Ten types of gender gap

Last Tuesday was International Women’s Day and the theme was “Pledge for Parity”, which encouraged all of us to take concrete steps towards achieving gender parity.  It was backed up by a report from Ernst and Young that updated a previous World Economic Forum report which showed it would take 117 years to achieve global gender parity in the workplace if current trends were maintained.  In other words, none of us would live to see this happen (unless anyone is using this blog as a bedtime story).

But what is “gender parity”?  If it means equality, is it equality of outcomes or equality of opportunities?  The former can be measured (relatively) objectively, the latter is open to substantial differences of opinion, perception and interpretation.

And what do we want to see parity of?  And in which direction?  In My Fair Lady, Professor Henry Higgins asks "Why can't a woman be more like a man?".  It’s a view implicit, and sometimes explicit, in discussions about gender parity in the workplace.  Eliminating the gender pay gap presumably means that increases in the average pay of women exceed those of men until the difference reaches zero.  Yet, as shown below, not all gender gaps in the workplace follow this pattern.  Sometimes we should ask why can’t a man be more like a woman.

Below are ten work-related gender gaps.  They all use UK data; some of these patterns will be different in other countries.  Some of these differences are larger (and more important?) than others.  Some gaps will – in full or in part – be the result of compositional effects.  In other words, they are the result of different employment patterns for men and women; these could be the result of personal preferences but they can also be influenced by constraints on choice and barriers to advancement.

 Number 1: The gender pay gap

This is the most talked-about gender gap.  The government is currently consulting on regulations to make gender pay gap reporting mandatory for organisations with 250 or more employees.  The Office for National Statistics (ONS) headline measure is median hourly earnings excluding overtime for full-time employees, which is used because the ONS survey that collects the data doesn’t cover all part-time employees.  The gap now stands at just over 9% and has almost halved since 1997.  Here and elsewhere, a positive gap means that the relevant proportion or quantity is higher for men than for women.

The reasons for the gap have been analysed in great detail, yet it remains difficult to establish the extent to which the gap is due to discrimination (overt or unintentional) and the significance of occupational segregation.  The gender pay gap has two very close cousins: the "motherhood pay penalty" and the "part-time pay penalty".  Taking time out of the labour market to have children has a disproportionately negative effect on pay, as does working part-time (and this penalty applies to both women and men).

Number 2: The gender labour force participation gap

Between 1992 and 2015, the difference in overall labour force participation rates has narrowed from 21% to 12%.  This is primarily due to increases in activity rates for women, rather than reductions in the activity rates of men.  The trend is consistent across different age cohorts (the slight widening of the gap for those aged 65 and over in recent years is because more men than women are self-employed).

Number 3: The gender employment gap

We don’t always have consistent data that takes us further back than the 1990s or 1980s.  For employment, we can go back to the early 1970s, a time when it was still legal to pay women less than men ("Made in Dagenham" chronicles events that took place in 1968 but the Equal Pay Act did not come into force until 1975).  There was a massive narrowing of the gap in employment rates in the 1970s and 1980s, a period when maternity rights legislation was introduced and extended.  Between 1992 and 2015, the gap in employment rates has narrowed from 14% to 10%, and again is consistent across different age groups.

Number 4: The gender unemployment gap

With the gap in both participation rates and employment rates narrowing during the last 20 years, what has been the net effect on unemployment rates?  The data show that the difference in overall unemployment rates between men and women has been very small since the late 1990s, typically a gap of 1 percentage point or less.  It seems that recessions hit men harder than women, because the gap then increases, and this effect is especially strong for young people.  Interestingly, the unemployment rate gap is now negative for women aged between 25 and 49: they have higher unemployment rates than men in these age groups.

