Pay for women will overtake men’s within a decade if current trends in the labor market continue, new figures show. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said that the “gender pay gap” – the difference between average salaries of men and women – has fallen to under 10 per cent for the first time ever.
Its figures show that women in full-time work are seeing their wages grow at more than twice the rate of men. If the growth continues at current levels, women could start to earn more than men in 2020, over 50 years ahead of some recent forecasts.
The ONS said that earnings for a man in full-time employment, excluding over-time, stood at £13.11 an hour in April 2011, an increase of 0.8 per cent on the year before. Equivalent earnings for a woman were £11.91 an hour, an increase of 1.9 per cent on the year before.
If women’s hourly pay continues to grow at over double the rate of men’s pay, women will start to earn more than men in nine years’ time. On the current trajectory, a woman will earn £14.09 an hour in 2020, compared to £14.06 for a man.
Economists and union leaders welcomed the shrinking gender gap, particularly as it suggests that equal wages will be reached at a far earlier date than previously thought. A report last year published by the Chartered Management Institute suggested that it will be 2067 before women’s take-home pay is equal to men’s.
Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) said that the fall in the gender gap was “very welcome”.
Howard Archer, chief UK and European economist at IHS Global Insight, said that the figures show that “things are moving in the right direction in closing the underlying pay gap between men and women”.
However Mr Archer issued a note of caution, saying that much work remains to be done.
“The suspicion remains that achieving pay parity between the genders will be a long and tortuous process,” he said.
Anna Bird, acting chief executive of The Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality between men and women on pay, pensions and justice, said that the figures show that disparities still exist.
“More than 40 years after the Dagenham machinists went on strike, in a move that triggered the Equal Pay Act, women can still expect to earn less than their male counterparts,” she said, adding that the pay gap is “virtually unchanging”.
She said that a record number of women are out of work. The TUC’s Mr Barber said the main concern for many women will be “keeping jobs, let alone securing higher pay”.
The ONS’s Hours and Earnings Survey also showed that wages in the UK have grown far slower than inflation this year. The average weekly wage for full-time employees in April was £501, up 0.4 per cent from £499 in 2010. This compares to the cost of living rising by over 5 per cent.
The ONS said that the average employee works 39.1 hours a week, equivalent to 8 hours a day for a five day week. The figure is flat on last year.
Average gross annual pay in the UK was £26,871, the ONS said. A geographical breakdown of earnings showed that the constituency with the lowest pay in UK last year was Hull East, where average gross annual pay was £17.416, while the constituency with highest pay was Bermondsey and Old Southwark in London, where average gross annual pay was £50,731.