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Influence future Government policy on the gender pay gap by filling in our survey, which includes special questions to help us discover the reasons for the difference between men and women's earnings. The same survey is being conducted by our partners across Europe in the international WageIndicator team as aprt of project supported by the EU Commision.


How big is the pay gap
For more than 30 years, the standard measure of the gender pay gap has been the difference between the average hourly earnings, excluding overtime, of all full-time male employees and all full-time female employees. In 2004, according to this measure, the gender pay gap is 18.4%. An alternative measure - the median - shows the gap to be just 14.4% but if you compare the median earnings of women working part-time with men working full time the gap increases massively to 43.2%.



Average Median
Agriculture, hunting and fishery 2% 2%
Transport, storage and communications 8% 6%
Education 11% 9%
Construction 12% 14%
Hotels and restaurants 13% 8%
Public administration and defence 19% 22%
Manufacturing 19% 21%
Electricity, gas and water supply 20% 20%
Wholesale and retail trade 24% 21%
Real estate, renting and business activities 25% 24%
Health and social work 30% 21%
Finance 44% 42%

Narrowing the gender pay gap

Whichever measure is used - average or meadian - the gender pay gap has narrowed. The gap between the average for full-time men and women narrowed by 1.2% and the gap between the medians narrowed by 0.3% between 2003 and 2004.

This is in line with the long-term trend of a gradual narrowing in the gender pay gap. When the Equal Pay Act took effect in 1975 there was a step narrowing of nearly 8% in the first two years. This was largely because the overt discrimination of having separate pay scales for men and women doing the same job came to an end.

Gap for part-time workers higher.
However, while progress has been made in narrowing the full-time gender pay gap, the part-time gender pay gap – the gap between the hourly earnings excluding overtime of full-time male employees and part-time female employees – has shown very little improvement. Focusing only on the full-time gender pay gap which is normally the headline statistic, ignores another important dimension of women’s pay and employment as 44% of the female workforce is employed on a part-time basis. 

On average, part-time female employees earned 40.3% less per hour than full-time male employees in 2004. Comparing median hourly earnings the gap was even wider at 43.2%. This reflects the concentration of part-time female workers in a small number of relatively low paid occupations. For this gap to improve there will have to be more opportunities to work part-time within a broader range of occupations and at more senior levels. At present, three-quarters of part-time women work in four types of occupation – customer service, administrative and secretarial, personal service or elementary occupations such as cleaning and catering. Only 12.1% work in professional or managerial occupations compared to 29.7% of full-time female employees.

In addition, new estimates released at the same time as the new earnings data from the ONS show that 62% of the jobs being paid at levels below the minimum wage are occupied by women and two-thirds of these women work on a part-time basis.


Gender gap by occupation

In almost all of the 25 occupational categories for which the UK ONS has published earnings data so far in 2004, there is a gender pay gap in favour of men.  



The ‘gender pay gap’ – what do the numbers mean?

When it recently published its 2004 earnings survey, the UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) indicated that its preferred measure of the gender pay gap has changed. It is no longer a comparison of the average, but a comparison of the median hourly earnings, excluding overtime, for all full-time male and full-time female employees.

The median is the midpoint of a sample. So the median earnings level is the figure below which half of employees earn. The ONS’s reason for shifting to the median is that it is ‘less influenced by extreme values’ – those employees with very high or very low earnings.

The gap between the male median and the female median is narrower than the difference between the averages, because the male average tends to be pulled upwards by a small number of very high earners. So under the new measure the gender pay gap in 2004 stands at 14.4%, significantly lower than the figures we have been accustomed to hearing in recent years.

The new measure may be a better representation of the differences in pay between men and women in the middle of the earnings distribution. However, the advantage of the average is that it encompasses all the differences between men’s and women’s pay and employment patterns. In particular, by removing the effect of the very high earners, the new measure of the gender pay gap does not fully reflect the fact that there are still few women at the top of the earnings distribution.     

It is difficult at this stage to know which of the two figures will become more commonly used but there is sure to be some confusion. Internationally, the average remains the standard measure and so the ONS will continue to publish both average earnings and median earnings figures for men and women.