Scotland is not 'lagging behind the rest of the UK' on the gender pay gap

Reports today that the gender pay gap in Scotland has increased, unlike in the rest of the UK, show why statistics matter.

Scotland is not 'lagging behind the rest of the UK', as has been reported. The gender pay gap is a complex issue, and there is no definitive way to report a single figure which fully captures those complexities. The Office for National Statistics reports both the mean average and the median average, but gives prominence to the median in its statistical bulletins. The median is the more robust method from a statistical perspective because it isn’t skewed by outliers i.e. very high values and very low values. But any analysis of the pay gap must also look at the mean figure because the extreme values underpin the nature of the pay gap. This is because women tend to be among the lowest paid and men tend to be among the highest paid in the labour market.

Both the mean and median pay gap figures have been consistently lower in Scotland than in the UK since 2010.

Scotland’s mean full-time gender pay gap has continually decreased from 2010 to 2014, except in 2012 when there was an increase of 3.2% which was most likely caused by cuts in the public sector where women’s employment is concentrated.

There is a similar picture when looking at the median full-time figure in that there was a gradual decline, then an increase of 2.6% in 2012. The difference is that the median increased again in 2014 from 7.6% to 9.0%. A closer look at the percentiles shows that the gap at the 90th percentile (the highest earners) has narrowed while the gap at the 10th percentile (the lowest earners) has increased. This means that the gender pay gap between the highest earners has narrowed, but that the gap between the lowest earners has increased. This is deeply concerning because the lowest paid women already experience severe disadvantage in the labour market. They are more likely to be on temporary or zero hours contracts, less likely to receive any training, and are less likely to have any progression opportunities.

A headline pay gap figure can never fully capture the very different experience of the labour market that women have. What it does provide though is an evidence base for policy and practice to address the economic injustice that women in Scotland and in the UK face every day at work.

Read more about calculating the gender pay gap in our annual statistics report.

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