Latest figures show increasing wage inequality

Thursday 12 December 2013

Two reports out this week from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and the Institute of Physics illustrate the huge inequalities that women still face. Our recent polling showed that over a third of young women do not believe there will ever be equal pay for women. Given today’s Office for National Statistics figures, unless something changes, they may well be right.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) reported that for the first time more than half of all people living in poverty are in working families. Most of the people in low paid jobs are women – JRF report that 27% of female employees were paid below the living wage of £7.45 an hour, compared to 15% of male employees.

In terms of equal pay there’s still a huge mountain to climb. Figures released this morning show that the earnings gap between men and women has widened in the last 12 months – with men earning an average of 10% more than women.

So why do more women than men get stuck in low paid jobs? The popular myth is that girls have never had it so good when it comes to education and careers. In The Real Story we showed how this couldn’t be more inaccurate. Although girls may, on average, get better grades than boys, this is in subjects that ultimately lead to lower paid jobs.

The Institute of Physics findings this week proved just that. At A Level girls hugely outnumber boys in traditionally ‘female’ subjects such as English, Biology and Psychology and rarely opt for ‘male’ subjects like Maths, Physics and Economics, particularly in mixed state schools. But some schools are challenging these gender stereotypes and successfully encouraging girls to take non-traditional subjects.

Why does this matter? Subject choices have huge implications for future earning power, as women are still more likely to graduate in subjects which lead to lower paid jobs.

This pattern is mirrored in training and apprenticeships. Young women tend to go into traditionally female and lower paid roles – like customer service, retail, health and social care, and hairdressing. That’s fine if women are actively choosing these roles, but we’re concerned that young women are often not getting the information and support they need to consider their options.

In our poll, 36% of young women had never had any career advice. Our report also showed how family and friends are a particularly important source of information. It’s hard to be what you never see. If everyone around you is in gender stereotypical roles, it’s very hard to break that mould. So it’s no wonder young women often opt for subjects or jobs that may be limited in terms of pay or future career opportunities.

We welcome the Government’s previous commitment to tackle the inequalities in pay between men and women. Young Women’s Trust recognises this is a tricky problem with complex solutions, but ensuring all young women have access to good quality, independent careers advice is a crucial step.