Women in Work Index 2023

Closing the Gender Pay Gap for good: A focus on the motherhood penalty

If progress towards gender equality at work continues at its historical rate, an 18-year old woman starting work today will not see pay equality in her working lifetime. Our Women in Work Index shows progress towards gender equality at work across the OECD has been exceedingly slow over the last 10 years, with a persistent gender pay gap of 14%, down only 2.5 percentage points since 2011. Improvement in the Index this year is a symptom of economic recovery in post COVID-19 labour markets, and does not demonstrate genuine progress towards gender equality.

The motherhood penalty - the loss in lifetime earnings experienced by women raising children - has become the most significant driver of the gender pay gap. Prompted by the underemployment and slower career progression women experience on returning to work after childbirth, it is perpetuated by the unfair share of childcare women take on in almost every country around the world.

In the UK, the childcare affordability crisis and low take up by fathers of shared parental leave threatens to exacerbate gender inequality, and is pricing a growing number of women out of work. The shared parental leave system was introduced to encourage fathers to take more parental leave. However, it has had very low uptake from families, estimated at just 2-8% in 2019.[1]

Affordable childcare is critical in helping to ease the pressure on mothers and families, and reduce women’s unpaid care load. This needs to be complemented with policy solutions that aim to redistribute unpaid childcare more equally between women and men.Redesigning parental leave policies to support a ‘dual earner-dual carer model’ would help to shift underlying societal attitudes around gender roles and care over time.

Our economic analysis suggests an effective Equal Paid Parental Leave system in the UK would benefit women, as well as men, families, wider society, and employers. We have quantified some of the expected benefits to women and across society of fathers taking more parental leave. Our analysis begins to explore the potential economic and societal return on investment of moving towards a ‘dual-earner dual-carer’ model and a system of Equal Paid Parental Leave in the UK.

Our analysis shows that if fathers took more parental leave, there would be sizable and long-term benefits for women, families and society in the UK.

Explore the key findings from our research within our report below.

You can also explore the Women in Work Index results at a country level using our interactive data tool, to see how OECD countries perform on key metrics measuring women’s employment outcomes.

If you have any questions about our research, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

“An 18 year old woman entering the workforce today will not see pay equality in her working lifetime. At the rate the gender pay gap is closing, it will take more than 50 years to reach gender pay parity.

If the rebound from COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that we can’t rely on economic growth alone to produce gender equality - unless we want to wait another 50 years or more. We must design and develop policy solutions that actively address the underlying causes of the inequality that exist today.”

Larice Stielow, Senior Economist, PwC UK

Women in Work Index: this year’s results

OECD performance: The top three performers this year are Luxembourg, New Zealand and Slovenia.

  • Hungary made the greatest improvement in its ranking, rising nine places on the Index from 22nd to 13th place.
  • Switzerland reported the largest drop in ranking, falling six places on the Index from 14th to 20th place.  
Which are the top OECD countries for women's employment outcomes? 1. Luxembourg, 2. New Zealand, 3. Slovenia

UK performance

The UK fell five places on the Index: from ninth place in 2020, to 14th place in 2021; its Index score decreased by 1.8 points to 69.0. This was predominantly due to a widening gender pay gap and a fall in the female labour force participation rate. The UK remains 3.5 points above the OECD average (65.5 points) on the Index, and it ranks the highest of the G7 economies (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK, the United States).

Northern Ireland is the highest performing UK region on the Index this year, overtaking the South West which was the top performing region for the three previous years (and now sits in second place, just in front of Scotland). Northern Ireland’s strong performance is largely driven by its small gender pay gap (just 5%), which is a third of the size of the gender pay gap in the UK overall.

UK regional rankings: 1. Northern Ireland, 2. South West, 3. Scotland
Select a territory and year to explore the data further
Women in Work
Index score and rank
Impact on female earnings from closing
the gender pay gap
GDP impact of increasing female
employment rates to Swedish levels
'N/A' indicates that there is no data available for a given indicator, year and territory. The only exception to this is the GDP impact of increasing female employment rates to Swedish levels for Estonia, Iceland and Sweden for the years 2015 to 2021 (inclusive) whereby 'N/A' indicates that the GDP impact is zero. Estimates of the annual economic gains from closing the gender pay gap and increasing female employment rates to Swedish levels are gross and reported in nominal terms and are only available for years 2015 to 2021 (inclusive). The impact on female earnings from closing the gender pay gap is estimated by increasing women’s average wages to match those of their male counterparts in each country. The GDP impacts of increasing female employment rates to Swedish levels is estimated by calculating the full-time equivalent employment rate for Sweden and increasing this rate in other countries to match that of Sweden’s (while holding male rates constant). Sources: PwC analysis, OECD, Eurostat, US Bureau of Labour Statistics, MSCI ESG Research, The Economist.

Note: The Women in Work Index is a weighted average of five indicators that provide information about women’s labour market outcomes, including the female rate of participation in the labour force, unemployment rates, and gender parity in pay. Download the Technical Appendix for the complete methodology.


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Contact us

Larice Stielow

Larice Stielow

Senior Economist, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7525 283543

Tara Shrestha Carney

Tara Shrestha Carney

Senior Economist, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7483 407460

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