The Gender Wage Gap

Gender differences can be addressed through work opportunities such as female employment rates and the gender wage gap. Photo: UN Women

We can’t achieve women’s empowerment without fair and equal pay. Gender wage gap is a phenomenon that not only plagues developing countries, but also developed countries. In the context of Pakistan there are many possible reasons for this disparity such as gender differences in education, experience, hours worked, discrimination by employers, women’s occupational preferences, reproductive work etc. Gender social norms also tend to steer girls towards certain fields of study like art, home economics and social sciences resulting in fewer women working in science and technology. Higher dependency ratios and unsupportive social attitudes towards women working discourage women from entering the workforce and the number of hours put in working at home, engaging in reproductive labour, are the same as their male counterparts in productive economic activity, only women are not paid for their work. On average though, men earn 71 per cent more than women controlling for other factors. Low paid jobs have higher gender pay inequalities.

Women’s Share of Employment- Minority All Round

No occupation in Pakistan is feminized i.e. there are more men than women working in an occupation. Both horizontal and vertical segregations however are to be found. Horizontal segregation occurs when women and men are crowded into tasks deemed appropriate for their gender e.g. women in sewing, men in driving. Vertical segregation is when women and men are in the same occupation but men are more likely to be in supervisory roles and higher grades than women. For example the largest proportion of employed women are in the categories of skilled agricultural, forestry and fishery workers (38 per cent) followed by 30 per cent of professionals and 21 per cent of elementary unskilled workers. There tends to be horizontal and vertical segregation in each category. For example women in the agriculture sector are primarily livestock and dairy producers, followed by mixed crops and animals producers. As professionals, women are concentrated in teaching, the majority in primary and secondary schools and also in vocational training. The last is not surprising as there are women development centers run by the provincial Social Welfare departments in almost all the districts where women are employed. They are also concentrated in health and related fields in capacities of being doctors and more as midwives and lady health visitors.

The Gender Earnings Ratio

Many different factors determine the wage gap including different structural factors that determine a woman’s decision to work in Pakistan like occupational segregation. Women are generally concentrated in a smaller number of and specific occupations than men, and these occupations usually pay lower wages. Higher paying jobs require longer working hours which are frequently incompatible with the responsibilities of many women of tending to work and people at home, a reality that persists around the world.

The earnings ratio illustrates the percentage of women earning within the same industry or occupational group earning the same wage while working similar hours as men. In occupations where there are more women, they tend to earn relatively higher wages i.e. slightly over half of their male counterparts. Adding to the reasons why education is vital, in occupations that require higher levels of education the gender disparity in wages appears to be lower e.g. engineers (10 per cent), medical practitioners (5 per cent) and product and garment designers (18 per cent). Employment in Pakistan is concentrated in the agricultural and informal sector. The public sector is by far the largest formal employer, accounting for over half of all wage work. Wage distribution in the public sector is more compressed and the earnings ratio between women and men is higher, meaning wage disparities are relatively less.

In terms of age, earnings rations improve for women in the age group 30-34 years approximating 72 per cent of what men earn.

Gender wage discrimination is either a result of horizontal or vertical segregation or it may give rise to such segregation. There are a few propositions that explain this disparity in wages: when the percentage of women in an occupation rises, wages fall; or when wages fall men move to more paying occupations and women fill the gap, accepting lower wages.

To better understand what the wage gap implies in terms of lifetime earnings for women, the cumulative wage gap has been calculated.

Gender Wage Gap: Cumulative Losses

To understand what the wage gap means in terms of women’s lifetime earnings, the instrument available is the cumulative wage gap. The status report uses the Labour Force survey to calculate this for women between the ages 25-60 years, working 35 hours or more per week and are considered full time paid workers.


From the above figure it can be seen that cumulative wage losses due to the wage gap are PKR 500.5 billion and mainly in the rural areas as more women work primarily in the informal sector. Younger women are also observed to experience higher losses. Variation by occupation in terms of this also exists, with managers, professionals and technicians experiencing the highest losses.