UK gender pay gap statistics – the numbers that can’t be ignored

We explain the real reasons behind the UK gender pay gap using 43 eye-opening stats and facts.

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Written and reviewed by:
Helena Young

Every year, the UK’s biggest companies are legally required to report on the gender pay gap. In 2023, the figures painted a sobering picture: a 9% disparity between what men and women take home. But this headline number masks a more complex reality.

Companies aren’t overtly offering men a 10p bonus for every pound earned by their female colleagues. That would be pay discrimination, which has been illegal since 1970. To truly grasp the reasons behind this persistent pay gap, we need to delve deeper. 

We’ve trawled through the latest official figures to expose the root causes of the gender pay gap, understand why it varies across industries and regions, and quantify the real-world impact on women in the workplace.

Overview of the gender pay gap

Under the Equality Act 2010, large employers are legally required to report how much they pay employees. Specifically, how earnings for men and women employees differ. These regulations were first imposed in 2017 to combat the gender pay gap.

  • The latest report shows that the median gender pay gap is 9.1%. However, Office for National Statistics (ONS) data — covered in the section below — suggests this is only part of the picture.
  • The 9.1% figure is based on data from April 2024, in which 10,380 organisations filed payroll software information. 78.4% of firms that reported data paid men more than women.
  • The public sector pay gap is widest at 14.4%. Private firms are at least outperforming the government when it comes to closing the gap. 87.6% of public organisations pay men more than women; 9.2% more than the average overall.
  • The gender pay gap has fallen by 23% over the last decade. Officially, that means the pay gap is at its smallest ever number. That said, firms should hold their applause.
  • Based on the most recent report, if the same rate of progress seen between 2011 and 2023 continues, the gender pay gap will take 29 years to close. That means even women employees who haven’t yet been born can expect to be paid less than their future colleagues.

The part-time pay gap

The gender pay gap looks different if we compare average pay across the entire UK workforce, not just the data from large employers. 

In its November 2023 earnings survey for the wider UK population, the ONS found that the median hourly pay gap for all full-time workers is 7.1%, which is a slight drop from the figure given in gender pay gap reporting this year.

When comparing pay data across all employees, however, this figure rises to 14.3%. This is due to the fact that women are more likely to work part-time, which reduces their earnings.

On average, take home pay for a part-time UK employee was £241 per week in April 2023, compared to £682 for those in full-time employment.

ONS data shows that women are most likely to cut work hours and, with them, their pay packets. 38% of women in employment work part-time, compared to 14% of men. 

This may not be by choice. The propensity of female employees to work part-time is strongly linked to the motherhood penalty, which describes how women suffer wage and hiring disadvantages in the workplace because they take on more childcare responsibilities. 

In a 2023 employment survey by Timewise, male and female part-time employees gave their main reasons for working fewer hours. According to the findings:

  • 32% of women work part-time for childcare duties, compared to 13% of men
  • Among older workers, this figure rises to 45% of women 
  • 25% of men work part-time to better manage their health, versus 20% of women
  • 20% of men work part-time to pursue hobbies 

The influence of age on the gender pay gap

The ONS survey discovered that the gender pay gap is most apparent when an employee reaches 40 years old. At this point, the difference in earnings between men and women jumps by 5.6% compared to those in the 30-39 years age bracket.

Infographics for Startups Gender Pay Gap Stats-01

Employee age rangeAverage gender pay gap (%)
18-21 years old-0.2
22-29 years old3.0
30-39 years old4.7
40-49 years old10.3
50-59 years old11.2
60-69 years old14.2

Notably, the table above indicates that the average gender pay gap will increase alongside the employee’s age. Seemingly, the longer a woman is in the workforce, the more likely they are to face pay discrimination. 

This is likely linked to the motherhood penalty. In 2024, the typical age of a first-time mother is 32. According to the campaign group Pregnant Then Screwed, the median hourly pay is £18.48 for fathers compared with £14.04 for mothers.

Given that women are more likely than men to limit work hours due to childcare, 32 also represents the average age that career and salary progression for female employees will begin to stall. 

As a result, women are less likely than men to progress into leadership roles at a business. Indeed, the 2023-24 gender pay gap report shows that, on average, women made up 41% of earners in the highest pay band across all 10,380 organisations.

Analysis of the highest-paid jobs overall in the workforce, like manager, director, and CEO salaries supports this theory. These positions are typically reserved for more experienced workers, and it can take years for employees to build up a strong enough CV for them. 

Therefore, it would be fair to assume that the percentage of women employees in this category increases with age. However, the motherhood penalty means their participation actually decreases by almost 10% due to their taking time off to care for children. 

Infographics for Startups Gender Pay Gap Stats-03 (1)

Age groupAverage wage per hour% of females in manager, director, or senior roles

Remarkably, this means a woman employee is more likely to be a managing director at 22 years old than at 50 years old. 

Between 1994 and 2024, the average age that a woman becomes a first-time mother has increased by four years (from 28 years old to 32 years old). 

This delay to family planning could represent an effort from female employees to impede the impact that having children has on their career. 

The pay gap in different industries compared

Certain industries stand out for their above-average pay discrepancies between men and women employees. The ONS data highlights some common business professions where men will outearn women by more than a fifth, on average:

Gender pay gap
👨‍⚖️ Barristers and judges29%
💵 Financial managers and directors29%
💻 Web designers28%
🏷️ Sales professionals20.5%

The link between the above professions is that they are all dominated by men, which could explain why male workers are more likely to outearn women overall.

