New data shows the gender pay gap is smaller than ever. But it’s closing so slowly, today’s working women are unlikely to reap the benefits, says Stylist’s digital women’s editor Moya Crockett.
Glance at the news, and you could be forgiven for feeling cheered; for believing that women were finally on the move, after so many years of enforced motionlessness. “Gender pay gap at lowest level yet,” trumpets one headline. “Gender pay gap at record low of 8.6%,” cheers another. “UK pay gap shrinks to all-time low,” reads a third.
None of these statements are false. They’re based on new data from the Office of National Statistics (ONS), which shows that the gender pay gap for full-time workers in the UK fell to 8.6% in the year leading to April 2018. That represents a drop of 0.5% from the previous 12 months, when the gap stood at 9.1%.
It’s the smallest median difference in full-time hourly pay for men and women that we’ve ever seen in the UK. And it’s tempting, so very tempting, to look at those figures and breathe a sigh of relief.
After all, women’s psyches have taken a collective battering this year. The ongoing reckoning of the #MeToo movement, the refusal of our government to grant abortion rights to women in Northern Ireland, the election of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court, the knowledge that feminist activists are being jailed in Saudi Arabia, the news that a third of UK schoolgirls have been harassed while wearing their uniforms, the revelation that three out of four UK companies still pay their male staff more on average than their female staff… All of this stuff weighs heavy on our hearts. Given what we know, can you blame us for wanting to seize on good news wherever we find it?
But the problem is that this news isn’t as positive as it initially seems. As with so many things in life, a very different picture emerges if we dig deeper into the data. The 8.6% figure represents the pay gap for full-time work. But when we look at the gender pay gap for full-time and part-time roles – important, given that more women work part-time than men, often because they’re also doing the unpaid labour of raising a family – the discrepancy widens dramatically to 17.9%.
Not only that, but London’s gender pay gap has expanded to 13.7%, meaning that the capital now has the most extreme lack of pay parity of all regions in the UK. There has also been a widening gap in social care, sales and administrative occupations over the last year – all industries that employ large numbers of women.
“This is a practically static picture on pay inequality,” says Sam Smethers, chief executive of the Fawcett Society.
“This slow rate of progress means without significant action women starting work today and in decades to come will spend their entire working lives earning less than men. It’s a loss they can’t afford and it’s a missed opportunity for our economy.”
If the gap continues closing at its current glacial pace, the TUC (Trades Union Congress) has warned it will take another 55 years for men and women to be paid the same average hourly wage in the UK. Fifty-five years. More than half a century away, far off towards the tail-end of the 21st century.
Who among us will still be plugging away at our careers in 55 years? I sincerely hope I won’t be – although given the government’s penchant for raising the retirement age for women, I suppose it’s a possibility.
If the TUC’s calculations are correct, the year will be 2073 before the UK sees true pay parity. By then, I will be in my 80s. If I end up having daughters of my own, they will have almost reached retirement. The ONS’ new data suggests that maybe, maybe, my potential grandchildren will live in a version of the UK where men and women are paid equally – but today’s working women are unlikely to reap the benefits.
So forgive me if I don’t jump up and down at today’s good news. Because here’s the thing – it’s just not good enough.
Images: Getty Images