Number 5: The gender “atypical work” gap

There are consistent differences between men and women in their use of some types of so-called “atypical” or “non-standard” work, where “typical” or “standard” work is taken to be full-time, open-ended and with employee status (which itself may be an example of a norm set at a time when the workforce was principally male).  Self-employment is more common among men, which may in part be due to its prevalence in agriculture, construction and skilled trades.  Only 6% of employees in the UK say their work is temporary in some way, and this is split almost evenly between men and women.  The big gender gap – indeed, the biggest in any of the data presented here – is in take-up of part-time work.  The proportion of women working part-time has remained pretty steady during the last 20 years at close to 45%.  The narrowing of the gap is due to an increasing proportion of men working part-time.  But more men working part-time has not (yet) had any noticeable impact on the status of part-time work.  Research commissioned by CIPD and the John Lewis Partnership found a very strong correlation between working part-time and being “stuck” in low-paid work.  The “glass ceiling” may be reinforced for women working part-time but it’s just as much a barrier for those wanting to progress beyond the “sticky floor” of low-paid jobs.

Number 6: The gender job insecurity gap

“Atypical” work is sometimes, rather lazily, assumed to be insecure.  In practice, there’s sometimes a pretty weak relationship between contractual status and perceptions of insecurity.  More important factors influencing employee perceptions of job security appear to be the state of the economy, the particular situation facing the organisation, industry and locality and perceptions of how easy it would be to find a job offering comparable rewards.  The latest data, for autumn 2015, show that women are slightly more likely than men to think they are likely to lose their job, but the overall difference is insignificant (within the margin of error due to sampling).  There are more substantial gender differences for the 18 to 24 year olds and 25 to 34 year olds, but these can be explained by differences in the types of jobs done by men and women in these age groups.

Number 7: The gender training gap

According to the Labour Force Survey, women are more likely to receive job-related training from their employer than men.  The gap is relatively small but persistent.  As a comparison, the 2012 Skills and Employment Survey found little difference in the proportion of male and female employees receiving work-related training.

The situation is different for 16 to 24 year olds, where men are more likely to report training than women.  This could be due to differences between young men and young women in their participation in full-time education: off-the-job training is a requirement for Apprentices (more often men) whereas jobs carried out by those in full-time education often don’t need much on-going training.  Note these data don’t measure the duration of the training, its cost to employers, or its value to the organisation or the employee.

Number 8: The gender management gap

The CIPD Employee Outlook survey always asks respondents for their managerial status.  In total, 45% of employees in autumn 2015 claimed to have some sort of management responsibility, which a review of the data found to be towards the top of the range of estimates obtained from different sources.  However, all the data show a large difference between the proportion of men who are managers and the proportion of women who are managers; in this case, the management gap is almost 23 percentage points (57% of men and 34% of women).

Number 9: The gender engagement gap

The same CIPD survey asks employees a number of questions that have been used to derive an employee engagement score.  Using this overall measure, the proportion of women who are engaged is nearly 3 percentage points higher than for men, a difference which is small but statistically significant.

Analysis of the questions used to construct this measure shows that men are more likely than women to say they are willing to work extra hours to help out their colleagues, whereas women are less likely than men to report feeling under excessive pressure work on a frequent basis (every day or at least a couple of times each week).

Number 10: The gender job satisfaction gap

These data come from Understanding Society, the survey used by the ONS for its estimates of individual well-being.  Respondents are asked to rate their job on a seven-point scale, ranging from “completely satisfied” to “completely dissatisfied”.  Using the proportion describing themselves as completely or mostly satisfied, or using the mean score, produce the same result: women have higher job satisfaction than men.  An important factor explaining this result is that more women than men work part-time, since part-time employees have higher job satisfaction than full-time employees.

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  • Ray - Thanks, "equal value" is of course highly subjective but comparisons by job titles would be a step forwards (although even here we have to be careful, the same job can be titled "executive", "manager" even "director" and have much the same content).  If the Gender Pay Gap regulations encourage greater transparency and scrutiny, this is likely to be an issues employers will need to consider in explaining the raw data, and how they propose to act in response.

  • Mark - thanks for putting such a detailed post on the site.

    Going beyond the unhelpful soundbites that we hear paroted every day is absolutly critical if this subject is to be properly understood and addressed in a positive and productive way.

    One thing that would also help would be for the major remuneration consultancies to publish an annual analysis of the gender gap for jobs of "equal value" - little data is publicly available on this subject and it is really at the heart of the question. That dosn't mean that the question of access to "bigger" jobs should be forgotten, but by separating the two issues a more objective analysis can be made.