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13 January 2017

Inequality for men on the rise

A widely publicised report from the IFS shows a dramatic rise in the proportion of men working in low-paid part-time work.

The paper is actually much more extensive than the media coverage has suggested and looks back at changes in income inequality in Great Britain over the past 20 years, with a particular focus on explaining why – contrary to popular perception – income inequality over most of the distribution has actually declined over this period. The  report's focus is on inequality in household incomes, net of taxes and inclusive of benefits and tax credits, and explains trends in inequality by breaking this down into the effect of changes in hourly pay and hours worked of men and women, the tax and benefit system, and the incomes of pensioners.

Weekly pay for men has become more unequal for two reasons: hourly pay has become more unequal, and low-paid men are working fewer hours per week. Low paid men have seen relatively slow growth in hourly pay, and this has been compounded by them also experiencing the largest falls in their number of hours worked. This combination has resulted in a substantial increase in weekly pay inequality between men.

The report shows that twenty years ago it was rare for men to work part-time (fewer than 30 hours per week). Whilst part-time working remains very rare for middle and high wage men, about one in four male employees with low hourly wages now works part-time. Men in this group work on average five fewer hours per week than they did 20 years ago. This is not simply an effect of the recession: it has been a consistent trend over the past 20 years. 

Looking more closely at these changing patterns of hours worked for men, the increase in part-time work among those on low wages has not been driven simply by the youngest or oldest workers: it has happened among prime-age men too. It has also occurred for both single men and those with partners, and men with and without dependent children. As well as the rise in part-time work, there has also been a steady decline in the proportion of low-paid men working full-time for very long hours.

Conversely, inequality in weekly pay for women has fallen. Hourly pay for women has grown at a similar rate across the distribution over the past 20 years. But patterns in hours worked have acted to reduce inequality in weekly pay for women. There is much less variability in the hours worked by female employees than there used to be, and those with low hourly pay in particular are more likely to be working full-time. As a result, between 1994/95 and 2014/15 female weekly pay rose by 60 per cent at the 10th percentile compared to only 29 per cent at the 90th percentile.

You can read the full report here.

Given the efforts over the past thirty years or so that have gone into reducing inequality for women, it is hardly surprising that inequality in weekly pay for women has fallen.  The fact that inequality among men is now increasing, and that the source of that increase is – just as it once was for women – part-time work, speaks volumes about the UK’s attitude to part-time work. Why is the UK economy so reliant on part-time work, and why does such work provide people with only low-skilled and low-paid employment? This isn’t about either women or men, it’s about employers.  

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