Income gap between men and women falls

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The Independent Online

Unemployment figures to be released today by the Office for National Statistics are widely expected to show the headline total passing the 2 million mark for the first time since 1997, with a strong possibility that the dole queues are now longer than the 2.05 million they stood at when New Labour came to power in May that year.

In addition to the rising tide of joblessness, attention will also focus today on the growing disparities in employment prospects for men, who have been suffering disproportionately from the recession. The ONS said yesterday that the gender gap in pay has "narrowed steadily" between 1997 and 2008.

The ONS published its latest study of the labour market yesterday and found that, over the past decade, female and male pay has converged significantly.

The ONS says that since 1997 typical (median) gross weekly earnings for full-time women workers have increased "significantly more" than for full-time men – by 55.3 per cent compared with 46.0 per cent. The ONS adds that part-time female hourly pay is also higher than the equivalent rate for males, which is partly due to a higher proportion of females working part-time throughout their careers.

Overall, the average gender pay gap was 20.7 per cent in 1997 and has since narrowed steadily to 17.1 per cent in 2008, very slightly above its all-time low of 17 per cent, which was seen in 2007.

The Government on Tuesday shelved plans to introduce compulsory equal pay audits for companies. The latest-available ONS data also shows that the number of male full-time employees fell by 136,000, or 1.1 per cent, between the second and fourth quarters of 2008.

By contrast, the number of female full-time employees barely changed – down by 6,000, a 0.08 per cent drop. The gender disparity is less striking if part-time staff and the self employed are included in the figures, but is still reflected in the upward movement of unemployment rates.

The male unemployment rate is up from 5.9 per cent to 7.1 per cent since mid 2008, (a 1.2 percentage point rise), compared to a move from 5.1 per cent to 5.8 per cent (0.7 percentage points) for the female unemployment rate.

The figures released today may well show that the unemployment gender gap – in favour of women – has widened further.

55.3%

Increase in women's weekly earnings since 1997, compared to 46% for men.

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