Advanced search
MumsnetGuestBlogs (MNHQ) Thu 19-Dec-13 11:30:51

The gender pay gap is widening - we need to be asking why

Data from the Office of National Statistics has revealed that the difference between men and women's pay has increased for the first time since 2008.

Here, Mumsnet blogger Head in Book considers why inequality in the workplace is still rife, and questions how much 'choice' women really have when pursuing careers. Do read the blog and tell us what you think on the thread below.

Head in Book

Head in Book

Posted on: Thu 19-Dec-13 11:30:51


Lead photo

Mind the gap? Women must not resign themselves to this depressing backwards step.

Last week, GM became the largest organisation to date in the USA to name a woman as CEO. The appointment of Mary Barra, in what has to be possibly the archetypal male world of car manufacturing, was some welcome good news, at a time when coverage of women in the workplace can seem dominated by the idea that they represent a “burden” to their employer.

But just two days after the announcement, the Office of National Statistics released its annual report on pay across the UK. The headlines were startling: for the first time since 2008, men and women’s earnings have started to pull further apart, with the gap increasing from 19.6 per cent to 19.7 per cent. The gender pay gap is actually increasing.

The most shocking jump is in the difference in the wages of men and women who work full time. In its analysis of the figures, the TUC says that the gender pay gap was actually 15.7 per cent in 2013, up from 14.8 per cent the year before. On average, therefore, a woman is paid £5,000 less per year than a man.

It’s true that the changing dynamics of part-time work muddy the waters around pay differentials - the ONS data shows the impact of increased part-time working across the board, with the number of people taking reduced hours because they are unable to find a full-time position having reached its highest level since 1992. Nevertheless, it remains the case that average rates of pay are significantly lower for part-time than full-time work, and that the part-time workforce is overwhelmingly female.

“Men are just better at negotiating pay rises”, goes one explanation. Well, yes, perhaps the average alpha male does swagger into his (male) boss's office, fully convinced that he is entitled to a raise. Or, perhaps, many women feel that they have already used up their bargaining chips on requests for part-time or flexible hours to accommodate caring responsibilities.

So what is going on, and what can be done about it? Is it a regrettable but incidental casualty of the country’s economic woes? That the story gained comparatively little coverage in the press would suggest that the media thinks so - but the rest of us can’t afford to take a fatalistic, resigned approach to this depressing and damaging shift.

“Men are just better at negotiating pay rises” goes one explanation. Well, yes, perhaps the average alpha male does swagger into his (male) boss’s office, fully convinced that he is entitled to a raise. Or, perhaps, many women feel that they have already used up their bargaining chips on requests for part-time or flexible hours, or using their holiday at short notice to accommodate caring responsibilities. Perhaps they genuinely have a poorer case to argue for equivalent pay, because they've missed out on experience or training due to time out of the workforce or the workplace.

The fact that childbearing can significantly change a woman’s career path is less of an elephant than a great stinking nappy in the room: impossible to ignore; still needing to be changed. The figures show that men and women in their twenties and thirties earn very nearly the same, so ongoing gender discrimination and occupational segregation - whilst still factors - cannot be the only reasons for the gap.

What stood out for me in the report was a footnote to the huge jump in the gender earnings gap in the over forties:

“This is likely to be connected with the fact that many women have children and the time taken out of the labour market, combined with career choices they make subsequent to this, may impact on their earnings thereafter.”

The aim of the ONS report is to crunch numbers, not reach conclusions, but the words they chose to use - “career choices made subsequent to this” - hint at the insidious impact of the assumptions made in our working culture. “Career choice” suggests a much greater degree of agency in working life after children than many women actually enjoy.

The availability and affordability of childcare; the huge amounts of airtime given to debates on whether employers should give jobs to women of childbearing age; the general assumption that having children – and every decision relating to them which comes afterwards – are exclusively women’s issues. Together, these have a far greater impact on women’s working ‘choices’ than the ONS seems to suggest, as do the other caring responsibilities which fall disproportionately to women.

