The story behind the stats.

The most recent statistics on the gender pay gap reveal it’s at its lowest level on record. This does pose the question . . .

“Is this cause for celebration?”

Whilst many have hailed this as a success, the high level statistics do conceal significant nuances that suggest we urge caution before we roll out the parade.

The ONS have said that this fall in the gender pay gap is a:

result of men’s wages dropping faster than women’s in real terms.

( BBC; 19 Nov. 2014 ).

We have to ask ourselves whether this is the way we want to close the gender pay gap and crucially, whether this will actually bring about a sustainable change.

When the next gender pay gap figures are reported it will be of critical interest to see what impact the recent reports of earnings returning to their pre-recession levels has had.

On closer examination there are further reasons to be cautious. The high level figures compare full time workers; this fails to take into consideration that women are more likely to work part time than men. The pay gap between full time and part time workers has fallen by just 0.7% since 2013 to stand at 19.1%.

The figures also hide the reality for women of different ages. While the pay gap has narrowed substantially for young women working full time, for those over 40 the pay gap remains significant. This is largely attributed to the fact that many women have children and take time out of the workplace ( ONS; ASHE 2014 ).

It is also important to look at the differences by sector. The pay gap remains higher in the private sector than the public sector and by occupation group there is great variation. In sales and customer service occupations the gap stands at 3% but for skilled trades occupations it stands at 25% ( ONS; ASHE 2014 ).

The causes of the gender pay gap are complex encompassing issues including childcare, transport, part time work and the types of work women are over-represented in.

While a fall in the overall gender pay gap is to be welcomed it shouldn’t be taken as an indication that our work is done and we do need to question to the rate at which the gap is closing.

If we want to achieve a sustainable change and achieve equal pay we have to look at tackling the root causes of the gap and ensure that changes are not the result of falling wages.

The goal has to be a labour market that delivers for everyone with high quality, well paid jobs supported by the necessary infrastructure to enable people to access employment.


Related: Gender Pay Gap — this paper outlines the causes of the gender pay gap and the action needed to close it. Also available in our Downloads section.

By Natasha Davies. Twitter: @daviesna2.