Has England eliminated the gender pay gap?

Women in their 20s earn more than men the same age, according to a new study from the UK, but women's earnings drop below men's in their 30s.

Stephen Hird / Reuters / File
A woman leaves a Royal Bank of Scotland building in London in this 2009 file photo. A new study finds that women in the UK make more than men do, in their 20s, but once they reach their 30s, the story changes. Does Britain's mandatory maternity leave play a role?

I have finally found evidence for something I have often suspected: that young women actually earn more than their male counterparts. Rather than a gender pay gap implying discrimination against women, research shows women in their 20s in the UK typically earn marginally more – 2.1 per cent – than a men in the same age group.

It’s great to see that, in contrast to the claims of lobby groups like the Fawcett Society, young females are not disadvantaged in the workplace and that the glass ceiling is close to being removed. It gives me hope that I live in a society where if I chose to work hard, the sky is the limit. Because in reality, it’s not a gender pay gap we have in the UK, but a motherhood pay gap. Interestingly, the research found a pay gap appears when women reach their thirties. This can be put down to the number of women who choose to have a family, leave work for a number of years, go part time or take on jobs with more flexible working hours. And prioritising that way is absolutely fine – it’s their right to choose whichever path is best for themselves and their families – but employers should not have to subsidize one path.

What is concerning is the fact that women who do not choose to have families and continue to work full time in their 30s appear to be missing out when it comes to pay. This seems to me to be the result not of their choices, but largely due to the unintended negative consequence of the government’s imposition of statutory maternity rules. The legal right to generous paid maternity leave for any female can be crippling for many businesses and understandably leaves recruiters to prioritise, in terms of employment and promotion, those who do not fall within the fertile female bracket!

Some will say that paid maternity leave is a right that must not be denied women, but in fact it’s a employment regulation that in the end leaves those who are not planning to have a family worse off, both in terms of pay and prospects. If women want to enter the field of work on a level playing field with men, then individuals and companies should be given the right to opt out of these maternity schemes or agree different maternity terms within their contracts. Furthermore, if the government is serious about creating an equal society, it should ensure that European Parliament proposals to extend statutory maternity leave to 20 weeks is blocked. If not, hiring women is going to become an increasingly expensive and impractical option for many businesses.

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