The TUC have called for all new public sector jobs (oxymoron though that might be) to be made part-time or flexible, so that women don’t have to “trade down”. More widespread disclosure of pay scales - albeit only in larger organisations - is already envisaged under the Equality Act 2010. Full implementation of these measures, together with robust and continued scrutiny, is needed to ensure that this year’s figures are quickly reversed. So, too, however, is a change in the way we talk about and value women’s labour - both in the workplace and outside it.

By Head in Book

Twitter: @headinbook

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Thu 19-Dec-13 18:08:27

"This is likely to be connected with the fact that many women have children and the time taken out of the labour market, combined with career choices they make subsequent to this, may impact on their earnings thereafter.”

And of course women have children on their own, men don't have children do they. Why aren't men taking time out of the labour market? When are government agencies going to look at men's choices? Women make choices from the options they are given, but their choices are dependent on the choices made by the men they live with and by their employers' choices.

I have come to the conclusion that people who go on about women's choices, are simply reluctant to acknowledge sexism because they are in favour of it.

No-one would go on about black people's "choices" to explain structural race disadvantage. Because they know they would sound like nobs. It's a shame they don't realise what nobs they sound when they go on about women's choices.

MyMILisfromHELL Thu 19-Dec-13 20:44:30

Misogyny? Sexism?

Childcare costs more than most women earn after tax. Employing a women or investing too much in female employees is too costly, as some mothers might choose to stay at home. And that's just one element of it.

KaseyM Thu 19-Dec-13 20:51:25

Basil, I do agree with you re. men's choices (that they need to be looked at ) but I also think that lots of women do want to take time out to look after their DC when little and fair play to them. It is not just a matter of options, but a desire to be with your kids. And thank God for that quite frankly, because let's face it, where would society be without it?

But the problem starts when those women are devalued and demoted in society, when they face limited job prospects and promotion and find their options narrowing as a result.

Apart from the sheer unfairness of it, it's a huge waste of potential.

legoplayingmumsunite Thu 19-Dec-13 22:50:38

The choices of fathers is central to this debate. Why do only mothers want to spend time with their children when small? Why don't fathers worry about missing 'precious moments'? Why don't more parents share childcare so BOTH get to have time with their kids? Surely that would be better for the children rather than a distant father figure who doesn't know his own children because he never spends time alone with them?

I grew up on a farm and we were able to spend a lot of time with my father as children, out 'helping' him on the farm. DH grew up with a SAHM and a father who was present at mealtimes but the rest of the time was either at work or in his study. Our relationships with our fathers are, not surprisingly, rather different.

funnyvalentine Thu 19-Dec-13 23:39:37

I haven't seen the ONS report, but where does the £5k figure come from? That seems high to me. Also, is a 19.6 to 19.7% change in pay enough to justify the claim that the pay gap is widening, or is it just noise? And childbearing may be one reason for a gender pay gap, but does it explain why (if) the gap is widening?

Completely agree about roles of fathers, they're always missing from these discussions! Dads feel pressured not to take time out, and that's not going to change quickly!

legoplayingmumsunite Fri 20-Dec-13 00:44:48

£5k is about 15% of £33K, sounds like mean London wages rather than median countrywide wages.

allthebanananamesaretaken Fri 20-Dec-13 07:03:11

I was talking to a colleague with a small baby last night. He was explaining how he felt frustrated that his time with his small daughter was limited to a couple of hours in the morning, and the weekends got muscled in on by family. We discussed how my partner and I both dropped days when I went back to work, and how my partner's day at home with our DS had allowed him to start "catching up" as a parent, with the level of skill/confidence I'd developed during maternity leave, and how important it was for fathers to spend time in sole care of their children.

At one point he referred to my partner's choice to reduce hours as "brave".

We won't change the pay gap until more men feel that spending the time they want with their children doesn't require "bravery".

BucksWannabee Fri 20-Dec-13 08:10:35

My husband has often said he doesn't feel he could ask for part time hours at work - it's not the culture. He's convinced he would be marginalised at work/next on the redundancy list (er, treated like a working mother, in other words).

Employers generally feel entitled to own their staff and squeeze everything out of them that they can. Meanwhile, the effort of raising the next generation of employees/taxpayers/citizens is viewed like some sort of hobby or "lifestyle choice." That means that working carries status, but looking after children does not. And in a sexist society that still believes that male status is determined by what a man does, but female status can be based on what a woman does OR what her husband does, very few men will take the risk of working less.

