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Politics & Law Series: Research Spotlight

UK gender pay gap narrowing, new research finds

City’s Dr Vanessa Gash part of research team behind Department for Education study

by Ed Grover (Senior Communications Officer)

The UK’s gender pay gap is gradually narrowing, according to a new report published by the Department for Education.

Researchers from The University of Manchester and City, University of London found the gap went down from 19 per cent in 2007 to 13.4 per cent in 2015.

One cause of the decline is that part-time employment is now found to exert downward pressure on the pay gap, as more men are doing low-wage part-time work than previously (11.9 per cent, up from 9.7 per cent in 2007).

In spite of this progress, UK women still earn an average of £1.62 less per hour than men, according to the study. This is mainly due to men having longer full-time careers on average – 17.8 years compared with 13.2 years for women.

However, 57p of the gap is ‘unexplained’, and the authors argue this could be a result of differences in the behaviour of employers towards women which result in a strong bias towards men in pay rates.

Researcher Dr Vanessa Gash, a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at City, said: “While the most recent declines are welcome they also need to be understood within the context of declining real wages.

“Of the £1.62 pay gap, we found women earn 91p less per hour compared to men because they have fewer years of full-time work in their careers, and because they have more years of unpaid care work.

“The next biggest driver concerns observed and unobserved characteristics associated with being female. While we cannot definitively say what these factors are, they are likely to be a combination of discrimination against women and ongoing differences between male and female behaviour in the workplace.”

Impact of part-time work

Dr Gash said the impact of part-time work on the pay gap was surprising, because the effect has changed since the team’s previous study.

The new research suggests that there has been an increase in the amount of women who have managed to negotiate part-time hours with their employer, which has meant that their wages are on average higher than those who have had to obtain part-time hours elsewhere.

In contrast, there has been a rise in the proportion of men in poorly paid part-time jobs.

Dr Gash said: “While previous research has found that many women have had to occupationally downgrade in pursuit of reduced-hours posts, recent changes in policy may be limiting such flows to lower-calibre positions.

“Though many part-time jobs continue to be of poor quality – they are less likely to be permanent or unionised – there are also many part-time workers employed in the public sector, which is typically regarded as having preferential working conditions over others.”

Institutional factors – such as working in the public sector – were also found to limit the pay gap, with the public sector known to be protective of lower skilled workers pay levels.

Commissioned by the Department for Education, the research analyses the main predictors of the gender pay gap using the latest data from the British Household Panel Survey and the United Kingdom Household Longitudinal Survey (from 2015).

Dr Gash, of the Department of Sociology at City, worked with the lead researcher Professor Wendy Olsen, Sook Kim and Dr Min Zhang, all of The University of Manchester.

Read the report, The gender pay gap in the UK: evidence from the UKHLS

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