The gender pay gap in the UK: children and experience in work

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This paper documents the evolution of the gender pay gap in the UK over the past three decades and its association with fertility, examining the role of men’s and women’s career patterns and how they change with the arrival of a first child.

The researchers find that the different working experiences of men and women, especially around full- versus part-time work, account for up to two-thirds of the gender pay gap of college graduates 20 years after the birth of their first child. The effect is slightly smaller for those who did not go to university, but still accounts for around a third of the long-term gender wage gap.

The findings show that differences in accumulated years of working matters most, while differences in industry, occupation, and job characteristics have less of an influence.

The researchers looked at data on 27,000 participants in Understanding Society, a survey which tracks people living in 40,000 UK households. They then created a model to estimate the effect of work on women’s wages.

They conclude that UK women, no matter their educational background, face a so-called child penalty in wages of around 30 per cent with respect to men by the time their child reaches the age of 18.

They add that policies that incentivise mothers of young children to remain actively in full-time work are likely to help their career progression and pay handsomely in the long term, particularly for those mothers with medium to high qualifications.