This is also notable in the airline industry. Two big UK companies that are failing at the gender pay gap are easyJet and British Airways (BA). Here, the hourly gender pay gap is 48.9% and 37%, respectively, and both firms blame this on a shortage of female pilots. 

That theory does not entirely track, as the pay gap still persists in many female-dominated sectors. In education, where 68% of the workforce are women, roles still exhibit huge pay gulfs. For example, male headteachers earn 11.5% more than women, on average.

In light of these findings, it seems the pay discrepancy can be more accurately attributed to women being locked out of the C-suite. It’s easy to blame a lack of female pilots. Harder to defend is the fact that women make up just 36% of the board at easyJet and 9% at BA.

The reverse gender pay gap

ONS statistics also show there are some jobs (approximately 16%) where women outearn men. Four common jobs with a “reverse pay gap”, according to the ONS data, are:

Gender pay gapAvg hourly wage for womenAvg hourly wage for men
🧪 Biological scientists-20.5%£20.30£16.84
📓 Personal assistants-17.1%£14.37£12.27
🍎 Special needs teachers-16.8%£24.66£21.12
📅 Customer service-4.8%£16.02£15.29

The highest-paid role with a reverse pay gap is as a general practitioner or GP. In this job, women earn £28.46 per hour, on average, which is 5.8% more than men. 

Women became the majority of the GP workforce in 2018. Their dominance in the field is likely because GPs work fewer hours than in-hospital roles like consultants (where men outearn women by 5.5%). From what we know about the impact of the motherhood penalty, fixed hours could be making GP work more appealing to working mothers.

There are also occupations with no gender pay gap, where there is no difference in the median wage for male and female staff. These include:

  • Chefs 
  • Senior care workers 
  • Data analysts 
  • Retail cashiers 
  • Waiters and waitresses

It is notable that four out of five of these roles are based in low-income industries like hospitality and retail. Likely, for several of these roles, the lack of a gender pay gap is a reflection of these workers being paid the minimum National Living Wage.

Regional ranking of the gender pay gap

Whether or not women and men will earn the same pay in 2024 is also influenced by their location. The ONS data offers a regional breakdown to identify the areas where full-time women employees will earn the most. The results are not good news for those working in England.

Based on the results, Northern Ireland (NI) is the only UK region where women earn more than men, with a -3.5% pay gap. Scotland is a close runner-up, at 1.7%, while Wales just pips the North East of England into third.

Region2023% change since 1997
Northern Ireland-3.5%-20%
North East7%-11.9%
North West7.8%-11.9%
West Midlands9.8%-9.9%
Yorkshire and the Humber10.5%-7.1%
South West10.5%-10.3%
East Midlands11.9%-8.8%
South East12.9%-7.2%

Every area has narrowed its gender pay gap. Some have made greater progress than others, however. London is noteworthy for its minute change of 3.2%. Between 1997 and 2023, it went from boasting the UK’s smallest pay gap, to having one of the three largest.

London gender pay gap infographic

Likely, this is because London is dominated by service industries, such as finance and tech. As previously stated, these are two of the worst sectors for the gender pay gap.

NI has seen the most improvement in its gender pay gap. Back in 1997, women earned 16.5% less than men per hour. However, its success must be caveated by the fact that a considerable percentage of female Northern Irish workers are part-time.

This skews the overall average in NI. According to the Department for the Economy in Northern Ireland, when considering all employees regardless of working pattern, the gender pay gap was 7.8% in favour of males in 2023 (which is still half that of the rest of the UK).

What do the stats tell us about gender pay in 2024?

The UK gender pay gap is shrinking. In 2024, it is the smallest it has ever been. But while there is a temptation for business leaders to now shake hands and break for lunch, the above data also reveals some less savoury facts. Crucially:

  • The gap will take decades to close at the current rate
  • Women continue to be burdened by childcare duties
  • Leadership teams are still dominated by men
  • Experienced women workers are most likely to lose out
  • London’s gender pay gap has shrunk by 3.2% in 27 years

In a recent Startups survey, 71% of UK businesses told us they would be able to raise wages in 2024 to meet employee demands and boost recruitment efforts. But addressing the challenge of gender pay is not as simple as adding a ‘0’ onto women employees’ paychecks.

As the data shows, today’s gender pay gap is a consequence of a wider, systemic gender inequality in the UK. In this context, 29 years starts to look like a realistic timeframe given the scale of the issues at hand, such as poor childcare provision, underrepresentation in top positions, and our ingrained devaluing of ‘feminised’ skills. 

To properly address these challenges, and close the wage gap, companies must forget the fallacy of a “quick fix”, and instead begin the arduous, but firmer, path towards pay parity.

Written by:
Helena Young
Helena is Lead Writer at Startups. As resident people and premises expert, she's an authority on topics such as business energy, office and coworking spaces, and project management software. With a background in PR and marketing, Helena also manages the Startups 100 Index and is passionate about giving early-stage startups a platform to boost their brands. From interviewing Wetherspoon's boss Tim Martin to spotting data-led working from home trends, her insight has been featured by major trade publications including the ICAEW, and news outlets like the BBC, ITV News, Daily Express, and HuffPost UK.

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