Glass ceilings? Gender differences in wage growth and promotion

Publication type

Conference Paper


BHPS-2005 Conference: the 2005 British Household Panel Survey Research Conference, 30 June -2 July 2005, Colchester, UK


Publication date

June 1, 2005


There is no debate about the fact that women tend to fare worse than men in the
labour market. Evidence of a wage gap in pay is abundant. This paper attempts to
complement this static picture with an examination of gender differentials in wage
‘dynamics’ using nationally representative panel survey data. There is on-going
debate about the existence (or otherwise) of a ‘glass ceiling’ above women in the
labour market, that is an invisible barrier that inhibits promotion opportunities for
women (but not men) and prevents women from reaching top positions. Do such
‘glass ceilings’ exist and exacerbate the male-female wage differential? Or, on the
contrary, are women able to take advantage of promotions and other opportunities for
wage growth to catch up partially to male wage rates?
Existing evidence based on surveys representative of large populations (rather than
based on personnel record data) is relatively scarce, and results are mixed. There is no
strong support for the standard ‘glass ceiling’ hypothesis: promotion probabilities
often turn out to be similar between males and females. However, the return to
promotion in terms of associated wage growth may differ more substantially between
men and women. Booth et al. (2003) coined the term ‘sticky floors’ (as opposed to
‘glass ceiling’) to describe such a situation.
This paper provides additional empirical evidence about these issues. It first attempts
to identify if there are observable differences in wage growth between males and
females. Differences in promotion rates (intra-firm job mobility) and in quit rates
(inter-firm job mobility) are then considered. Crucially, non-parametric methods are
applied to assess men and women’s wage growth rates, as well as quit and promotion
probabilities, conditionally on base period wage level. It makes it possible to examine
the issue in greater detail and identify what happens at different points on the wage
scale. In a second step, wage growth, promotion and quits (and the wage return
thereof) are considered jointly to try explaining the observed differences in wage
growth between male and female (conditionally on base period wage) by (i)
differences in human capital and job characteristics, (ii) differences in promotion and
quit rates, and (iii) differences in wage return to promotion and quit.






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