Mothers suffer part-time pay penalty

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Research highlights a ‘striking’ issue with part-time work in general, with workers typically missing out on year-on-year pay rises and promotions

Mothers in part-time jobs suffer particularly from the gender ‘pay penalty', according to research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

Its study Wage progression and the gender wage gap: the causal impact of hours of work was compiled on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, and explored the reasons for the gender pay gap still standing at around 20%. While it found many reasons for the scale and persistence of this gap, it stated that an important factor is that mothers spend less time in paid work, and more time working part time, than fathers.

‘About a quarter of [the] wage gap is explained by the higher propensity of the mothers to have been in part-time rather than full-time paid work while that child was growing up, and the consequent lack of wage progression,’ the report stated.

The research therefore highlighted a ‘striking’ issue generally with part-time work, with these workers typically missing out on year-on-year pay rises and promotion opportunities. It emphasised that this affects women disproportionately because the vast majority of part-time workers are women, especially mothers of young children.

About a further tenth of this pay penalty is explained by mothers' higher propensity to have taken time out of the labour market altogether, the study added. It stated that 20 years after the birth of their first child, a woman’s hourly wage will be on average 30% lower than the hourly wage of a man with a similar level of education.

The penalty particularly affects graduates ‘because they are the women for whom continuing in full-time paid work would have led to the most wage progression,’ the report found.

It cited the example of a graduate who has worked full-time for seven years before having a child. She would on average see her hourly wage rise by a further 6% (over and above general wage inflation) as a result of continuing in full-time work for another year. But she would see none of this if she switched to part-time work.

“There are many likely reasons for persistent gaps in the wages of men and women, which research is still investigating, but the fact that working part time has a long-term depressing effect is an important contributing factor,” said Monica Costa Dias, IFS associate director and an author of the report.

“It is remarkable that periods spent in part-time work lead to virtually no wage progression. It should be a priority for governments and others to understand the reasons for this. Addressing it would have the potential to narrow the gender wage gap significantly.”

“It’s just not right that we treat part-time workers as if they are less valuable than full timers," commented Helen Barnard, head of analysis at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. "Millions of women and men want, and need, to work but also have responsibilities to children, partners, or parents. Many more have health conditions that mean they can work but can’t always manage full-time hours.

“We can redesign the jobs market so it works for everyone. Employers can increase the number and quality of jobs open to part-time workers – and hire flexibly rather than only allowing existing employees to negotiate part-time hours.”

The research also found that the gender wage gap has fallen significantly for the less well-educated – from 28% to 18% for those with education up to GCSE level. But it has not fallen at all in the last 25 years for the highest-educated women; female graduates still earn about 22% less per hour than male graduates.

“Traditionally it has been lower-educated women whose wages were especially low relative to similarly educated men,” said Robert Joyce, IFS associate director and an author of the report. “It is now the highest-educated women whose wages are the furthest behind their male counterparts – and this is particularly related to the fact that they lose out so badly from working part time.”

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