Exploring gender pay gap statistics

The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has published the results of the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) for 2010. The gender pay gap in Scotland remains at 11.9% when we compare men’s full-time earnings and women’s full-time earnings. When we compare women’s part-time earnings to men’s full-time earnings the pay gap is 33.6%. This is almost an increase of 2% from 2009.

In the UK media there have been a flurry of articles pointing to the triumphant decrease in the pay gap. However the story in Scotland is slightly different as we will come on to discuss. Before that lets consider the ways in which the pay gap is calculated in the UK and in Scotland.

There are a number of factors to consider when reporting on the pay gap. The headline gender pay gaps reported in the media may differ according to the region, the average measurement used and whether the headline figure combines the full-time and part-time earnings. What they are all telling us though is that women on average are still getting paid less than men. The table illustrates the different pay gap calculations in Scotland.

Pay gap in Scotland



Comparing women and men’s full-time hourly rates of pay

11.9 %

7.8 %

Comparing women’s part-time and men’s full-time hourly rates of pay



Comparing women and men’s part-time hourly rates of pay



Combined figure (all women/all men)


17.2 %

The pay gap is reported using the ‘gross hourly rates of pay excluding overtime’ to indicate as much as possible the ‘basic’ rate of pay.

The median is one measurement used to calculate the average hourly pay by finding the ‘midpoint’ in all employees’ hourly rates of pay and discarding the lowest and highest rates of pay. Therefore, half of the employees will earn a rate above the midpoint and half will earn a rate below the midpoint. Statisticians would regard the median as a more accurate measure as it is not skewed by the very low hourly rate of pay or the very high hourly rate of pay. However, at the same time it does hide the structural inequality between men and women indicative of the pay gap.

The mean measurement on the other hand is calculated by adding all employees’ rates of pay together and dividing by the total number of employees. The mean includes the lowest and highest rates of pay. This will include a number of low paid employees, who are more likely to be women. The median figure hides the fact that there are a few extremely high earning staff, who are more likely to be male, and that many women are ‘clustered’ in the lowest paid brackets, therefore more women will be found below the midpoint.

When considering the pay gap it is important to also understand the general difference in working patterns of women and men. The patterns of employment for women and men during the period January 2009-December 2009 is as follows:

  • 89% of men work full-time (as a percentage of the total male population in work in Scotland)
  • 58% of women work full-time (as a percentage of the total female population in work in Scotland)

A much lower percentage of men work part-time in Scotland and secondly they are less likely to be in part-time positions over a long period of time. In addition wages are more likely to be lower in female-dominated workplaces than male-dominated workplaces or workplaces which are more diverse. This is also true of the UK as whole.

In some cases the pay gap is reported as one figure combining full-time and part-time earnings, but again this is influenced by the different working patterns of men and women. The headline figure is influenced by compositional differences in working patterns i.e. more women work in lower paid, part-time work, which in statistical reporting is referred to as the ‘part-time’ effect. The 11.9% illustrates the ‘true size’ of the gender pay gap as the ‘part-time effect’ has been controlled.

Furthermore, comparisons between men’s part-time earnings and women’s part-time earnings present some interesting findings. In Scotland women earn more than men when we consider the median average i.e. the ‘negative gap’ and for the mean the pay gap is only 1.2%. This comparison again hides the nature of women and men’s participation in the labour market.

So what are the UK press articles reporting on when claims that women have ‘smashed the glass ceiling’ and that the pay gap is at its lowest since analysis began in 1997? And what about the Scottish picture?

In terms of ‘smashing the glass ceiling’ what the article actually tells us, is that yes women in the UK on average (using the median), aged 22-29 earn slightly more than men (a gap of 2.1%). But the pay gap reverts to almost 3% for women and men aged 30-39 and then 16.1% for those aged 40-49. This isn’t tantamount to ‘smashing the glass ceiling’ but rather illustrates the ‘glass ceiling’ is well and truly intact, but you are unlikely to realise it is there until you reach the age of 30 perhaps?

As women progress in their chosen career the pay gap widens which for many coincides with returning to work after maternity and trying to strike a work-life balance, leading to the need to secure part-time work due to caring responsibilities. Part-time work is on average lower paid and tends to be ‘clustered’ into a limited range of occupations such as administration, childcare etc.

Furthermore, if we calculate the UK pay gap using the mean average the gap has narrowed by less than 1%. After 40 years of equal pay legislation there is still an average UK gender pay gap of 10.2% or 15.5% depending on which measurement you use. This comparison is between full-time employees. Women constitute a much higher percentage of part-time workers and part-time work is lower paid.  

In Scotland, it is a slightly different picture. As previously discussed the mean average indicates that there is a slight decrease in the pay gap from 2010. In 2009 the pay gap was 12.4% and in 2010 this has dropped 0.5% to 11.9%. However, when we consider the comparison between men working full-time and women working part-time there is an increase from 32.1% to 33.6%.

As a result compared to the UK, Scotland appears to have a smaller headline full-time pay gap, but the decrease overall from 2009 to 2010 is smaller than the UK. 

For the press articles on this see for example:

The Independent:


Financial Times:

The Daily Telegraph:


For information on the ASHE and other labour market statistics see for example:

For more information the ONS published a report on presenting pay gap statistics in 2009 which can be viewed here:

For the full ASHE results 2010:

The source for the patterns of employment is the Annual Population Survey reported at the ONS under the Labour Market Statistics Monthly Regional Data. The split between full-time and part-time is based on self classification and excludes temporary workers. This information was accessed on October 2010

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