There's Finally Some Good News About The Gender Pay Gap

Illustration by Mary Galloway
Sadly, the gender pay gap is a persistent fact of life in our patriarchal society. For various reasons, women earn less than men for doing the same jobs – even in countries that are more gender equal than the U.K.

But new research offers a glimmer of good news for young women who have yet to start a family.

The gender pay gap has halved to 5% for women in their 20s – aka millennials, born between 1981 and 2000 – according to a report by the Resolution Foundation.

For young women in previous generations the gap was larger: 16% among baby boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, and 9% among people born between 1966 and 1980.

This progress can be attributed to a number of trends, wrote Laura Gardiner, senior research and policy analyst at the think tank. Equalities legislation, maternity rights and welfare support, and rising higher educational participation among women have all helped more women break into high-paying occupations.

However, it's not all good news as women entering the workplace today will still earn far less than men over the course of their careers despite an improvement in younger women's pay, the think tank found.

There is still a significant pay penalty for women in their 30s and 40s – the age at which most women tend to have children.

Part of the reason is that women take time off work and so lose out on labour market experience, Gardiner wrote. "But it’s also connected to the fact that training, progression and promotion are much harder to come by when working part time, which many women with children either choose to do or feel they have to because of high childcare costs," she added.

The disparity in pay between men and women linked to childbirth isn’t just a short-term phenomenon, either – it continues for decades and contributes to a "lifetime earnings penalty", Gardiner wrote.

Progress on the pay gap for women in their 30s seems to have stalled too, she added. "The pay gap at age 30 was 21 per cent for baby boomers, then halved to 10 per cent for women in generation X. For millennials age 30 it’s 9 per cent, only a touch lower."

What does this all mean for us? Millennial women should "still expect to face a significant lifetime earnings penalty compared to their male counterparts," Gardiner said. Great.

Commenting on the improvements for younger women, Sam Smethers, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said, "It is misleading to think we’ve cracked it for young women". The proportion of women in the workforce with degrees overtook the number men of male graduates in the mid-90s, "so if anything the pay gap should be much smaller," she said.

"The reality is we have the best educated female labour force we have ever had. But their potential is being wasted and it isn’t translating into pay equality. That is a cost to them, to employers and to the economy.”

From 2018, companies with more than 250 employees will have to publish information about the size of the pay gap within their workforce, which could go some way towards improving the situation for women.

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