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Fri 20-Dec-13 08:23:24

Kasey yes, lots of women do want time out to be with their DC's when small. Which raises 2 questions:

1. Why don't men want to do that and why aren't they actively changing workplaces to make it more possible for them to do that (most decision-makers in the workplace are male)?

2. How come when men take time out of the workplace, for example to pursue careers like acting, setting up their own business, gap year travelling etc., they catch up within five years and are back on track with their peers, while women continue to be disadvantaged for the rest of their careers even if they only take a few months maternity leave? Men who take time out of the workplace, should in theory suffer the same level of disadvantage as women who take time out. But they don't. I wonder why.

Funnyvalentine, I completely agree with you that men feel pressurised not to take time out of the workplace; often they earn more than the women they live with so them taking time out would have a greater financial impact on the family than the woman doing so and so they feel they have no choice. Then in the same breath, they tell you that the reason women are poorer than men and have less leisure time and do more unpaid invisible work, is because of the choices women make. It's well understood that men's choices are constrained by structural issues, but when people talk about women's choices, they appear to believe that unlike those of men, they are made in a social, psychological and economic vacuum. confused And so there's no need to change anything, because after all, everything's down to choice.

funnyvalentine Fri 20-Dec-13 09:54:10

Basil regarding q2, I have an ex-colleague who resigned from his job about the same time I started on maternity leave the first time, to pursue his own business. 2.5 years later he's been chopping and changing a lot, and I've had two lots of maternity leave. I don't think my two continuous periods of maternity leave are any more disruptive than his confused years, but I expect his look better to potential employers! He doesn't feel like it should hold him back, and I don't think it will.

I also know a few dads who'd like to spend more time with their kids, but aren't 'brave' enough to ask for time off work sad

TheSporkforeatingkyriarchy Fri 20-Dec-13 10:21:32

AskBasil - Actually, they do analyse Black "choices" (and Asian and Roma and pretty much every group but White) to explain structural racial problems all the time. It is sadly a very common research topic. We can examine a problem without dragging down and reduces the problems faced by the struggles of others. The ethnic pay gap will mean many women make far less than the given numbers because of their ethnicity and that is often blamed on their choices and cultural (almost always reduced in the rhetoric to one) even when living lives practically identical to their White counterparts.

My DP did take time out of his career and was the main carer of our children for about 8 years (from when our eldest was 6 months until our youngest was almost 2) and reentered in a different field that he enjoys that also gives him better work-life balance. And yes, he was often told he was brave or kind or doing me a big favour by doing most of the child and household care for his own children and home and very frequently, even with medical staff, was questioned on why I was not the one there (I have it in a number of reports that 'the mother could not attend' when his absence in the ones I did is never mentioned or noted down) and barred from using services (mainly commercial - he's had staff blocking baby changing areas literally with their bodies and shouting him down to prevent him entering). It's a large social systems and cultures that are treated as natural rather than it's actual created state that can be challenged, taken down, and built better. It's connected with so many other issues - many jobs are currently designed to expect someone at home and all focus to be on a job 100%, lack of representation and philosophy on being in the jobs, how to get them, and how to fight for better pay, and so much more.

Minnieisthedevilmouse Fri 20-Dec-13 10:45:58

Having worked at Canary wharf I'm not surprised by this. I'm curious which roles they look at. Many office based are predom men in senior roles. Women are still trying to break into closed circles. Some make it. Then they make mid senior have a child and recognise the difficulty of coming back - and they have some chance of negotiation at less hours/dropping salary.

It's dream destroying frankly. I will not be encouraging working in someone else's office for my dds. The shit ain't worth it.

slug Fri 20-Dec-13 11:04:41

Taking years out to be a full time father did my DH's career no harm at all. He found it very easy to get a job when he decided to go back to work, despite taking a step sideways in his career. His first job post childcare, was offered to him on the basis that his years as a SAHD had equipped him with the skills to deal with distressed children even though the part of the job that would bring him into contact with children was minor to the point of almost being non-existant.

