What causes the gender pay gap?

Gender Mixed Team


Working mums are evenly divided on whether the fact that women are more likely to work flexibly, particularly part time, is the main cause of the gender pay gap, according to a poll.

The poll shows 47% of Workingmums.co.uk readers think flexible working is the main cause of the pay gap while 45% say it isn’t. Eight per cent are not sure.

One woman who said it wasn’t the main cause stated: “It’s because men sit at the top of the tree! Women are easily disregarded.”

The gender pay gap currently stands at around 19.2%, but research shows it gets wider as women get older.  The pay gap among women over 40 is 25.5%, possibly linked to women who take a career break to bring up children.

In November, the Office for National Statistics published figures showing the gender pay gap for full-time employees has fallen to its lowest level, although it has changed very little in the last four years.

It measures the gender pay gap based on hourly pay and says it has decreased to 9.4%, from 9.6% in 2014, the lowest gap since its survey began in 1997. When part-time workers are included, where women dominate [41% work part time compared with 11% of men], there is no fall in the gender pay gap and it remains at 19.2%.

The gender pay gap is not the same as equal pay for equal work, but about lower paid jobs being more likely to be filled by women than men. It has also drawn attention to the lack of availability of challenging part-time jobs.

Claudia Goldin, Professor of Economics at Harvard University, puts the main cause of the gender pay gap down to the “amenity cost” of working to one’s own timetable, rather than being at the beck and call of one’s employer. She calls it the demand for “temporal flexibility”, a benefit that costs money. Pay gaps are higher in professions where the amenity cost is higher, she says. So, for example, in corporate law or consultancy, there can be tremendous demands that impinge profoundly on sleep, weekends and holidays. There is a very big pay reward for those who are prepared to work like this. Meanwhile, in a profession like pharmacy, technology and low rates of self-employment have resulted in one pharmacist very easily being able to stand in for another so the amenity cost of working according to one’s own time is low and the pay gap is very low in pharmacy.

Other studies, however, suggest that the care gap is not the only cause of the gender pay gap. There are a complex mix of factors, including the type of sectors women tend to gravitate towards after leaving school, the kind of jobs they do and issues relating to the promotion of women.

The issue of the gender pay gap is very much in the news. The Government has recently announced plans for larger companies to publish their gender pay data.

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