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Equal pay? Not by a long way…

Yesterday, it was equal pay day.

From Sally Brett at Touchstone

Rather like Christmas in the shops, equal pay day came earlier this year. Equal pay day marks the point at which the average full-time woman stops earning relative to the average full-time man because of the gender pay gap. The pay gap widened by nearly one percentage point last year (from 14.8 per cent to 15.7 per cent) so equal pay day fell yesterday (4 November) a few days earlier than last year.

Numerous factors lie behind the gender pay gap but the long term trend has been a downward one as women’s participation in the labour market has increased and more women leave school and graduate from university with qualifications that are equal to or exceed their male peers. But progress has been painfully slow and last year’s widening sets us back a couple of years.

New analysis by the TUC of official earnings data shows that full-time men are more than twice as likely as full-time women to be earning £50,000 or more a year – one in 15 women compared to one in seven men.

Graphic for Equal Pay Day 2014. Orange background with the following text on top: 'Men twice as likely to earn over £50K a year as women"

Click on the graphic to download a larger version.

There are always some who dismiss our concern with the gender pay gap, saying it doesn’t compare like with like. Men and women do different kinds of jobs and women have different motivations, tending to ‘choose’ lower paid vocations over well paid professions, so the criticism goes.

The only policy intervention they suggest, if any, is that girls should be given better careers advice and encouragement to enter higher paid, traditionally male-dominated jobs.

However, our look at some of the best paid occupations shows that even in well paid professions that women have entered in increasing numbers, women still earn considerably less than their male colleagues.

The average salary for a man working full time as a solicitor is £53,948 a year and the average for a full-time woman is £43,076 – a pay gap of 20.2 per cent. The pay gap for business or financial project managers is even higher at 27.4 per cent, with men earning an average £55,925 a year while women earn an average £40,622 a year.

This reminds us just how tough the glass ceiling is. But at the other end of the labour market we find that the ‘sticky floor’ is as sticky as ever and affects far more women.

One in four women working full-time earns less than the living wage, compared to one in six men. The situation is even worse for those in part time work. Nearly six million women work part time and two in five of them earns less than the living wage.

As TUC analysis showed earlier this year, in some parts of the country the majority do. In West Lancashire, for example, nearly three-quarters of part time women do not earn a wage sufficient to meet their basic needs. For part time women equal pay day was back on 28 August.

It is clear from these figures that many women are still struggling to find decently paid, part time or flexible job opportunities once they become mothers, which is when the majority seek to reduce their hours.

A period of part time employment has a long term scarring effect on women’s earnings (and ultimately their pensions) even if they eventually return to full-time employment. Those who remain in full-time work throughout their childrearing years may also fail to progress as fast as their male colleagues.

One recent survey found around two in five managers would be wary of hiring a mother for a senior role. For these reasons, the full-time gender pay gap widens from 3.4 per cent for women in their 20s to 7.7 per cent in their 30s to 19.7 per cent for those in their 40s.

For women working full time in their 20s, equal pay day is firmly in the middle of the festive season. But there is little to celebrate if we know that these women are going to experience the same pay penalties associated with motherhood and part time work as their predecessors once they hit their 30s and 40s.

Flexible working rights need to be strengthened for parents and carers to open up better quality job opportunities for those seeking reduced hours and fathers need greater incentives to take time out of paid work to care for their children, such as better paid leave which is available to them on a ‘use it or lose it’ basis.


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