The pay gap

It is now over 45 years since the Equal Pay Act came into force, but there is still a massive inequality between men’s and women’s pay.

There is a 15%* gap between men’s and women’s average hourly rates, and a 32% gap when you compare women’s part-time average hourly rate to men’s full-time hourly rate.

These headline figures represent a lifetime of inquality for womenwhich contributes to women's higher levels of poverty, children's poverty and women’s pensioner poverty. It also impacts on household earnings, and on men’s earnings when they work in sectors or occupations with high levels of female workers.

There are three main causes of the gender pay gap.

Occupational segregation

Stereotyping about women’s capabilities and skills results in women being clustered into predominantly female occupations that are associated with low pay. These include cleaning, catering, clerical (admin), caring, and cashiering (retail) working.

There are also barriers, sometimes called ‘the glass ceiling’, making women less likely to be found in senior management.

Lack of flexible working

Women also experience discrimination because they are more likely to have caring responsibilities for children, sick relatives, disabled people, or older people. One fifth of women lost their job, or lose out on pay or promotion, simply for being pregnant.

A lack of flexible working in many workplaces means that women are required to look for part-time work in order to balance their many responsibilities. As most part-time work is in low-paid, stereotypically female occupations, this means that women’s pay is likely to go down.

Part-time working also has a long-term scarring effect on women’s wages, even if women return to full-time work.


There is also discrimination in pay systems, with many women being paid less for work that is the same or similar, or of the same value as male colleagues’ work.

There can be many factors within pay systems that lead to inequalities, including: individuals being appointed to different points on the pay scale; different job and grade titles for virtually the same jobs; male jobs having disproportionate access to bonus earnings; women having less access to high-paid shift and overtime work; performance-related pay being unfairly awarded; women not receiving the same access to training; sex bias in analytical job evaluation schemes grading women’s jobs lower.

Women's experiences vary

While there are commonalities across women's experiences of employment, they are not a homogenous group. Disabled women, black and minority ethnic women, Muslim women, lesbian and bisexual women, trans women, refugee women, young women, and older women experience different, multiple barriers to labour market participation, and to progression within their occupation. Disabled women, and some groups of black and minority ethnic women are more likely to be underemployed in terms of skills, and experience higher pay gaps. Disabled, black and minority ethnic, and lesbian, bisexual and trans women are more likely to report higher levels of discrimination, bullying and harassment.

The pay gap is bad for business, and bad for Scotland’s economy because many women are working below their skill level. Companies that treat staff fairly are more productive, more innovative, find it easier to retain skilled staff, and ensure that they have a positive corporate image

* Oct 2016 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings

Related publications

Briefing - gender and the workplace, June 2016Briefing - gender and the workplace, June 2016 C

Close the Gap Working Paper 17: Gender Pay Gap StatisticsClose the Gap Working Paper 17: Gender Pay Gap Statistics This paper is an updated version of Working Paper 16: Statistics published in 2016.

Submission to the Economy, Jobs, and Fair Work Committee inquiry to the pay gapSubmission to the Economy, Jobs, and Fair Work Committee inquiry to the pay gap C

Submission to the UK Women and Equalities Committee inquiry into the pay gapSubmission to the UK Women and Equalities Committee inquiry into the pay gap Close the Gap's written evidence to the UK Women and Equalities Committee inquiry into the gender pay gap for women aged over 40 years.