More women work in health care, but earn 24 percent less than men: UN report


The gender pay gap in the health and care sector: a global analysis in the time of COVID-19was published by the International Labor Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

It documents a crude gender pay gap of about 20 percentage points that jumps to 24 percentage points when factors such as age, education and working time are taken into account.

Discrimination a factor

While much of this gap is unexplained, the agencies said it may be due to: discrimination against womenwhich account for nearly 70 percent of the global health and care workforce.

The report also found that wages in health and care are generally lower than in other sectors, which is in line with the finding that wages are often lower in areas where women predominate.

Moreover, even with the pandemic and the critical role health and care workers played during the crisis, there were only marginal improvements in wage equality between 2019 and 2020.

“The health and care sector in general has been faced with low wages, persistently large gender pay gaps and very demanding working conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted this situation while demonstrating the importance of the sector and its workers in keeping families, societies and economies running,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the Working Conditions and Equality Department at the ILO .

Working mothers punished

The report also found wide variation in gender pay gaps across countries, indicating that these differences are not inevitable and more can be done to close the gap.

Within countries, The gender pay gap tends to be wider in higher pay categories, where men are overrepresentedwhile women are overrepresented in the lower wage categories.

Mothers who work in the health and care sector also appear to receive additional penalties, with gender pay gap widens significantly during a woman’s reproductive years and persevering for the rest of her working life.

According to the report, a fairer division of family responsibilities between men and women could lead to women making different job choices.

The analysis also examines factors driving the gender pay gap in the health and care sector.

© UNICEF/Ismail Taxta

A health worker prepares a COVID-19 vaccine at a hospital in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Dialogue and action

Differences in age, education and working time, as well as the difference in participation of men and women in the public or private sector, only address part of the problem.

The reasons why women are paid less than men with similar labor market profiles remain largely unexplained by labor market factors, the report said.

Ms Tomei expressed the hope that the report will lead to dialogue and policy action, as there will be no inclusive, resilient and sustainable recovery from the pandemic without a stronger health and care sector.

We cannot have better health and care services without better and fairer working conditions, including fairer wages, for health and care workers, the majority of whom are women,” she said.

Jim Campbell, director of the WHO’s Health Workforce, added that the report includes success stories in several countries, including pay increases and political commitment to pay fairness, which point the way forward.

“Women make up the majority of workers in the health and care sector, but in far too many countries systemic biases result in pernicious wage penalties against them,” he said.

“The evidence and analysis in this groundbreaking report should inform governments, employers and workers to take effective action.”

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