3.2 United Kingdom

The trends were similar to the US. In the UK, the gender pay gap for women in full-time employment has shrunk from 35% of median hourly pay in 1970 to 20% in 1994 (Harkness, 1996). During this time period, the average age of women in full-time employment has increased so that their age profile resembles that for working men. This change has been mainly due to the increased labour market participation of women of child-bearing age. Women also increased their educational attainment to such a level that there was no qualification gap between men and women, aged less than 35 years, in the 1990s. However, older women continue to make the largest contribution to part-time employment and, perhaps because of this, women in part-time employment now tend to be less qualified than both men and women in full-time employment. Between 1973 and 1993 real average hourly earnings increased for men and women, with both part-time and full-time employed women experiencing a higher increase than men. Wage inequality also increased over this period, although not for women employed part-time, and this effect was larger for men than for women.

A comparison of female earnings to male earnings deciles in 1973, 1983 and 1993 shows that females employed full-time improved their decile standings. In 1973, 88% earned less than the male median earnings and over 45% had earnings placing them in the bottom male decile. In 1993, these figures were 67% and 17% respectively. The percentage of women employees in the top male decile almost doubled from 1.3% in 1973 to 2.4% in 1993.

One major difference between the UK and countries like the US and New Zealand is the only recent (1999) introduction of an across-the-board minimum wage. From the 1950s to their official disestablishment in 1993, Wages Councils set the minimum pay rates, but only in low-paying industries (Dex, et al, 2000). These industries contained a high proportion of women and a low proportion of trade unionism. There is some evidence that the removal of the Wages Councils caused reductions in pay and conditions, especially for the very low paid (Craig, Rubery, Tarling and Wilkinson, 1982, cited in Dex, et al, 2000). Given these findings, and that women disproportionately receive lower wages than men (also due to their higher part-time work status, as well as to their occupational and industrial distributions), Dex et al (2000) predict that the minimum wage will cause the gender pay gap to decrease. The largest gain is expected for female part-time workers in manual occupations, with an expected decrease in the gender pay gap of 2 percentage points. There is little change for other major occupational groups because the minimum wage affects all low paid workers and the minimum rate of £3.60 is very low.

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