The pay gap between the sexes is smaller today than at any time since records began as successful graduates in the professional jobs market drive up women’s incomes — and women in their twenties now earn more than their male contemporaries.
Women’s full-time hourly pay came to within 9.1 per cent of men’s pay in April, compared with 10.1 per cent the previous year, according to the Office for National Statistics.
The narrowing in pay means that the gender gap has fallen by almost half in the past decade. If average wages continue to converge at the same rate, women could earn more than men in 2020.
Kay Carberry, a commissioner for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, welcomed the news and said that Britain had taken 40 years to get to its present position. “Today’s figures are a step in the right direction. But we can’t be complacent, as the gap is still there,” she said.
The changes were attributed largely to women’s full-time hourly earnings rising by 1.9 per cent to £11.91 an hour, while male pay grew by 0.8 per cent to £13.11 an hour. Women do best early in their careers. Women in their twenties were paid more than men of the same age for the second year in a row. Full-time median pay was 3.6 per cent higher for women aged between 22 and 29, double the gap in April last year.
Gender equality experts said that young women had closed the gap over the past decade, in part because female graduates had achieved better degree results and were taking more top jobs with law and accountancy firms.
The gender gap continued to widen among part-time workers, where women earned 5.6 per cent more than men, up from 4.3 per cent last year. Women’s median part-time hourly earnings rose to £8.10, while men earned £7.67.
When accounting for both full-time and part-time employment, men are still earning almost 20 per cent more than women. Anna Bird, acting chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality, said that progress had stalled and blamed the gulf between private and public sector pay. “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.
A spokeswoman for the society said women were still paying the “motherhood penalty”.
According to the ONS, the gender gap was twice as big in the private sector. In April men earned 18.4 per cent more than women, against 9.2 per cent in the public sector.
“With the Government focus now on boosting enterprise and private sector growth, there is a real risk that the pay gap will widen in the years ahead unless there is concerted action to tackle pay inequality,” Ms Bird said.
The pay difference was greater among higher earners. The top full-time male earners took home 19.6 per cent more per hour than higher female earners. The gap for lower earners was 5.6 per cent.
Trade unionists and the Government each said that more work was still required. The coalition has made clear that it wants more women in top jobs — a report by Lord Davies of Abersoch, the former Standared Chartered chief executive, set out targets for more female executives this year.
A spokesman for the Home Office said: “We welcome the reduction in the gender pay gap. We will continue to take action to ensure that women are able to fulfil their potential.”