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This is the age women start to be pummelled by the gender pay gap

Gender pay disparity increases from a gap to a chasm from the age of 40. (PA)
Gender pay disparity increases from a gap to a chasm from the age of 40. (PA) (Press Association Images/Press Association Images)

The gender pay gap has steadily decreased over the past 25 years.

Back in 1997, the difference in average earnings between full-time male and female employees in the UK was 17.4%. As of 2022, according to the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) figures released this week, it was 8.3%.

That is also 0.7% down from 9% in 2019, the most recent year before the coronavirus pandemic heavily impacted the UK labour market.

But while this declining pay disparity may point to (slow) progress, there is one particularly stark element when you look beyond the headline figures.

That is the specific age at which gender pay disparity increases from a gap to a chasm.

The latest statistics by age group show how the pay gap among full-time employees aged 40 and over is massively higher than for employees aged below 40.

  • 18 to 21: 0.9%

  • 22 to 29: 2.1%

  • 30 to 39: 3.2%

  • 40 to 49: 10.9%

  • 50 to 59: 11.7%

  • Over 60: 13.9%

As the ONS figures show, this follows a long-term pattern (see graphic, below). Here is what the age group pay gaps were in 1997.

  • 18 to 21: 6%

  • 22 to 29: 5.8%

  • 30 to 39: 11%

  • 40 to 49: 24%

  • 50 to 59: 21.6%

  • Over 60: 14.7%

The gender pay gap by age groups between 1997 and 2022. (ONS)
The gender pay gap by age groups between 1997 and 2022. (ONS)

The higher gender pay gap for women over 40, Fawcett Society chief executive Jemima Olchawski told Yahoo News UK, is “driven largely by unequal shares of caring work in the home done by men and women.

"This includes the ‘motherhood penalty’ – where women face lower earnings and career setbacks after they have a child – and other caring responsibilities being more likely to fall to older women.”

The Fawcett Society campaigns for gender equality and women's rights, and Olchawski said the government "urgently needs to reform our childcare system to make it work better for families".

Read more: Michael Gove refuses three times to say benefits should rise in line with inflation

The charity’s research has found UK childcare costs are "extremely high" when contrasted with comparable countries. Separate research from the Social Market Foundation has found that for a third of mothers out of work with young children, childcare costs are the leading reason for not working.

Olchawski said other drivers include the “failure to promote women to senior positions within many organisations, direct pay discrimination, and under-valuing the types of work women are more likely to do”.

She added: “The government should require employers to offer flexible work arrangements as a default and to advertise jobs with flexibility built-in. Pay gap reporting also needs to be strengthened, so employers are held accountable for the actions they are taking to tackle the gap, including to address higher pay gaps for older, disabled, and Black and minoritised women.”