Last reviewed 9 November 2023
The gender pay gap has continued its decline in the UK; over the last decade, it has fallen by around a quarter. This headline sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? But delve deeper into the statistics recently released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) and the story is a lot more complicated than that. In this feature, Croner-i employment law researcher and writer, Stacie Cheadle, looks at the latest gender pay gap figures and what they can tell us about what more needs to be done to bring the gender pay gap down.
On 1 November 2023, the ONS released its latest analysis of gender pay gap information in the UK and it makes for interesting reading. Whilst a continued decline is evident, some large gaps remain behind this headline that mean there is plenty employers could and should be doing to reduce the gender pay gap further.
Defining the gender pay gap
According to the ONS, “the gender pay gap measures the difference between average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men and women as a proportion of men's average hourly earnings (excluding overtime)”.
It’s important to note that figures on the gender pay gap measure across all jobs and not the difference in pay between men and women doing the same job. Individual employers are responsible for identifying this within their own business. Where they do, they should take action to ensure parity in wages between the sexes.
Overall gender pay gap
The gender pay gap among full-time employees currently stands at 7.7% in the UK. This is a slight increase from 7.6% last year, but overall, this gap has been shrinking over time. Amongst all employees, the gender pay gap is currently 14.3%, down slightly from 14.4% last year.
Among part-time employees, on the other hand, there is a negative gender pay gap of 3.3%. This means that the gender pay gap for these employees favours females. However, this is unlikely to be because of any particularly targeted effort towards pay parity in part-time roles, but instead is most likely to be indicative of the fact more women than men work part-time.
Comparing age groups
A large difference in the gender pay gap still exists between employees who are over 40, especially when compared to the gap for the under-40s. Since 2015, amongst employees under 40 who work full-time, the gender pay gap has been around an average of 4.7%. This is in stark contrast to the figures for those aged 40 and over. Below is a table showing the gender pay gaps identified by the ONS, sorted by age group.
Gender pay gap for 2023 according to age group
Age group (years old)
Gender pay gap (%)
50 to 59
40 to 49
30 to 39
22 to 29
18 to 21
High earners v low earners
The gender pay gap is not something that disappears as a woman rises through the ranks of employment and reaches senior posts. In fact, according to the ONS figures, it actually gets bigger. Amongst the nine occupation groups found in the ONS data, median hourly earnings for females in full-time employment was lower than that for males, however this difference has been falling for some time.
Typically, according to the ONS, it isn’t until the individual working in higher-paid roles, such as managers, directors and senior officials, reaches their 40s or 50s that their earnings start to increase. However, because fewer women of those ages are in those occupations, and more work part-time, men dominate that particular group.
England has the highest gender pay gap compared to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
In Northern Ireland, the gender pay gap is negative 3.5%, possibly due to the fact more women work in the public sector, where wages are typically higher (according to the ONS).
In Wales, the gender pay gap is 5.6% and in Scotland it is 1.7%. The reasons for these differences are beyond the scope of this feature, however they could be down to the availability of opportunities for men and women.
Removing barriers to gender pay equality
A common theme amongst the gender pay gap statistics is the dominance of women in part-time roles and the lack of women in more senior roles. There are many reasons for this, including child and elder care responsibilities and lack of confidence needed to obtain senior posts. It is for employers to identify what barriers there are within their own business, and work to break them down.
The practice of asking for previous salary has been going on for many years. But why do employers do this? The individual’s skills and abilities may be of different value from one business to the next, so why would one base the pay rate they offer to the individual on what the other has done before them? Not only does this fail to recognise the individual’s actual value to the business, it also means that a gender pay gap that has begun to arise around the individual’s salary will be continued.
So, what is the solution to this problem? Fawcett East London, which describes itself as a “grassroots feminist group”, is running a campaign for one possibility, which is to pledge to #EndSalaryHistory. This is following its own research that found that 90% of people feel salary history is an unfair way for pay to be decided and instead salaries should be decided on skills and experience. It argues that questions around salary history not only maintain but also can increase the gender pay gap. Employers including the Samaritans, Tripadvisor and Women in Sport have pledged not to ask candidates about their salary history to help address the gender pay gap. In all, over a hundred employers have done this.
Those businesses still asking about salary history might consider missing this question out from now on and see if that helps to improve equality of pay within their business between the sexes.
Women in senior leadership roles
Promoting women into senior leadership roles is not about selecting only women, even where a male candidate is demonstrably better. Instead, it is about enabling women within the organisation to gain the skills and knowledge needed to obtain these roles on their own merit. This starts from the beginning of their employment and means investing in people to help them develop their full potential.
The fact that more women are in part-time roles than men is a wider societal issue. However, employers can still work to reduce the gender pay gap by being more flexible with working hours and location, to give women more options about continuing working in their current role and not having to make a choice between part-time hours and a role they are currently working. Job shares, compressed hours or flexi-time can all help women to juggle their in and out of work responsibilities. Continuing to provide training and development opportunities to part-time employees is important too. Not only in order not to treat those who work part-time less favourably, but also to ensure those in those roles continue to develop themselves ready for their next opportunity.
Employers who have already carried out a gender pay gap analysis of their business, perhaps for reporting purposes but also voluntarily, will already be aware of the gender pay gap in their business and can start to take steps to tackle it. For those who have not already done so, carrying out a voluntary gender pay gap analysis will give them an insight into how their business stands against the national average.