Gender pay gap hits older women hardest, data shows

Female workers in their 50s earn more than a quarter less than their male counterparts, according to analysis of ONS figures

The gender pay gap is at its worst when workers reach their 50s, according to new analysis of wage data, prompting calls for employers to take stronger action to tackle pay disparity.

The mean annual salary for women aged 50-59 was £32,052 in the year to April 2018, compared with £44,561 for their male counterparts, according to the ONS’s annual survey of hours and earnings. According to Rest Less, which carried out the analysis, this meant women in this age group earned on average 28 per cent less than men of the same age. 

The wage gap was narrowest between workers aged 22-29, at just 12.9 per cent, reaching 25 per cent for those aged 40-49 – also the age that mean salaries for both men and women peak. However, women’s average wages saw a larger decrease than men when they reached the 50-59 age bracket. 

Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less, said women in their 50s were “taking a double hit when it comes to their salaries, caused by both gender and age discrimination”.

“With such a tight labour market, and the wealth of talent and skills on offer among women in their 50s and 60s, it's surprising not to see more employers actively seeking out and engaging with this audience to help fill a very real skills gap,” Lewis added.

Charles Cotton, performance and reward adviser at the CIPD, said the figures showed that where there are biases against women, “either wittingly or unwittingly, age amplifies that”. 

Cotton said employers needed to consider what biases might be at play in their processes for recruitment and promotion, and how they supported staff with caring responsibilities by providing flexible working opportunities and supporting people back into work following career breaks.

He added that tackling pay disparities earlier in individuals’ careers would make them less likely to be a problem for older workers. “If you're able to nip it in the bud in [workers’] 20s and 30s, then it means that it won't show up in their 40s and 50s,” he explained.

The ONS’s own analysis of salary figures – which uses the median hourly earnings – also showed the pay gap was widest for older staff, but put it as a lower 15.5 per cent for full-time workers aged between 50 and 59. This increased slightly to 15.6 per cent among workers aged 60 and over.

The ONS estimated the median hourly gender pay gap across the board to be 8.6 per cent for full-time workers.

Separately, 51-year-old BBC presenter Samira Ahmed is taking her employer to court this week, claiming she earned just a sixth of the salary of colleague Jeremy Vine, who she said carried out “a very similar job” as presenter of Points of View, compared with her role presenting audience feedback show Newswatch

Ahmed said on social media that she was subject to “a 600 per cent” pay gap, as she earned £440 per episode of Newswatch, compared with Vine’s salary of £3,000 per episode of Points of View, which he presented until July 2018. His salary was reduced to £1,300 per episode in January 2018.

Commenting on the case, Gemma Rosenblatt, head of policy and campaigns at the Fawcett Society, said: "The cumulative year-on-year impact of the gender pay gap leaves women with a significantly lower lifetime income and pension pot than men.

“Fifty years on from equal pay legislation, we know women are not being paid equally for work of equal value, as today's reporting of Samira Ahmed's case demonstrates."

Kate Palmer, associate director at Peninsula, said employers needed to be aware of the risks of workplace discrimination. She said: “It is unlawful to pay a female employee less than her male colleague for either doing the same job, work that is broadly similar or undertaking roles that could be classed as being ‘of equal value’.

“There can be several reasons that the pay gap increases as employees get older but, regardless, employers should remember that a successful discrimination claim could result in unlimited compensation being awarded at a tribunal.”