If the Equality Act 2010 Part 5 Chapter 3 protects employees from differences in wage based on gender for the same work, then where does the Gender Pay Gap issue arise from? I have been able to find figures on the differences in annual wage between men and women but nothing on a difference in hourly wage which leads me to believe that, in the UK at least, the gender pay gap is a myth.

Can someone please provide information to explain the legal issues, if any, the UK has in terms of equal wage, and help explain what aspect of the law complaints on unequal pay arise from. Are employers lowering women's wages illegally or is the issue with annual pay?

Any help would be much appreciated.

4 Answers 4


I dont want to bring this discussion to a political place.

But one of the explanations of why the gender pay gap exists even though wages are meant to be the same is that it doesnt account for work hours.

That is to say: women in general work less hours then men (e.g. hours lost due to maternity leave, contract hours are less etc) therefore creating the appearance that their yearly salary is less. The reason women work less hours are often attributed to women in general choosing to work less hours, because they value social experiences and off time more than men do, men are in general more career orientated than women (theorized to be a leftover from an evolutionary tendency for males to be competitive)

If you were to look at wage per hour, women and men have approximately the same wages.

I will source my answer when I can. And it is not a legally-based answer so may not be appropriate but I thought it worth adding

  • I agree. I really just wanted a confirmation from someone with a better knowledge of law than me that this is what is happening. Guess feminists just don't want to admit that women can't do some of the things that men do and vice versa
    – Charlie
    Jun 7, 2017 at 12:07
  • There is no "official" gender pay gap figure, but studies which account for differences in work hours and the like still show (smaller) disparity.
    – user
    Jun 7, 2017 at 15:42
  • 1
    Could you cite a source for this or is this just semantic? I'm looking for hard evidence.
    – Charlie
    Jun 7, 2017 at 22:12

The law is hard to enforce

Lets look at what the law prohibits - paying different rates of pay for the same work based on gender. Does that mean that two workers doing the same work must be paid the same? No, it just means that the reason for the difference cannot be based on gender. For example, one worker may be more productive than the other, or a better negotiator, or have been employed longer, or etc. etc. None of these reasons is prima facie gender based (although some may contain inherent gender bias) and all of them would be a defense to a business alleged to be breaching that law - remember the government must prove that the reason for the difference is gender.

Notwithstanding, most employers comply with the law and pay women equal rates to men for the same work all else being equal.

Causes of the gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is a cultural problem, not a legal one. From the European Commission's web page, different rates for the same work "explains a small part of the gender pay gap, due to the effectiveness of the European Union and national legislation."

They list 4 causes that are much more significant:

  • The undervaluing of women's work - "Jobs requiring similar skills, qualifications or experience tend to be poorly paid and undervalued when they are dominated by women rather than by men. For example, the (mainly female) cashiers in a supermarket usually earn less than the (mainly male) employees involved in stacking shelves and other more physical tasks."

  • Segregation in the labour market - "Women and men still tend to work in different jobs. On the one hand, women and men often predominate in different sectors. On the other hand, within the same sector or company women predominate in lower valued and lower paid occupations." For example, doctors are paid more than nurses, plumbers are paid more than hairdressers and store-persons are paid more than cashiers - guess which jobs have traditionally been and still are male and female dominated?

  • Traditions and stereotypes - "While around 60% of new university graduates are women, they are a minority in fields like mathematics, computing and engineering. Consequently, there are fewer women working in scientific and technical jobs. In many cases this results in women working in lower valued and lower paid sectors of the economy." I work in construction, when I studied electrical engineering in the 1980s there were 3 women in a year of 47 students; there are now more female engineers and architects then there were but there are still far more male ones. In terms of actual construction workers, the number of female builders, electricians, tilers and bricklayers I encounter is approximately none.

  • Balancing work and private life - "Family, care and domestic responsibilities are still not equally shared. The task of looking after dependent family members is largely borne by women. Far more women than men choose to take parental leave. This fact, together with the lack of facilities for childcare and elderly care, means that women are often forced to exit the labour market."

These are cultural and structural issues in society and the economy - they are highly resistant to legal solutions.

  • I'd add that paying different amounts for the same work due to gender happens (but is hard to catch in the private sector due to non-disclosure of private salaries). My mom won one such suit at a university and someone I know at Denver University law school won another. One factor is that women are often willing to accept lower pay for the same job because they view their jobs as secondary. Empirical evidence shows that women frequently deliberately decline chances to be paid more than their husbands. This impacts the negotiating power of all women even if they don't personally feel this way.
    – ohwilleke
    Jun 8, 2017 at 22:54
  • @ohwilleke also, women are less likely to ask for pay rises than men - compounded over several years this can make a big difference.
    – Dale M
    Jun 8, 2017 at 23:46

Gender discrimination is difficult to prove. Often there are not similar people working similar jobs to compare to. Often it manifests as things like finding it harder to be promoted or being given fewer opportunities. The issue is complex and the discrimination of often not conscious or deliberate, and not easy to correct.

Note that relatively small differences are still significant for those affected though. A 2% difference is roughly equivalent to working for free for a week, so people rightly feel that such small differences are worth consideration.


Short Answer

The gender pay gap is a myth. Any economist worth anything can tell you this with absolute certainty. There is no question that workplace discrimination against women has happened in the past, or even happens occasionally now, but I recommend that you try your hardest to find non-biased studies and reports on this subject. People have repeatedly debunked this myth and provided evidence of how it was created in this first place, but somehow the gender pay gap manages to wiggle out of reality and appeal to young men and women everywhere who desire a lifestyle where everything is given to them.

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