Jill Rubery, Professor of Comparative Employment Systems at Alliance MBS, has given evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee’s inquiry on policies aimed at reducing the pay gap for women aged over 40.
She said the decision to hold an inquiry was very timely as it broadens the debate beyond that of just equal pay reporting in large companies. “Not only do women in this age bracket face widening wage inequalities, but the interactions between gender and age discrimination need further analysis and policy consideration.”
Prof Rubery says many of the factors that generate the pay gap for women over 40 arise out of the organisation of the labour market in the UK, such as: the high degree of wage inequality and its association with the undervaluation of women’s work; the long and unspecified working hours in career-type jobs; the lack of pay progression opportunities in many areas of women’s work; and the institutionalisation of age norms and age discrimination in hiring and promotion decisions.
However, although the gender pay gap is a useful indicator for summarising the current state of gender pay equality, she says it also has many shortcomings which should be borne in mind in designing policies to close it.
“The first problem is that the gender pay gap can be reduced through improvements in women’s pay or through decreases in men’s pay. It has been generally expected and accepted that the former represented the appropriative way to close the gap, but since the economic crisis in many countries there has been some narrowing of the gender pay gap due to stronger declines in men’s pay than women’s pay.”
A second problem, she says, is the tendency to focus on the full-time pay gap. “In the UK a much smaller share of the female compared to the male population is working full-time and the female full-time employed population is more biased towards the higher educated than the male full-time employed population. It is vital that the gender pay gap is considered for all employed, both full and part-time. European law requires full and part-time employees to be treated equally, so the justification for looking at the gaps separately is weak.”