The gender wage gap is
unadjusted and is calculated as the difference between median earnings of men and
women relative to median earnings of men. Estimates of earnings used in the
calculations refer to gross earnings of full-time wage and salary workers. Low pay is
defined as less than two-thirds of gross median earnings of all full-time workers.
Girls are now doing as well
as, if not better than, boys in most core subjects at school, but still earn 15% less
on average in the OECD and are less likely to make it to the boardroom or senior
management of companies.
The average gender gap in
OECD countries has narrowed somewhat in recent years from 20% in 2000. And while the
gender wage gap exists in all countries, its size varies considerably. The gap is
narrowest in Hungary (6%) and Poland (10%) and broadest in Korea (39%) and Japan
Earnings tend to rise in
line with people's level of education for both men and women. People with higher
(tertiary) education can expect to earn 55% more on average in OECD countries than a
person without tertiary education. Those who have not completed secondary education
earn 23% less than those who have.
Nonetheless, across all
countries and all levels of education, women earn less than men, and that gap actually
increases with more education. A man with tertiary education can expect to generate a
net return of USD 162 000 during his working life on the cost of his education, while
the return for women is about a third less, at USD 110 000. The average net return on
the cost of upper secondary education is close to USD 90 000 for men and USD 67 000
The gender gap runs right
up the employment ladder – female top earners trail behind their male counterparts –
but at the lower end of the pay scale it means that women are more likely to be in the
low-paid bracket. About 18% of workers are low-paid on average in OECD countries for
which figures are available, but the rate for women is 25%, while that for men is
Why is the gender wage gap
so persistent? Girls at 15 are more ambitious than their male counterparts, but the
reality of where men and woman actually work is very different from this aspiration.
For example, among legislators, barely a quarter of parliamentarians in OECD countries
are women, and no country has yet breached the 50% mark.
There is a similar gap
between teenage aspiration and adult reality when it comes to managerial and
professional positions. More girls may be aiming for jobs at this level at 15, but
when they actually complete their tertiary studies almost twice as many men take up
managerial posts, 9.7% compared with 5.7% of women. In addition, on average in
OECD countries less than one-third of managers are women.
Career stereotypes seem
hard to shift; even when girls choose to study sciences, they are less likely to opt
for a career in them – 71% of male graduates from the science field work as
professionals in physics, mathematics and engineering, as opposed to 43% of female
One science area popular
with women is the medical and health professions, where at least some ambitions are
fulfilled. Certainly many more women are becoming doctors. In 2009, 43% of doctors on
average across OECD countries were women, up from 29% in 1990.