In his current position, he feels no compunction in using the childcare excuse to leave work early. Nobody has ever commented, apart from nods of approval and comments on how brave he is to take on the burden of being the one who deals with school/childcare etc. It drives me mad because we work in similar institutions and I get none of the freedoms he enjoys. If I slope off early there are invariable mutterings about lack of commitment.

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Fri 20-Dec-13 11:14:25

"they do analyse Black "choices" (and Asian and Roma and pretty much every group but White) to explain structural racial problems all the time. It is sadly a very common research topic."

Really? I didn't know that, how shocking. I guess the fact that it's a common research topic, is because white mainstream researchers are desperately trying to find a different reason from racism, as to why some BME groups have lower wages than their white counterparts? We don't hear quite as much about that in the mainstream media as women's choices, do we? And I suspect if we did, progressive journalists would point out the flaws in the assumptions behind the research. But point taken, thank you for making it, I had no idea there were racists researchers out there trying to find evidence that there's no such thing as racism after all, only choices.

AskBasilAboutCranberrySauce Fri 20-Dec-13 11:17:20

I am bloody sick of the word choice tbh. It must be one of the most misused words in the English language. It's used to explain everything uncomfortable that people don't want to address.

Cerisier Fri 20-Dec-13 12:34:16

For those under age 40 working full time there is no gender pay gap. It only kicks in after 40 and across all jobs and ages is 10% on average.

So it is only a problem after 40, and the reasons are diverse and complex. I am a case in point as I only went part time at age 45. I didn't want the hassle of continuing to climb the greasy pole. There were more important things in life to do, like being around a bit more for my teenagers. I didn't need the money and I didn't want the massive pressure and hours of a senior role any more. I am lucky, it has worked out very well so far.

VenusDeWillendorf Fri 20-Dec-13 15:36:23

Sorry Ceresier, your figures aren't correct. You're talking out of your..

If you do the research you can see the correct figures, and its important to be accurate as possible in this matter.

The gender pay gap is 15% in the UK for full time jobs, and 16.2% across the EU on average. So say the researchers in the EU commission reports, here it means that in effect, 'women in Europe work 59 days for free' every year. If that isn't theft, I don't know what is.

The guardian reports the figure of 15% in the UK for full time jobs and a massive 35% for those women who work part time.

It affects women of all ages and races, and especially affects women who work part time.

It's not just for over 40s and not 10% as you say.

Minnieistheglittermouse Fri 20-Dec-13 16:42:32

There isn't choice. There's what you can do. Most times that ain't choice it's rock or hard place.

brin93 Fri 20-Dec-13 16:51:40

Sorry VenusDeWillendorf, I'll see your data from the TUC and raise you data from the ONS themselves:
That was for 2012, but the gap had reduced from 2011 and was less than 10% for Full time roles.

Also, it showed that for part time work, women were paid MORE than men. (-5.2%, yes minus!).

I suspect one reason men get paid more is they work more overtime - - (Table 3) clearly shows men do a lot more than women as a % of their earnings.


Really though that's all useless as it's across the entire work spectrum. This isn't a valid means of comparison unless the salaries compared are for the same job.

Cerisier Fri 20-Dec-13 18:20:32

Thanks Brin yes it was the ONS data I was referring to. I was looking at it only yesterday.

KaseyM Fri 20-Dec-13 19:52:00

I think this comparison of like for like, the same hours, the same job is misleading because even if you take that all away women generally go into areas that are lesser paid.

And we have to ask ourselves why is that? Should those areas command less money? And why do women dominate them, not men?

mmumof4our Fri 20-Dec-13 23:04:30

Because men work more hours while women are sitting at home playing with the kids?

legoplayingmumsunite Fri 20-Dec-13 23:30:47

Because men work more hours while women are sitting at home playing with the kids?

Hmmm, in my experience DH is the one who spends his day at home with the kids playing whereas I do housework and let them play themselves.

sashh Sat 21-Dec-13 12:15:50

What about those of us who have no children and never intended to?

Join the discussion

Join the discussion

Registering is free, easy, and means you can join in the discussion, get discounts, win prizes and lots more.

Register now