Scotland’s gender pay gap continues to fluctuate as women’s labour market inequalities remain unchallenged.
The gender pay gap shows the difference between women and men’s average hourly earnings. It illustrates the divergent experiences women have in employment, as well as education, training, unpaid domestic labour, and men’s violence. As the key indicator of women’s labour market inequality, gender pay gap data is critical to Close the Gap’s work.
Data relating to the gender pay gap is produced annually in the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) by the UK Office for National Statistics. Each year, Close the Gap analyses this data to track and assess how the pay gap is changing over time.
The most recent data indicates that the gender pay gap in Scotland has widened slightly by 0.8 percentage points between 2021 and 2022. This widening means that the gender pay gap in Scotland remains stubbornly in place, currently sitting at 10.9 per cent. Whilst there has been this slight increase in the pay gap from last year’s data, looking at the longer-term trends suggests the pay gap continues to slowly decline. It is likely the increase in last year’s pay gap is related to the labour market disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which disproportionately affected women’s employment.
This widening of the pay gap, to 10.9 per cent in 2022 contrasts with a substantial (3 percentage points) decline between 2019 and 2020, where the pay gap declined from 13.3 per cent to 10.4 per cent, and a further marginal decrease to 10.1 per cent in 2021. The pay gap does tend to fluctuate year to year and is affected by economic changes. As this significant decrease is not present in the current data and has instead reversed slightly, it suggests that the changes to the pay gap in the previous two years were the result of Covid-19 job disruption, rather than being because of a reduction in the inequalities women face in the labour market. This widening also reinforces Close the Gap’s view that pay gap data from during the pandemic should be treated with caution.
ASHE data also allows us to analyse the gender pay gap by different occupations, industries, working patterns and age groups, giving a more in-depth look at the pay gap across various dimensions. Close the Gap’s analysis of this data forms the base of our annual gender pay gap statistics paper. The key findings from this year’s analysis include:
- The combined pay gap (which accounts for all women and men) sits at 10.9 per cent.
- As of 2022, women working full-time earn 7.9 per cent less than men working full-time, an increase of 1.3 per cent from 2021. Women working part-time earned 26.3 per cent less than men working full-time, which is a marginal decline from the previous year. The part-time pay gap illustrates the systemic undervaluation of “women’s work” which continues to be concentrated in low-paid, part-time jobs.
- Women make up the majority (73 per cent) of part-time workers, and are three times as likely to work part-time than men (38.3 per cent of women compared to 13.4 per cent of men). Capturing women’s part-time pay in headline pay gap figures is essential as looking at the full-time figures only can mask gendered differences in pay.
- Women are concentrated in jobs characterised by low pay. At the same time, the highest female earners continue to earn significantly less than their male counterparts. Current data shows women in the highest earning percentile earn 17.1 per cent less than men in the same percentile.
- The most recent data shows a continued trend of women over the age of 22 having lower average hourly earnings than their male counterparts. For 18–21-year-olds, 2022 is the second year in a row where women of this age group have lower hourly earnings than their male counterparts, suggesting the pay gap is widening for this age group.
- The pay gap for women over the age of 40 continues to be higher than the national average, which partly reflects the ‘motherhood penalty’ and the lower rate of women moving into higher-paid managerial occupations after the age of 39 compared to men.
These findings illustrate the complexities which drive the gender pay gap in Scotland, and that the pay gap varies for different groups of women. Despite more visibility on tackling the pay gap in recent years, the barriers women face in entering, remaining and progressing in employment persist. Significant issues remain around employer complacency and a continued lack of gender mainstreaming in policymaking.
The gender pay gap represents a lifetime of discrimination and inequality for women. The current cost-of-living crisis is compounding women’s experiences, as they are at the sharp end of economic shocks. Research has shown that women are disproportionately affected by the cost-of-living crisis, particularly single mothers, disabled women, older women, and racially-minoritised women. Since women make up the majority of low-paid workers, they are already more likely to be in poverty, so the cost-of-living crisis puts additional financial pressures on them.
Headline gender pay gap data provides key insights into women’s continued inequality in the labour market and provides a better understanding of its causes such as the undervaluation of women’s work, occupational segregation, and women’s low pay. However, it does have its limitations. There remains a significant lack of gender-sensitive, sex-disaggregated data on the labour market, and there is a distinct lack of intersectional data pertaining to the labour market. As such, there are major gaps in Scotland-level data on the pay for racially-minoritised women and disabled women, resulting in less insight into their specific labour market experiences. Without this data, it is more difficult to analyse how the gender pay gap is changing for different groups of women, which compounds the intersecting inequalities that they already experience.
When taking into account the current rate of progress, it will take a significant amount of time for the gender pay gap to close, which further illustrates how far we still have to go to achieve greater equality in earnings. In addition, lower pay gap figures do not mean gender inequality in the labour market is resolved, as low pay gap figures can hide inequalities women continue to face in the labour market, such as occupational segregation.