Labour market guides: gender differences in pay and career choices

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Say goodbye to stereotypes. There are differences on average in the careers and educational paths that attract males and females but there’s no need to follow the herd.

There are differences on average in which degrees and careers female and male students are attracted to. Male students are more likely to be interested in higher-paying areas such as IT, engineering and finance. On average, men earn more than women and, among school students planning on going to university, are more likely to cite future earning potential as a reason for taking a degree. However, young male graduates are more likely to be unemployed than young female graduates.

It’s worth being aware of these differences, to make sure that you’re not being influenced by gender stereotypes or what your friends are doing. Aim to make career and subject choices that are genuinely the right ones for you.

Exploring the gender pay gap

As of 2018, the gender pay gap for full-time employees is 8.6% and the median annual earnings for a full-time employee is £29,588 (source: the 2018 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings). This stacks up as men having median annual earnings of £30,917 while women earn £28,258 – a difference of £2,659 in men’s favour every year.

The 2017 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings examined in detail pay differences by type of career, using median full-time earnings and excluding overtime. The pay gap was greatest for some high-ranking financial occupations, such as financial accounts managers (40.54%) and financial managers and directors (33.61%), as well as some arts fields, such as authors, writers and translators (37.71%) and photographers and broadcasting equipment operators (36.74%).

The gap was lowest in some administrative and secretarial posts, some pastoral roles (such as child and early years officers, housing officers and youth workers) and in some specialised medical roles – medical radiographers and physiotherapists were the only two roles where the pay skewed slightly in favour of women.

Looking at some professional occupations that will most appeal to those undertaking a degree or higher apprenticeship, the pay gap was:

  • 32.59% among legal professionals
  • 30.43% among science, engineering and production technicians
  • 23.73% among IT engineers
  • 22.04% for business and related associate professionals
  • 18.67% for finance and investment analysts
  • 18.52% for teachers and other educational professionals
  • 18.18% for sales related occupations
  • 17.19% for office managers
  • 15.58% for civil engineers and 15.49% for electrical engineers
  • 15.17% for marketing and sales directors
  • 14% for estate agents
  • 13.7% for chartered surveyors
  • 13.1% for mechanical engineers
  • 12.82% for information technology and telecommunications professionals
  • 12.5% for journalists and newspaper/periodical editors
  • 12% for local government administrative occupations
  • 11.94% for health professionals
  • 10.83% for advertising and public relations directors
  • 6.56% for human resources and industrial relations officers
  • 6.02% for chartered and certified accountants.

The ONS report Graduate Earnings Over the Last Decade was released back in 2011 but still paints an interesting picture. This report classes anyone with a qualification above A level standard as a graduate, so we’ve referred to this group as ‘high level qualification holders’. It notes that in the decade 2000 to 2010:

  • average earnings in the banking and finance industry for those who had qualifications above A level standard (eg degrees, HNDs and HNCs) were £37,300; these workers were predominantly male
  • average earnings at public administration, education and health sector employers for those who had qualifications above A level standard were £27,600; these workers were predominantly female.

In terms of subjects studied by those who had qualifications higher than A level, it found:

  • 34% of women and 9% of men had a degree in health-related studies or education
  • 47% of men and 20% of women had a degree in business and finance, science or engineering.

Female school students set sights on going to uni

The trendence School Leaver Barometer questions secondary school pupils each year about their future plans. The 2019 survey found that 74.0% of female school students who responded to the survey were planning on going to university, compared with 61.7% of male school students.

In terms of the types of career area that interested school students, the most popular areas among females were:

  1. public sector (43.4%)
  2. scientific research and development (26.6%)
  3. media and advertising (24.4%)
  4. law (18.8%)

The most popular areas among males were:

  1. engineering, design and manufacturing (29.7%)
  2. IT and technology (27.4%)
  3. scientific research and development (24.8%)
  4. banking, insurance and financial services (21.5%)

Among students who wanted to start an apprenticeship rather than going to university, the most popular reason for both genders was the opportunity study and work at the same time (cited by 73.0% of female respondents and 69.1% of male respondents). However, wanting to start earning straight away was the second most popular reason given by male students (cited by 54.2% of them) whereas it was only cited by 37.7% of female students, just behind the 40.7% of them who wanted to avoid the expense and debt incurred through university study (a similar percentage of male students were put off by this – 39.5%).

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