prestige and higher salaries. We now know this field to have the reputation of being male-dominated and well-paying.
Women are much more likely to have more care responsibilities in the work and home, as well as being single parents, with minority women at an even higher rate. Because of this, many women cannot work outside of the home as easily as men. While there have been significant improvements in the pay gap in recent years, it still exists. World Economic Forum reported this year that the world had closed 68 per cent of the gender pay gap in 2018. This is only a 0.1 per cent increase from last year, meaning at this rate it could take over 100 years to close the gap globally. This is why it is crucial to examine not only the research stating the facts of the wage gap, but to delve in to the contributing factors in order to understand how to close it.
By: Sarah Dixon