Tackling the gender pay gap reduces other kinds of inequality too

Increased female participation can lead to more equal incomes across the board


From today until the end of the year, women effectively work for free. That’s the finding from the Fawcett Society, which has calculated that this year’s gender pay gap for full time workers stands at a ridiculous 14.2 per cent.

It’s a tiny reduction from last year’s gap of 15.7 per cent. If the pay gap were reduced at current rates, we would achieve parity in 54 years, by which time a young woman starting her first job now would already be drawing her pension.

Women are disproportionately likely to be in part-time work, which is itself skewed towards low-paid roles. When we take into account all workers, not just full-time, the gender pay gap rises to over 19 per cent.

This absurd unfairness needs to be addressed urgently so that women are justly rewarded for the work they do.

But there’s another positive effect of tackling the pay gap. Greater gender equality plays an important wider role in reducing overall economic inequality.

The UK has the fourth most unequal incomes of 30 developed countries, and our poor record has been noted by economic heavyweights who have joined up the problems of gender inequality and how economically divided a country is.

In September, the World Economic Forum identified our gender pay gap and relatively poor rates of female participation in the labour market as major barriers to inclusive growth. More recently, the IMF produced evidence that gender inequality and income inequality are strongly interlinked, even after controlling for other drivers of income inequality.

Greater inequality between men and women is strongly associated with higher income shares going to the already-rich top 10 per cent, and it also goes hand in hand with lower income shares going to the poorest 20 per cent.

There is broad agreement that policies like paid parental leave for both men and women, high quality affordable childcare, and of course equal pay, can set a country on the right track for the increased female participation that can lead to more equal incomes across the board.

So it’s positive that the government has legislated for statutory shared parental pay and leave, and is doubling its free childcare offer.

The effect of these measures on inequality reduction (both gender and income) remains to be seen, but in the meantime, we still have a very long way to go if women effectively stop getting paid eight weeks before the year is out.

It’s obvious that women matter for the shape of our economy: we’re half the population. But strong evidence that tackling gender inequality can help reduce income gaps for everyone and leads to healthy growth leaves even less room for political and business inertia.

Lucy Shaddock is Policy and Campaigns officer at the Equality Trust

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3 Responses to “Tackling the gender pay gap reduces other kinds of inequality too”

  1. PT

    How is it unjust if the pay gap is arguably a consequence of the career and lifestyle choices of women? Are you going to propose state enforced career paths, so that more women take up higher paid professions such as engineering?

  2. PT

    I doubt you’ll even answer my questions, Lucy…

  3. Dave Stewart

    Well, the gender pay gap does exist in like for like jobs. Generally at the lower end of the income scale the difference is non-existent, basically shelf stackers get paid the same regardless of gender on an hourly basis, however the further up the income scale you go the gender pay gap in like for like jobs increases until you get to the top where the pay gap for company directors is something like 50% (I think this was reported on this site yesterday).

    Obviously that means that for most women the like for like pay gap is not the biggest issue. However there are many societal factors that greatly exacerbate the general pay gap and measures put forward by the government (in the article above) are trying to help change this part of the gap. The most obvious being child rearing. Overwhelmingly women still do most of the child care and take career breaks for kids. There are many reasons for this such as cultural norms (it’s still considered by many to be very unmanly to be a stay at home dad), which are obviously not easy for government or any organisation to change. However the financial side can be tackled. Giving men and women parity when it comes to parental leave is a big step forward. Until now the way parental leave worked actively encouraged the woman to stay at home because of financial incentives. If this among many other issues can be tackled so that it becomes a matter of concious about which parent stays at home the pay gap will begin to close.

    I could write an essay on this topic as it has so many interlocking issues. However I will say that I often find that reporting of the pay gap rarely does the nuance of the problem justice and often leads to statements such as yours. Far to many people associate the like for like pay gap with the general pay gap which is very unhelpful. I’m sure you can see that there are many reasons outside of the control of individual women why women often end up in more poorly paying professions and it is these that we must tackle to end the pay gap.

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