UK gender pay gap progress slow

The UK gender pay gap has continued its downward trend but the pay penalty experienced by women over 40 perseveres, according to data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

In 2021, the pay gap among full-time employees was 7.9%, up from 7.0% in 2020. This is still below the difference of 9.0% before the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic in 2019, and so the downward trend is continuing.

The ONS took data from the Annual survey of hours and earnings (ASHE) and not from the gender pay gap reporting submissions made by individual employers. It has now recommended looking at the longer-term trend given the uncertainty introduced to the data by the pandemic.

Among all employees, the gender pay gap increased to 15.4%, from 14.9% in 2020, but is still down from 17.4% in 2019. This means women are typically paid 85 pence for every pound earned by a man.

There remains, however, a large difference in gender pay gap between employees aged 40 and over and those aged below 40 years. For over 40s, the full-time gender pay gap is 11.9% to 12.3%, while for under 40s it is between 0.9% and 3.0%.

Sarah Jackson, visiting professor at Cranfield University School of Management, said: “These new figures show we’re making slow progress towards gender pay equality.

“Motherhood clearly still has a huge impact on women’s career progression, with women who are over 40 or in more senior roles more adversely affected by the gender pay gap.”

The data also showed that, compared with lower-paid employees, higher earners experience a much larger difference in hourly pay between the sexes. People in the highest tenth of earners face a 16.1% gender pay gap in gross hourly pay, while those in the lowest 10% of earners had only a 3.1% gap.

“Managers, directors and senior officials” experienced the largest fall in gender pay gap since the pre-pandemic April 2019 figure, falling from 16.3% to 10.2%.

The ONS also found that the gender pay gap is higher in every region in England than it is in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

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“We need to challenge the status quo,” said Jackson. “For some reason, we don’t mind that that women take their foot off the career pedal when they become mothers, despite the impact these lost and wasted skills have on our economy. Whereas when men become fathers, we expect them to continue powering through at work, taking very little time to be with their family.”

The statistics related to a pay period when approximately 3.7 million employees were on furlough, fewer than last year’s data when 8.8 million employees were furloughed. ONS estimates include furloughed employees and are based on actual payments made to the employee from company payrolls and the hours on which this pay was calculated, which in the case of furloughed employees are their usual hours.