House of Commons Library

The gender pay gap

Published Wednesday, November 7, 2018

This briefing paper provides statistics on the size of the gender pay gap in the UK, looks at some of the reasons why the gender pay gap arises and discusses the duty on large employers to report on the size of the gender pay gap in their workforce.

Jump to full report >>

How big is the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap measures the difference between average hourly earnings of men and women.

Among full-time employees, women tend to be paid less per hour than men, while the opposite is true for part-time employees. Median hourly pay for full-time employees was 8.6% less for women than for men at April 2018, while median hourly pay for part-time employees was 4.4% higher for women than for men (figures exclude overtime pay). The median is the point at which half of people earn more and half earn less.

However, a much higher share of women than men are employed part-time and part-time workers tend to earn less per hour than those working full-time. Consequently, when we look at the gender pay gap for all employees, it is considerably larger than the full-time or part-time pay gaps: on this basis, median pay for all employees was 17.9% less for women than for men at April 2018.

Broadly speaking there has been a downwards trend in the full-time pay gap since 1997 and the overall pay gap has also decreased over the period. The part-time pay gap has generally remained small and negative, with women earning more than men on average.

The gender pay gap has been decreasing over the past twenty years

Why is there a gender pay gap?

Differences in average pay for men and women arise for various reasons, including the types of jobs that people do and the number of years they have spent in the workplace.

There is little difference in median hourly pay for male and female full-time employees aged in their 20s and 30s, but a large gap emerges among full-time employees aged 40 and over. One reason for this is that factors affecting women’s employment and earnings opportunities become more evident among women aged in their 30s and 40s. For example, time spent out of the workplace to care for children or elderly relatives could affect future earnings when a person returns to work. Similarly, the need to balance work with family commitments and the availability of flexible working practices may restrict individuals’ employment options.

The gender pay gap varies markedly by age group

Research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that the pay gap between men and women widens substantially following the birth of their first child. Some of this effect is attributable to mothers spending less time in full-time employment than fathers and more time in part-time employment. Experience working part-time appears to have very little impact on growth in hourly wages compared to experience in full-time work.

Generational effects, including differences in average education levels and the occupational profile of younger and older workers, also helps explain why the gender pay gap varies with age. Over the past twenty-five years there has been a more rapid increase in education levels among women than among men. More highly-educated workers tend to have higher earnings, so the relative increase in education levels for women probably explains some of the reduction in the overall gender pay gap during this time. Even so, within the group workers qualified to degree level there has been little change in the gender pay gap over this period, although the gap has reduced among workers qualified to GCSE or A level standard.

Another likely driver of the gender pay gap is that women are more concentrated than men in certain occupations which may attract lower levels of pay. This effect is often referred to as “occupational segregation”.

Gender pay gap reporting

From 2017/18, public and private sector employers with 250 or more employees are required annually to publish data on the gender pay gap within their organisations. The deadline for publishing gender pay data relating to 2017-18 has now passed. Public sector employers were required to report by 30 March 2018, while private and voluntary sector employers had to report by 4 April 2018.

10,532 employers reported data for 2017/18, including some who reported after the deadline. 77% of reporting employers stated that median hourly pay was higher for men than for women in their organisation, while 14% of employers stated median hourly pay was higher for women. 9% stated that median hourly pay was the same for women as for men.

Commons Briefing papers SN07068

Authors: Feargal McGuinness; Douglas Pyper

Topics: Employment, Pay

Share this page