Ethnic and gender pay gaps

There has been an increasing focus in recent years on inequality in the labour market, in particular on pay gaps within jobs. Research for the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) by Dr Malcolm Brynin in ISER and Dr Simonetta Longhi (now at Reading University) has contributed to this debate, using the Labour Force Survey, not only through a detailed examination of the gender wage gap but of pay gaps based on ethnicity and disability.

Although the gender pay gap fell from about 71% to 85% between 1993 and 2014, a significant part of this gap is not within occupations. Women are often segregated into poorly paid and highly feminised work with poor prospects – cleaning, caring, catering jobs that men tend not to do and so where comparison of female and male wages has little meaning. A major policy objective should therefore be to create greater opportunities for women to move out of these low paid areas of work in parallel to measures to ensure equal pay for equal work.

Ethnic pay gaps are more complex. While men from ethnic minorities all earn less than white British men, with Pakistani and even more Bangladeshi men way below, women from minorities generally do not earn less than white British women. Often they earn more – with Pakistani and Bangladeshi women being the exceptions. However, these women tend to earn significantly less than the equivalent ethnic minority men. Most worryingly, the situation of Bangladeshi women has worsened considerably over time.

MiSoC’s Brynin and Longhi with Wouter Zwysen (Sociology, University of Essex) have studied whether gender and ethnic inequalities reinforce each other, and found that they do not. Only Indian women earn significantly less than both Indian men and white British women, therefore in a sense doubling their inequality. However, even this double effect has declined over time. The ethnic-gender picture is therefore complex. Increasing diversity is making the distribution of inequality itself more complex and diverse.

Studying pay gaps on disability is difficult because of the small number of people with disabilities who are in work. However, Simonetta Longhi did find consistent gaps, especially where mental health was concerned.

Sue Coe, Programme Head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, has said: “The causes of pay gaps are complex. ISER has been instrumental in helping us to pinpoint the key drivers and size of the gender, disability and race pay gaps which we hope will in turn kick start action plans to close them.