Economic participation

Society should give every person the opportunity to play a part in strengthening Britain’s economy.

It is a significant challenge to:
Close the gender pay gap faster and further.

In examining this challenge, we draw on the following indicators from How Fair is Britain?: Pay gap (between genders), employment rates, unpaid care responsibilities, occupational segregation.

In relation to gender, some of the most severe issues appear to be:

  • In Britain, women occupy 77% of administration and secretarial posts but only 6% of engineering roles; they make up 14% of architects, planners and surveyors. 83% of people employed in personal services are women.
  • At age 40, men are earning on average a salary that is 27% higher than that of women.
  • Between 2004 and 2007, White British women experienced a pay gap of 16% compared to men. The gap was 21% for Black African women and 26% for Pakistani women.

Please note: links on this page to How fair is Britain? chapters are to PDF documents

Pay gap

The gender pay gap (as measured by median hourly pay excluding overtime) narrowed between 2008 and 2009. The gender pay gap for all employees decreased to 22% in 2009 from 22.5% in 2008. The full-time gender pay gap fell from 12.6% in 2008 to 12.2% in 2009. The part-time gender pay gap is the difference between the pay rate of men working full-time and women working part-time. This gap fell from 39.9% in 2008 to 39.4% in 2009. However, at the same time we know that women working part-time earned 3.6% more than men working part-time in 2008, although this small premium declined to 1.9% in2009. These overall figures are the result of a set of interrelated factors including differences in returns to work, qualifications, average hours worked, penalties at different ages, occupational segregation and trends among different ethnic groups.

Across Britain, the gender pay gap varies with age. The average earnings of most groups rise in the early part of the lifecycle and decline in the latter. However, the peak is different for women largely because of the impact of having children (women’s pay peaks at 35-39 years compared to men whose pay peaks at 40-44 years).1  The full-time gender pay gap is lowest for the under 30s, but is still 5% in favour of men, then steadily grows as workers get older reaching 27% by the time workers are aged 40.2

Between 2004 and 2007, White British women experienced a pay gap of 16% (using White British Christian men as the reference group). This rose to 21% for Black African women and 26% for Pakistani women. All women, regardless of ethno-religious group, experienced large pay penalties with Chinese and Pakistani Muslim women experiencing the largest gaps.3

Looking at pay gaps by religion across Britain, women consistently earn less than men (apart from Jewish women) with Muslim and Sikh women faring least well - experiencing pay gaps of 22% between 2004 and 2007.4


The pay gap between women and men is fed by continuing differences in employment rate, occupational segregation and the levels of caring responsibility between men and women. Gendered patterns in employment rates are broadly the same across Great Britain: women of all ages are significantly more likely to be in part-time employment than men and are less likely to be self-employed.

Women with children (aged under-16) are over 4 times as likely as men with children up to the age of 16 to be economically inactive (26% compared with 6%). The figures for men and women without children show no significant difference in the rate of economic inactivity.5  Women aged 25-34 are also much more likely to be economically inactive, due to looking after the family or home (70% of women gave this reason compared to 10% of men in the same age group), and men are more likely to be economically inactive due to disability or long-term sickness.6
for more on this, see Chapter 11: Employment, Indicator 1: What we know about employment, Table 11.1.3

The patterns of young people not in education, employment of training (NEET) by gender are similar in England and Wales with younger men (16-18) slightly more likely than younger women to be NEET, and this gender pattern reversing after the age of 22. This pattern may be due to caring responsibilities.

Unpaid care responsibilities

According to the 2001 Census, 58% of carers are women and 42% are men, rising to 62% of women in Scotland(compared with 38% who are men), which has a knock-on impact on employment and pay levels. Both men and women who are in paid employment and care for adults are much less likely than non-carers to be in higher level jobs – almost 45% of men and 55% of women who are in paid work and caring for 20 or more hours a week are in elementary occupations (process plant and machine operative jobs) or in sales, customer services or personal services.7

Occupational segregation

Occupational segregation continues to feed pay differences. In 2009, women held just over a third (34%) of managerial positions, just over two-fifths of professional jobs, (43%) and half of associate professional jobs (50%).

The proportions of female managers, professionals and associate professionals increased by about 3 percentage points between 2002 and 2009, however traditional gender patterns persist  - for example, women make up 83% of people working in personal services (such as caring and hairdressing) but just 6% of engineers; 40% of working women are employed in the public sector, compared to just 15% of men.

The large proportion of women in part-time jobs also contributes to lower rates of pay.


1 Longhi, S. and Platt, L. 2008. Pay Gaps across Equalities Areas. Research Report 9 Manchester: Equalities and Human Rights Commission. This is based on an analysis of the 2004-07 LFS.

2 Hills, J. et al. 2010. Page 128.

3 Smeaton, D. et al. 2010, drawing on LFS data. Page 76.

4 Smeaton, D. et al. 2010. Page 75.

5 Smeaton, D. et al. 2010. Table 2.2a. Page 33.

6 Leaker, D. 2009. ‘Economic inactivity’, Economic and Labour Market Review,3, 2: 42-46. Table 1. Available at: // Accessed 24/09/2010.

7 Carers UK 2009. Page 4.

Last Updated: 16 May 2014