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Minding the minority gap

23.12.2008
"The pay gap between men and women is closing at a snail's pace” – comments made recently by Baroness Margaret Prosser, deputy Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Pay gaps between men and women have been the subject of much public debate in recent weeks and months, with Baroness Prosser claiming that it will take at least another two decades to “resolve this injustice”.

But what about pay gaps right across the so-called equality strands of age, disability, ethnicity, gender, religion or faith and sexual orientation? For the first time research has been commissioned by the EHRC in a bid to better understand the reasons why some minority groups are worse off than others.

The research, carried out by Simonetta Longhi and Lucinda Platt at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex, also questions if seemingly obvious solutions like better qualifications are the only way to help policy makers do something about those gaps.

The study compared the average full-time pay for men and women from each minority group was compared to the average pay of men from the majority group, for example, each religious minority was compared with Christian men, while men and women with a disability were compared with non-disabled men. Pay gaps for women compared to men were also examined. The research scrutinised pay gaps by comparing those with similar characteristics in the areas of age, level of disability, occupation and qualifications.

As far as ethnic groups were concerned, the study showed that all ethnic minority women had pay gaps relative to white British men. Among men pay gaps for Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Black African men were the highest especially for those men with lower qualifications. Conversely, Indian and Chinese men were not disadvantaged and in some cases were better paid than their white British male counterparts, although once qualifications were taken into account, they did experience a pay penalty. Pay gaps between men and women of the same group were apparent only for the white British and Indian groups.

Women of all religious backgrounds were disadvantaged relative to Christian men, with Sikh and Muslim women having the largest pay gaps. Muslim men were around 17 per cent worse off compared with the same group. Jewish men were around 37 per cent better off.

Disabled women were 22 per cent worse off than able bodied, men, while the gap between disabled men and non-disabled men was 11 per cent. While the latter might be considered particularly noteworthy, the gap is still smaller than that between non disabled men and women which stands at 16 per cent. Having high level qualifications appeared to make little or no difference to the pay gaps relative to similarly qualified non-disabled people.

Same sex couples, whether male or female, were not disadvantaged in comparison with married men, but married women and single women were disadvantaged by 18 per cent and 36 per cent respectively. Single men were 39 per cent worse off than married or cohabiting men.

As far as age was concerned, the research showed that women’s pay fell behind in their late 30s with substantial pay gaps experienced relative to men aged 40-44. That pay gap increased as women moved into their 40s.

Commenting on the overall research findings, Lucinda Platt, said: “There are clear pay penalties for women, certain ethnic minorities and disabled people. What is also apparent, is that getting better qualifications isn’t the only way to achieve parity of pay.”

Dr Platt believes the implications are clear – pay gaps are not just an issue between men and women, but between various minority and majority groups. Whether policy makers can make sure that changes are made at more than “a snail’s pace” remains to be seen.

Christine Garrington | alfa
Further information:
http://www.essex.ac.uk
http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/publicationsandresources/Pages/PayGapsAcrossEqualitiesAreas.aspx

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