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Part-time working hits wage rises for women

Cherry Reynard
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Cherry Reynard

It may be 100 years since women got the vote, but stark differences between the sexes still exist, with the gender pay gap around 20%.

A report by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies, showed that the gender wage gap has come down by 10% since the early 1990s. But it has been kept wide by mothers spending less time in paid work, and more time working part-time, than do fathers. As a result, they miss out on earnings growth associated with more experience.

While people in full-time paid work usually see their pay rise year-on-year as they gain more experience, the research shows that part-time workers miss out on these gains. The vast majority of these part-time workers are women, particularly mothers of young children. By the time a first child is grown up (aged 20), mothers earn about 30% less per hour, on average, than similarly educated fathers.

The lack of earnings growth in part-time work has a particularly big impact for graduate women, who would otherwise have seen the highest wage progression. The Foundation said that there is scope for improved wage progression in part-time work to play a significant role in closing the gender wage gap.

The study also found that one reason the gender wage gap has closed since the early 1990s is that women in work are better educated relative to men than they were. The gender wage gap has fallen quite a lot for the less well educated – from 28% to 18% for those with education up to GCSE level. However, the wage gap has not fallen at all in the last 25 years for the highest-educated women. Female graduates still earn about 22% less per hour than male graduates.

Before they have children, women earn about 10% less than men. That gap then increases rapidly for many women after they have children.

Monica Costa Dias, IFS associate director and an author of the report, said: “There are many likely reasons for persistent gaps in the wages of men and women, but the fact that working part-time has a long-term depressing effect is an important contributing factor. It is remarkable that periods spent in part-time work lead to virtually no wage progression at all. It should be a priority for governments and others to understand the reasons for this. Addressing it would have the potential to narrow the gender wage gap significantly.”

Robert Joyce, IFS associate director and another author of the report, said: “There has been a substantial fall in the gap between the earnings of lower-educated men and women over the last 25 years. However, there has been no fall at all in the gap for graduates. Traditionally, it has been lower-educated women whose wages were especially low relative to similarly educated men. It is now the highest-educated women whose wages are the furthest behind their male counterparts – and this is particularly related to the fact that they lose out so badly from working part-time.”