New perspectives on the gender pay gap: trends and drivers

This report explains the different measures of the gender pay gap and considers how it has been changing over time. It also considers underlying drivers and describes Scottish Government policy intended to help encourage the decline of the pay gap.

Communities Analysis Division with support from Labour Market Statistics team


The gender pay gap is often represented as a single figure. But no single measure adequately represents the complex issues underlying differences between men's and women's pay.

This report explains the different measures of the pay gap, breaking it down by age, sector and occupation and considers how it has been changing over time.

Whilst the pay gap can be explained in terms of factors like occupational segregation, differences in working patterns between men and women and indirect discrimination, this report explores underlying drivers, such as:

  • inequality of unpaid care between men and women
  • traditional social attitudes towards the role of men and women at home and the workplace
  • some professions rewarding longer hours and unbroken work patterns (which are more suitable to people without caring responsibilities).

These underlying drivers are important in understanding why the pay gap still persists. Analysis of international data shows that countries which have high measures of gender equality [1] and female employment, do not necessarily have low pay gaps, due to persistence of the issues outlined above. This reflects the long term challenge of accelerating the decline of the pay gap.

The Scottish Government has a comprehensive range of policies intended to help encourage this decline through:

  • Transformative funding for quality affordable childcare
  • Initiatives to tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination
  • A commitment to achieve greater gender diversity on Scotland's public, private and third sector boards
  • Working with partners to encourage flexible working, family friendly workplaces
  • Encouraging employers to pay the Living Wage, which will disproportionately benefit women who make up around 65% of employees earning less than the Living Wage.
  • Providing further investment to health and social care partnerships to enable the Living Wage to be paid to care workers, mainly women, supporting vulnerable adults.
  • Funding for partners to encourage greater gender equality within: enterprise; employment including gender imbalanced occupations, in particular science, technology, engineering and maths careers; education and modern apprenticeships.
  • Committing to establish an ' Advisory Council on Women and Girls' to advise on tackling workplace and occupational segregation and other issues relating to gender equality.
  • Committing to work with employers to pilot 'Returnships', which will bring experienced women back into their previous career after a break.

There are various different ways of presenting the pay gap

There are many versions of the gender pay gap, but the main ones are:

  • The full-time pay gap (7.3% in 2015): this measure gives a direct comparison between women and men working full-time only. It therefore removes the effect of differences in working patterns, i.e. more women working part-time. However part-time work is generally lower paid, and the associated cultural and economic drivers which channel more women into part-time work are not fully reflected in the full-time pay gap.
  • The overall pay gap (16.8% in 2015) reflects all workers, full- and part-time. It reflects wider drivers that channel more women towards lower paid part-time work, and can be presented alongside the full-time pay gap for a fuller discussion of the pay gap.
  • The part-time pay gap (-9.1% in 2015) shows that median part-time pay for women is higher than for men. However many more women than men work part-time and it is generally lower paid than full-time work.

The official statistics tend to give prominence to the full-time median pay gap. Unless otherwise stated, where sections below refer to 'the pay gap', this refers to the full-time median gender pay gap.

The pay gap in Scotland has reduced substantially

There have been substantial reductions in the full-time and overall pay gap over past decades. But it remains persistent in some age groups, and recent years suggest a current pause in the decline in Scotland. However the overall long term trend is declining - the pay gap reduced from 18.4% in 1997 to 7.3% in 2015.

The pay gap differs greatly by age group. In Scotland, there was a negative full-time pay gap of -1.7% (women paid more than men) for the 25-34 age group in 2015 compared to 11.9% for the 50+ age group. Since 1997, the pay gap has declined for age groups under 50 but remain persistent for those older than 50.

The overall pay gap was 16.8% in Scotland in 2015 and has also reduced substantially since 1997 (26.6%). The overall pay gap shows similar patterns to the full-time pay gap when broken down by age.

Some sectors continue to have substantial pay gaps

Some sectors continue to have a very high pay gap such as professional, scientific and technical activities (31.1%), financial and insurance (28.8%) and manufacturing (24.1%) in 2015. Conversely, there is a slightly negative full-time pay gap at -0.8% in the public sector in Scotland (women are paid more than men), although we estimate the figure to be accurate to +/- 4 percentage points and note that there is a substantial pay gap for part-time (12.9%) and all (10.4%) employees in the public sector.

Some occupations have stubbornly high pay gaps

There is a persistently large pay gap for one of the highest paid occupational groups, Managers, Directors and Senior Officials, which was 17.3% in Scotland in 2015. Skilled trades (26.8%), process and plant operatives (21.8%) and elementary occupations [2] (16.1%) also have high pay gaps.


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