ITUC Report: No progress in reducing gender pay gap

March 5, 2009

The average gender pay gap in almost all of 20 countries covered by WageIndicator in a new ITUC-report, is 22.4 per cent. These 20 countries include the major economies of the world (apart from Japan and China), as well as developed and developing countries. In 2008 – based on 12 countries with national WageIndicator surveys - gender pay gaps in the range of 13 to 23 per cent were reported. This means that over the past year no progress has been made, notwithstanding many efforts to reduce the pay gap between men and women, with comparable qualifications performing the same work. The 2009 report moreover shows that the gender pay gap widens with age in all countries.

Thus elderly women face a larger pay gap than the younger. Furthermore, contrary to common belief, a higher level of education seems to widen the gap. The analysis is based on some 300,000 individual WageIndicator surveys, collected in 2007 and the first three quarters of 2008.

The persistence of the gender pay gap in almost all countries where the recent research has been conducted, may be due to a number of reasons. The ITUC-report mentions workplace discrimination and occupational segregation. Also the fact that a higher proportion of women than men are being employed in (often lower paid) part-time work or below their education level may contribute to the pay gap. Women may (be forced to) choose for lower paying positions because of the need to combine work with care responsibilities. An additional explanation is the general widening of the pay distribution at the top end.

Trade union membership has a positive influence on wage equality however. In almost all countries, the gap between male and female earnings is smaller for those who are trade union members compared to employees who are not. This is even more the case when there is a trade union representative in the workplace. Collectively negotiated agreements in the workplace also have a narrowing effect in most countries.

It is too early to assess the impact of the current recession on the gender pay gap. But earlier evidence suggests that economic downturns negatively affect women’s position in the labour market, especially in less economically developed parts of the world. Next to economic arguments, gender-related socio-cultural values also count when trying to explain this trend. A strong focus on the gender implications of economic crises, as well as gender mainstreaming in new policy initiatives are necessary to counter the recession, ITUC recommends. Furthermore, ITUC holds, emphasis on collective bargaining and trade union membership will strengthen women’s position in their job as well as in the wider labour market.

The report ‘Gender (in)equality in the labour market: an overview of global trends
and developments’, has been researched and written by Incomes Data Services (IDS), London, on behalf of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). International Women’s Day (IWD), celebrated annually on March 8, reflects on women’s political, economic and social accomplishments.

Download the ITUC Report ‘Gender (in)equality in the labour market: an overview of global trends and developments’ (March, 2009) (pdf, 310 kB)


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