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4 January 2017

Gender pay gap: the old challenges endure

A blog post from the Resolution Foundation is attracting a lot of attention.

Laura Gardiner
Celebrating progress towards closing the gender pay gap, the Foundation’s Laura Gardiner nonetheless calls attention to the way the gap widens for women in their 30s and early 40s.

The Foundation says the key factor here is that women start having children. The pay gap widens partly because mothers take time out altogether and so lose out on labour market experience. But it’s also connected to the fact that training, progression and promotion are much harder to come by when working part time, which many women with children either choose to do or feel they have to because of high childcare costs. This increase in the gender pay gap isn’t just a short term phenomenon closely linked to childbirth either – it continues for decades. This is where the lifetime earnings penalty that women continue to face really starts to build.

And, despite a headline suggesting the gap is on the brink of being closed, the Foundation’s most recent analysis of data from the Office of National Statistics shows that the generational progress on gender pay shows signs of stalling. The pay gap at age 30 was 21 per cent for baby boomers, then halved to 10 per cent for women in generation X. For millennials age 30 it’s 9 per cent, only a touch lower. The suggestion is that the old challenges associated with having children endure for young women today. So millennial women should still expect to face a significant lifetime earnings penalty compared to their male counterparts.

While I welcome the attention being paid to the problem, and the recognition that something needs to be done about the dead-end nature of part-time work, I’d like to see some detailed research into the earnings of mothers, compared not only to those of men, but also to those of women without children. Is it actual motherhood that carries a pay penalty, or is it the expectation of motherhood? If women in their 30s and 40s who are not mothers are experiencing a pay gap, then the pay penalty isn’t down to the fact that women start having children.

You can read Gardiner’s post here.

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