The gender pay gap is officially getting worse for women in their 20s

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Moya Crockett
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New research reveals that pay equality is not improving for UK women, despite government pledges to do more.

The gender pay gap is often thought of as something that affects women more significantly after they take time off work to have children.

However, according to new research released for Equal Pay Day, younger childless women are also now being affected by the pay gap. As The Guardian reports, women in their 20s are experiencing growing pay inequality at the start of their careers, with some not earning as much as their male counterparts in their first jobs.

Equal pay campaigners said that this imbalance was evidence that the UK is “going backwards” in terms of gender equality overall, and urged that the pay issues be viewed within the context of a wider culture of women being treated poorly in the workplace – a culture that includes sexual harassment.

“Unequal pay is one of the main barriers to equality and is a key factor in sexual harassment and violence against women,” said Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party.

Referring to the idea that women should accept lower pay as the price of taking time out of their careers to have children, Walker said that the gender pay gap “is another national scandal that we don’t understand”.

“It has this same national narrative around it that women are somehow choosing this treatment – this idea that inequality is some sort of lifestyle choice,” she said. 

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party

The pay gap for women in their 20s is now five times greater than it was in 2011. Six years ago, the gender pay gap between younger men and women was just 1.1%, according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). In 2017, that figure has risen to 5.5%.

However, older women are still the most severely affected by the gender pay gap. The ONS reports that women in their 50s are paid on average 18.6% less than their male colleagues, while data collected by the Fawcett Society shows that the pay gap gets dramatically worse when women hit their 40s.

The gender pay gap is widest in London (20.7%) and the south-east of England (16.3%). It is narrowest in Wales (8.3%) and the north-east of England (10.2%).

Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “The pay gap is widening for older women as it grows over our working lives but we are now seeing a widening of the pay gap for younger women too, which suggests we are going backwards and that is extremely worrying.”

The gender pay gap has been attributed in part to women’s struggle to get back on the career ladder after having a baby

In April, the government launched a new scheme designed to tackle the gender pay gap. From April 2018, all voluntary, private and public sector employers with 250 or more employees will be required by law to publish their company’s overall gender pay gap on a new government website.

A different government initiative has earmarked £5m of this year’s financial budget to help people in public sector jobs refresh their skills and build contacts after returning to work.

The scheme is open to both male and female returners, but ministers said they hoped it would be useful to mothers looking to relaunch their careers – thus helping reduce the gender pay gap. 

MP Maria Miller, chair of the women and equalities committee 

However, Conservative MP Maria Miller, who is chair of the women and equalities select committee, called on the government to do more to address pay inequality.

“We continue to hear warm words from the government on eliminating the gender pay gap but clearly progress remains disappointing,” she said, adding that businesses must also take responsibility for addressing the problem.

“We continue to push for urgent action and reiterate that flexible working, sharing unpaid caring responsibilities, and supporting women returning to work after having children, are all key to tackling the problem.”

Images: Christin Hume / Rex Features / iStock