Why do women in Britain and the EU get paid less than men?
A woman works at a desk in the Lloyd's of London building in the City of London financial district in London, Britain, April 16, 2019. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
What’s the context?
Today is UK Equal Pay Day, the point in the year when women symbolically start working for free to highlight the gender pay gap
- Progress slow on closing Europe's gender pay gap
- Women over-represented in part-time, low-paid jobs
- EU pay transparency measures target equality
LONDON - It will take nearly 30 years to close the gender pay gap between men and women in Britain, according to a new report from women's equality charity the Fawcett Society.
British men earn on average 574 pounds ($715) more than women per month, a pay gap of 10.7% that will not close until 2051 if progress continues at the current pace, the report said.
Known as Equal Pay Day, countries across the world mark the point in the year, falling between September and November, when women start working for free due to the pay gap.
In the European Union, the day fell on Nov. 15 this year, and in Britain, on Nov. 22, reflecting a gap equivalent to about a month and a half of salary.
But progress to close the gap is slow, so what are the reasons behind it and what are governments doing about it?
What is the gender pay gap in Europe?
In the EU, men earn on average 12.7% more than women per hour, according to the latest available statistics from 2021.
There are six countries where the gap is 5% or less - Italy, Belgium, Poland, Slovenia, Romania and Luxembourg, where women's hourly earnings equal roughly the same as men's.
The pay gap has decreased by just over three percentage points in the ten years from 2013, when it was 16%.
"We are moving, but it's too slow," said Jolanta Reingarde, a researcher at the European Institute for Gender Equality.
In Britain, the gap for women over the age of 40 is more than double than for younger women, something Reingarde said is probably related to women having children.
The gap is also higher for Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black women, where it is about 24%.
Countries with a lower gender pay gap do not necessarily have more equality, said Reingarde, who said countries that have low employment rates for women tend to have smaller pay gaps.
How does it compare with the rest of the world?
Globally, women earn 20% less than men – a wider gap than in the EU - meaning they are paid 77 cents for every dollar paid to men.
That would be even less for women of colour, immigrant women and mothers, who are more likely to work in the informal economy, casual and part-time work, according to the United Nations.
In the U.S., women earn roughly 82 cents to a man's dollar, but Black women earn 63 cents and Latina women, 58 cents.
Why is there a gender pay gap?
In some instances, women are paid less than men for the same work, but there are also reasons concerning the types of jobs women perform.
Women are more likely to work in lower-paying sectors, such as, health, care or education, which is a major driving factor of pay discrepancy, said Agnieszka Piasna, a researcher on gender equality in work at the European Trade Union Institute
"Men and women perform jobs that are valued differently," said Piasna, adding that wages in female-dominated jobs decrease as the proportion of women working in the sector increases.
Globally, women in the health and care sector face a larger gender pay gap than in other economic sectors, earning on average of 24% less than men, according to a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Women are also more likely to work part-time to fit around childcare or housework duties.
As the lower earners in a household, women get caught in a cycle where they tend to take career breaks or not return to work after childbirth, and they are under-represented in higher-paid, managerial and decision-making roles.
Though women's participation in corporate leadership has increased, they hold less than one in 10 board chair and CEO positions in the EU.
For those who do make it to managerial roles, there is a pay gap of 23% in the bloc.
This may be because men are more likely to negotiate their salaries or benefits packages, Piasna said.
An ETUI report from 2022 found that performance-related pay contributes to pay inequalities, as men are more likely to work at larger firms and in the sectors where these systems are implemented.
What are governments doing about it?
Britain has introduced compulsory pay gap reporting and in 2023 passed a bill making it possible to request flexible work from the first day of employment.
The Fawcett Society is calling for further legislation that would require employers to advertise all flexible working available, from compressed hours to job sharing and remote work.
"Flexible work is really important for women because it enables them to balance caring responsibilities with work," said Jemima Olchawski, chief executive of the Fawcett Society.
The Equal Pay International Coalition, a partnership between the ILO, UN Women and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), has set a target for all governments to ratify the U.N.'s Equal Remuneration Convention and implement equal pay measures by 2030.
At EU level, a directive on pay transparency came into force in 2023, requiring that companies disclose pay for people working at the same employer, and that companies with a gap of 5% or more take wider action to address the gap.
The EU also adopted a right to life-work balance directive in 2019 that guarantees men at least 10 working days of paternity leave and introduces a leave for workers providing care to someone in the same household.
In addition to these directives, experts say improving child support and creating more opportunities for flexible work could further close the pay gap.
This story was updated on Nov 22 at 9:19 GMT with a new report from the Fawcett Society to mark Equal Pay Day in the UK.
($1 = 0.8025 pounds)
(Reporting by Beatrice Tridimas. Editing by Helen Popper)
- Gender equity
- Pay gaps
- Wealth inequality
- Economic inclusion