The gender pay gap

Equal pay for equal work is one of the European Union’s founding principles, embedded in the Treaties since 1957, and the European Commission produces regular reports on European policy initiatives and EU funded research projects on the gender pay gap.  These are published on the European Commission’s Justice website.

You can find the chapter on the gender pay gap here.

Of particular interest is factsheet on the gender pay gap in the UK.

Gender pay gap statistics

Eurostat, the European equivalent of the UK’s Office for National Statistics, produces statistics on the gender pay gap across all Member States, along with a whole range of other relevant data. Unlike our own Office for National Statistics, Eurostat has pulled together all the information on the gender pay gap onto one page and the site is both informative and easy to navigate.

Eurostat  produces a map showing the gender pay gap. The map can be found here, at Chapter 13; Gender Statistics, Gender Pay Gap. While EU statistics are not directly comparable with those in the UK, the EU figures show that the average gap within the EU is 16 per cent. However, pay levels throughout the whole of Europe differ hugely, with some areas seeing women earning more on average than men, while other areas (such as the South East of the UK) see men earning 25 per cent more on average than women.

Eurostat also produces a table showing the unadjusted gender pay gaps across Europe for the past ten years. The table can be found here. The table shows that in the UK the unadjusted gap fell from 27. 3 per cent in 2003 to 19.7 per cent in 2013. The metadata underpinning the figures can be found here.

You can find the Eurostat portal for the gender pay gap here.


Equal pay

The principle that women and men are entitled to equal pay for doing equal work is grounded in European Union law. British domestic law must conform to European Union law, which imposes specific obligations in respect of equal pay which can have direct effect. So, in considering equal pay claims under the Equality Act 2010, British courts and tribunals must take into account the relevant provisions of the Treaty, relevant Directives and decisions of the Court of Justice of the European Union (formerly the European Court of Justice). If domestic law does not give full effect to these rulings then a woman may be able to rely on European Union law in British Courts.

  • The Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union

Article 157 of the Treaty of the Functioning of European Union, formerly Article 141 of the EC Treaty, sets out the principle of equal pay for equal work.

  • Equal Treatment in Employment and Occupation

Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000, establishes a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, including pay.

  • The Code of Practice

There is also a Code of Practice on the Implementation of Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value for Women and Men.  Although this dates back to 1996, the practical steps it recommends are still valid. 

Pay Transparency 

The European network of legal experts in gender equality and non-discrimination has published a new thematic report titled Pay transparency in the EU. The report is authored by Albertine Veldman, researcher and lecturer at Utrecht University in European labour law, equality law and social law.

Pay transparency is essential in order to effectively implement the principle of equal pay. Increased pay transparency can reveal a gender bias or discrimination in the pay structures of an organization, and enables employees, employers and social partners to take action in this respect. This report reviews national pay transparency measures introduced by the EU Member States, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to implement the core measures recommended by the European Commission in view of strengthening the principle of equal pay between men and women (Recommendation C(2014) 1405 final).

It also reviews, assesses and compares the situation in the above mentioned countries regarding the employee’s right to request information on gender pay levels, the employer’s duty report on average gender pay levels, the employer’s duty to audit pay and pay differentials on grounds of gender, and measures that aim to ensure the issue of equal pay is discussed at collective bargaining level. The report provides best practice examples in all these areas and concludes by analysing the obstacles to introducing national pay transparency measures and the way ahead.

Equinet handbook: How to build a case on equal pay

Equinet is the European Network of national Equality Bodies. This Handbook, prepared by members of Equinet’s Working Group on Gender Equality, aims to be a practical and useful tool for anyone who works on equal pay cases, guiding you to existing resources, data, and arguments that have been successful in the past.

The handbook is structured to help case-workers in equality bodies, lawyers or other legal professionals to build their case, but the resources contained therein should support and inform anyone looking to gain insight into the challenges and opportunities in litigating for equal pay. In addition, the handbook contains useful and hands-on information for anyone interested in and working on equal pay.

The handbook includes:

  • Checklists on what to ask claimants and respondents and how to gather data
  • Suggestions of external partners to work with when gathering information for your case
  • Information on how to shift the burden of proof
  • Tools to show the importance of transparent pay schemes for your case: gender neutral job evaluation schemes and wage calculators
  • Examples of cases handled by equality bodies in Europe
  • Links to relevant resources, tools, statistics and literature

You can download a copy of the handbook here.

Equal Pay Day

Women in the European Union still earn on average 16.2 per cent less than men. In 2018 the EU Equal Pay Day falls on 3 November. It marks the moment when women symbolically stop getting paid compared to their male colleagues, with 16 per cent of the working year remaining.

Check the European Commission website for further data on gender pay gap in the EU, including:

  • EU and national factsheets on the gender pay gap;
  • Expert study: The gender pay gap in EU countries.
European funded research relevant to the UK

Who’s Breadwinning in Europe, a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (the IPPR) shows that the nature of work, earning and family relationships has changed. The model of a male breadwinner and a female carer as the ‘default’ for European families is long gone. While the dual-earner model often translates to men working full-time and women working part-time, a significant proportion of women are either the sole breadwinner or the main breadwinner for their family.

Across Europe nearly one in three (31.4 per cent) mothers in working families with dependent children are breadwinners. IPPR define ‘maternal breadwinners’ as mothers of dependent children who bring in 50 per cent or more of total household earnings. This includes mothers in couple households who earn as much as or more than their partner, and single mothers who are in work.

There are 2 million maternal breadwinners in Britain, making up one in three (33 per cent) of mothers in working families. IPPR finds that maternal breadwinners are more common among:

  • Lower-income households.
  • Older mothers and mothers of older children:
  • More educated mothers:
  • Service-sector and public-sector workers: in the UK, maternal breadwinners are over represented in health, social work and education: these sectors account for 43 per cent of maternal breadwinners but only 23 per cent of all earners.

IPPR argue that the increased significance of women’s economic contributions to their family’s wellbeing underlines the importance of tackling the gender pay gap to ensure women and men are paid equally for equal work.

Last updated 31st October 2018