Last week’s post on the strange disappearance of Italy’s gender pay gap reminded me to do an update on what’s happening with ours. The ONS published its latest figures a couple of months ago so I have added them to the graph I did at the end of 2011.
For some background, the gap between full-time pay for men and women has fallen significantly since equal pay legislation became law in 1975. For those in their twenties, the gap had gone by 2006. If anything, women were earning, on average, slightly more than men.
Since then, the pay gap for those in their thirties has followed a similar trend to the point where it, too, has almost disappeared.
Gender pay difference for median hourly earnings, excluding overtime Percentage full-time pay difference (men/women) by age band
The big jump in pay differences comes in the older age groups, which accounts for the overall full-time gender pay gap being just below 10 percent.
This time, I have included the 18-21 year olds. (I excluded 16-17 year olds because the sample size is very small.) Here, the pay gap is higher and seems to be rising.
Could this be because a majority of women now go on to higher education? 51 percent of women go to university compared to 40 percent of men. Perhaps many of those women more capable of commanding higher pay rates are opting out of the 18-21 workforce and going to university instead.
This might also explain some of the reduction (or disappearance) of gender pay gaps in the twenties and thirties. Women were the main beneficiaries of the growth in higher education since the mid-1990s. By the early 2000s, they had taken up most of the new university places and the gap between male and female participation in higher education has continued to widen ever since. Could this now be feeding through into the gender pay differences? Do women in their twenties earn more on average than men because there are just a lot more of them with good qualifications? Are those with higher qualifications more likely to stay in the full-time workforce? Is this sheer weight of numbers also countering the effects of childbirth and career interruption on the pay averages of women in their thirties?
Or could some of this be due to shifts in social attitudes? It is nearly 40 years since discrimination and unequal pay were outlawed. Have those under 40 just grown up with an expectation of equality? I suspect both factors are at work and they probably reinforce each other. The more highly qualified women there are in senior roles, the more normal it becomes.
Having said all that, there is still some evidence that, all other things being equal, women graduates get paid less than men, which makes the (negative) gender pay gap for those in their twenties all the more remarkable. Despite lower starting salaries, women still earn more than men during their twenties. Again, could this simply be due to a greater number of high-earning women shifting the average?
This is another of my ‘damned if I know’ posts (perhaps I should start a separate category for them). The data raise some interesting questions though.
Once again, I’d be fascinated to hear what other people think. Answers, hypotheses, links to articles and other musings in the usual place please.