Out-Law / Your Daily Need-To-Know

UK gender pay gap widening as workers age

Out-Law News | 01 Nov 2019 | 2:09 pm | 2 min. read

The difference in earnings between male and female UK workers is now "close to zero" for those under 40, but increases as workers age, according to official figures.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show a slight increase in the overall gender pay gap (GPG) for full-time workers in the year to April 2019: up to 8.9% from 8.6% the previous year. For full-time workers in their 40s, the GPG currently stands at 11.4% and has "decreased substantially over time", according to the ONS. However, for full-time workers in their 50s, 60s and older, the GPG is over 15% and is not declining.

The GPG among all employees, including part-time workers, fell from 17.8% in 2018 to 17.3% in 2019, and continues to decline, according to the ONS. The figure is much higher as women fill more part-time jobs, which have lower hourly median pay than full-time jobs and are likely to be in lower-paid occupations, according to the ONS.

Corden Helen

Helen Corden

Partner

The reasons for the gap largely remain the same, and until society as a whole can address issues such as occupational segregation, child care provisions and caring responsibilities, the gap will remain.

The ONS said that the 0.3 percentage point increase in the GPG for full-time workers was "not statistically significant". However, it noted that the rate at which the GPG is decreasing had slowed in recent years. The figure for 2019 is 3.3 percentage points lower than that of a decade ago, but only 0.6 percentage points lower than that recorded in 2012.

Gender pay gap reporting expert Helen Corden of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, said that the figures "re-emphasise the fact that closing the gender pay gap will take time and that there is no quick fix".

"Among all employees the gap has only fallen 0.5 percentage points in 12 months and it will therefore be many years until it closes altogether," she said. "The reasons for the gap largely remain the same, and until society as a whole can address issues such as occupational segregation, child care provisions and caring responsibilities, the gap will remain."

The ONS figures refer to the difference between average hourly earnings, excluding overtime, of men and women, as a proportion of average hourly earnings, excluding overtime, of men's earnings. It is measured across all UK jobs in all sizes of company, and does not show differences in pay between men and women in the same, or comparable, jobs. This means the figures are different to those that come out of the annual GPG compulsory reporting requirements. These only apply to organisations with 250 employees or more.

One of the reasons for the age-related differences in GPG is because women over 40 are more likely to work in lower-paid occupations, and are less likely to work as managers, directors or senior officials than younger women, according to the ONS. The three occupations that saw the largest increase in the proportion of full-time employee jobs held by women in 2018-19 were sales and customer service, elementary occupations and plant and machine operatives, which all tend to have lower average rates of hourly pay.

While the GPG was close to zero for full-time employees aged between 18 and 39 years old, the GPG for women in their 30s was over 10% once part-time employees were taken into account. According to the ONS, this was because women increasingly worked part-time from their mid-30s onwards, and part-time jobs tend to pay less per hour than full-time jobs.

Helen Corden said that the figures "emphasise that the 'motherhood penalty' still exists".

"The government, society and organisations must work together to take steps to address this to ensure that women are able to return to the workplace following periods of family leave and are not disadvantaged in any way," she said.

Pinsent Masons is holding a webinar on diversity and inclusion issues, including the gender pay gap, on Thursday 7 November. Click here for more information and to register.