Women losing out on pay increases

October 04, 2001

New research into the reasons why women continue to lag behind their male colleagues in the labour market reveals that pay increases on promotion tend to work in favour of men and that this discrepancy is supported by the tendency for employers to match pay offered by another employer for men but not for women.

Ongoing research from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Future of Work Programme into gender differences in the workplace points to women being held back more by the combination of factors that the researchers call the "sticky floor" than the "glass ceiling" cap on women's progress.

Research by Professor Alison Booth at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Essex University, shows that women are just as likely to be promoted as men across a whole range of occupations. But once promoted, the differences emerge. Women tend to get lower pay increases on being promoted. They find themselves on the lower points of the scale for their new grade. The reason lies in the role that internal promotions play in inducing greater effort on the part of the employee, and pay increases that are used by employers to retain a member of staff. Men get bigger salary hikes than women as employers match offers of jobs from outside. Women who get a job offer may find that the salary paid by their existing employer is not matched. This could be because women are assumed to be "more loyal servants" and less likely to move jobs in response to an offer.

Further evidence on this discrepancy is provided by a survey of academic economists conducted by the researchers into whether women receive as many offers of jobs as men and how their employers, the universities, reacted to such offers. Women are still paid less than men in the profession. They are less likely to be promoted, and they perceive that they are being discriminated against. The survey established that women actually receive fewer job offers than their male colleagues. It was not that women do not apply for jobs - they do. When they succeed in getting an offer, however, they are less likely to be given a salary increase by the university. The survey was important in that by concentrating on one profession the researchers were able to adjust for the factor of 'productivity', measured by number and quality of research publications to which the academics contributed, and teaching and administration,

Other research on career development and gender identified an area where unusually women have the advantage, in this case finding that by taking a temporary job or jobs early in their career they are not penalising their earning capacity in later years. For women, temporary work can be a stepping stone to a career. But men who begin their working lives this way never achieve the same salaries as men who start off in permanent jobs. One hypothesis is that an initial temporary job does not provide the same negative signal for women - who may well choose temporary work for its flexibility - as for men. The wage comparisons are between women and women, and men and men, however, not between men and women.

Differences are also identified in trade union coverage for temporary job holders. Women in this category are significantly less likely to be in a union than women in regular employment, despite efforts by the unions to enrol more 'non-standard' workers. This applies across the board. For men, however, the negative stance on union membership is only applicable if they are working on fixed term contracts, in more than one place or work less than the standard week.
For Further Information contact:

On Monday 24th September 2001 Marco Francesconi on 01206-873534 (email: mfranc@essex.ac.uk) and Alison Booth, ISER, 01206-873789 (email: albooth@essex.ac.uk);

Or ISER Communications Adviser Romesh Vaitilingam on 0117-983-9770 or 07768-661095 (email: romesh@compuserve.com).

Or contact David Ridley or Lesley Lilley in ESRC External Relations on 01793-413118 or 413119.

Notes for Editors:

1. The research by Professor Alison Booth and others will be presented at a symposium on work within the ESRC's £4m Future of Work Programme on 25 September. The authors are at the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex (www.iser.essex.ac.uk). Other speakers at the conference will include Juan Dolado (Universidad Carlos III, Madrid) on the incidence of temporary employment in Spain which has soared in response to high unemployment; and Bertil Holmlund (Uppsala University) on similar work in Sweden in response to economic turbulence.

2. The ESRC is the UK's largest funding agency for research and postgraduate training relating to social and economic issues. It has a track record of providing high-quality, relevant research to business, the public sector and government. The ESRC invests more than £46 million every year in social science research. At any time, its range of funding schemes may be supporting 2,000 researchers within academic institutions and research policy institutes. It also funds postgraduate training within the social sciences, thereby nurturing the researchers of tomorrow. The ESRC website address is http://www.esrc.ac.uk.

3. The Future of Work Programme was launched by the ESRC in October 1998 and is helping to rectify the gaps in our knowledge. Comprising 27 projects and involving more than one hundred leading researchers across the UK, this is the most systematic and rigorous enquiry of its kind, providing evidence-based research for a better understanding of the changing world of work in a period of rapid social, technological and economic change. For further details about the contact Professor Peter Nolan Tel 0113-233-4504.

Economic & Social Research Council
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