British women slip down scale on job security and equal pay

Women in the UK have lower job security and greater pay inequality than those in other developed countries, research shows. They are also less likely to be in work than their counterparts in other OECD countries, according to the report by PriceWaterHouseCoopers (PwC).

The Women in Work Index ranked the UK 18th of 27 OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries in five areas of “female economic empowerment” such as pay equality, the female unemployment rate, and the proportion of women working full-time. The figures were from 2011, the latest year for which comparable data was available.

PwC compared the figures for 2011 with the same data for 2007 and 2000 and found UK women had slipped down the table – a result of rising female unemployment, above-average pay inequality, and fewer full-time employment opportunities.

The report’s author, Yong Jing Teow, said: “It is worrying that the UK’s progress in encouraging more women into work and closing the gender pay gap has all but ground to a halt since the recession hit. While most other OECD countries have continued to move ahead, our progress appears to have stalled.”

The gender wage gap has narrowed in almost all countries since 2000, except for Italy, Portugal and France, with the Nordic countries leading PwC’s latest index. Norway is in top position because of its high rate of female participation in the labour force and a low gender pay gap, followed by Sweden and Denmark. The three countries also occupied the top three positions in 2000, 2007 and 2011.

The research was published on International Women’s Day and coincides with a separate report, by the Institute of Fiscal Studies, showing that more women – and men – are working beyond the traditional retirement age in the UK, swelling the UK’s public finances by around £2.1bn.

Since April 2010 the age at which women can first receive a state pension has been rising from 60. It is currently 61 years and five months and is due to rise to 66 by 2020.

The IFS says this is having a strong effect in increasing employment among those women directly affected. It has also changed the behaviour of some of the husbands of the affected women – who are delaying their own retirement, possibly to retire together or perhaps to cover their wives’ lost pension income.

In April 2012, there were 27,000 more women in work than there would otherwise have been as a result of the increase in the female state pension age – from age 60 to 61 – between April 2010 and April 2012.

Employment rates among their husbands increased by 4.2 percentage points, meaning 8,300 more men were in work than would otherwise have been.

Jonathan Cribb, a research economist at the IFS and co-author of the report, said: “Increasing the age at which women can first receive their state pension has led to significant numbers of women deferring their retirement, with over half aged 60 now in paid work for the first time ever. So, despite the weak performance of the UK economy over these two years, many have been able to limit the loss of state pension income through increased earnings.”

Pensions minister Steve Webb welcomed the IFS’s findings, stating: “It is good news. An extra year or two of paid work can bring a big boost to someone’s state and private pension entitlement, and they will still go on to enjoy an average of more than two decades of retirement.”

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