The Gender Pay Gap Narrows for Millennials

So 2016 was a tough one, and many of us are glad it’s over.  There was Bowie’s death, followed by Brexit, followed by Trump.  Trump was a particularly low moment, with his mind-blowingly sexist/racist/disablist comments and his mind-blowing ability to get away with it.  His victory made it feel like social progress was taking a step back.

However there has been a silver lining, and a pretty big one.  The gender pay gap has closed to the lowest since records began. This is the average difference between men and women’s earning and a key indicator of our gender divide.

A report by the Resolution Foundation looked at generational changes in the gender pay gap.  What they found was that women in their 20’s (millennials) have the lowest gender pay gap, of 5%.  This is half the gap for women born between 1966 and 1980 (generation x) when they were in their 20’s. The Resolution Foundation’s Laura Gardiner stated that:

“This generational progress on gender pay differences will reflect a number of welcome trends including equalities legislation that millennial women’s mothers and grandmothers fought for, maternity rights and welfare support, and rising higher educational participation which women in particular have benefited from. All this has meant more women breaking into high-paying occupations, and staying in them.”

The Financial Times went as far as to suggest that the 5% difference amounted to the “virtual disappearance of the gender pay gap for young people” (though we would say 5% is still too much – it is £23.75 off the average weekly salary).

The news is not all positive.  These gains decrease as women hit 30. There, the gender pay gap rises to 9%, only marginally lower than for the previous generation at the same age.  We are still seeing that women’s pay is taking a hit relative to men’s after they have children. And even that 5% figure is just an average, some jobs have a greater pay gap than others.  The Office for National Statistics has a handy tool to look at your own job:  

What is clear is that more needs to be done to tackle gender differences at all career stages, particularly the post-child birth earnings penalty.  What is also worth noting is that the UK’s gender pay gap is significantly behind other countries.  Of the 34 OECD countries (a group of typically wealthy countries), the UK ranked 23rd.  We perform pretty poorly in comparison to New Zealand, whose pay gap is approximately a third of the UK’s.

The Government has talked tough about the gender pay gap.  Cameron pledged to tackle it (though wouldn’t wear a “this is what a feminist looks like” t-shirt).  May (who did wear the t-shirt) has continued the rhetoric, and only time will tell whether she follows through with it. The Government has also pledged to introduce requirements for all large employers to publish their gender pay, as well as increasing free childcare. 

However just because Theresa May has announced a decent policy, doesn’t mean she’ll follow through with it. The Government has already abandoned plans to force companies to include workers on boards, showing their lack of interest improving corporate governance. 

Therefore the trade union movement is responsible for ensuring that these promises are kept.  Women in the trade union movement have been at the centre of the fight for equal pay.  The workers at the Dagenham Ford Plant went on strike for equal pay in the 1960’s, leading to the Equal Pay act of 1970.  There was the inspirational Jayaben Desai who led the Grunwick Strike in the 1970’s, and there are many other trailblazers who have forced the gap to narrow. 

Trade unionists need to hold the Government and employers to account for gender pay discrimination.  Closing the pay gap is something we should feel optimistic about: huge strides have been made, and the trade union movement has played a crucial part.  If the workers and Dagenham and Grunwick could make such a difference in the most hostile of conditions, then so can we.

Compiled by:
Dan Durcan
CWU Research Department