Is gender pay gap reversing?

21 November 2014 -


Moves to delay motherhood have led female workers in key age group to earn slightly more than men – but overall, the gender wage disparity is far from closing

Jermaine Haughton

Women in their thirties are currently earning more than men for the first time on record, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – but at the cost of starting families during their twenties. Latest ONS figures show that full-time female workers aged between 30 and 39 are earning 0.2% more than their male counterparts. The data also shows that while men earn more in their teens, women are paid 1% more between the ages of 22 and 29.

While the figures don’t exactly herald an era of women earning significantly more than men, they do mark a notable reversal from previous years, in which full-time female workers in their twenties have earned higher hourly wages than men – but have gone on to suffer worse pay from their thirties up to retirement.

This narrowing of the gender pay gap correlates with women having children later in life, with the average age of first-time motherhood in England and Wales rising from 29.8 two years ago to 30.1. Furthermore, the third wave of feminism that has emerged over the past few years – and the ensuing, new generation of confident, highly-educated women – are thought to be other major factors driving the change.

Centre for Policy Studies head of economic research Adam Memon said: “The fact that women are now earning more in their thirties may well be because they are having children later. A great proportion of the gender gap has been about the ‘motherhood gap’, where women leave the labour market to have children and return perhaps in a different capacity or reduced wage.”

Despite the evident progress, though, the gender pay gap begins to reappear when women reach their 40s, with their pay 14% lower than male colleagues for hourly wages. It then persists for the rest of their working lives. And while the gender pay gap is down to 9.4% from 10% last year, women continue to earn about £100 less than men every week. The median earnings of a full-time female worker are £23,900 compared to the £29,400 paid to men.

Chartered Management Institute (CMI) director of strategy and external affairs Petra Wilton told the Daily Mail that bosses still have a long way to go to improve the gender pay gap for women aged 40 and over. In August, a CMI study reported that women in that age group are earning 35% less than men, with the average wage gap between men and women in the 45-to-60 bracket amounting to £16,680 per year. In fact, the survey found that a typical female manager would have to work for at least 14 years past her pensionable age of 65 to earn the same amount of money as a male counterpart.

“It is great news that women in their 30s are now earning a little more than men across all roles,” Wilton said. “However, women in senior management roles and those over 40 are still facing significant pay gaps.”

She added: “The delay in this gap emerging can in part be attributed to the effect of women putting their careers first and delaying motherhood until they reach their 30s. But it also shows that employers still have much more to do ensure that those valued women in their mid-careers are not missing out when they start a family, and have opportunities to continue to contribute through well-paid, quality professional roles. Otherwise, they’ll find many of their most talented employees vote with their feet and leave.”

Download an infographic of CMI’s findings on the gender pay gap.

Powered by Professional Manager