Skip to content Skip to footer

Loading Results

UK gender pay-gap remains, but Northern Ireland best at closing the gap

  • UK improving female economic empowerment, but not as fast as OECD counterparts 
  • Progress in closing the pay gap varies by region, with Northern Ireland having the lowest gender pay gap amongst the 12 UK regions
  • Closing the gender pay gap in the UK could boost women’s wages by £90bn per annum


The UK is not moving as fast as other countries to improve female economic empowerment in the workplace, according to a new study from PwC.

Despite this relatively sluggish national progress, Northern Ireland is the most improved and best performing UK region, closing its gender pay gap from 22% in 2000 to 6% in 2017. That’s equivalent to an annual average wage increase for NI working women of £1,902.

The latest PwC Women in Work Index says that, between 2015 and 2016, the UK fell from 14th to 15th place in a ranking of 33 OECD countries based on five key indicators of female economic empowerment (see notes). Although labour market conditions for women improved, the UK was outpaced by better performance from OECD countries such as Poland, which made significant gains in reducing female unemployment.

Since 2000, the UK’s position has improved from 17th place and it compares well to other G7 economies, now second only to Canada. The Nordic countries continue to lead the Index - with Iceland, Sweden and Norway rated as the top three countries for opportunities for women in the workplace.

Advances in closing the gender pay gap varies across UK regions. Northern Ireland has led the way in closing its gender pay gap since 2000, reducing it from 22% to 6% in 2017, the lowest in the UK. This has been driven by a significant number of women working in public administration, a sector with relatively high pay and a relatively low pay gap.

In contrast, London has made the slowest progress, only managing a 3% reduction in its pay gap from 22% in 2000 to 19% in 2017. The capital’s pay gap is largely accounted for by a significant divergence in the lowest-paid sectors in the city.

The research found that financial services, and agriculture and forestry sectors have seen the biggest improvements in their gender pay gap over the past year, although financial services still has the highest overall gap. The pay gap has also increased in accommodation and food services, administrative and support services, mining and education sectors.


Yong Jing Teow, economist at PwC, said:


“Disparities in average pay for men and women exist across all regions of the UK. While great progress is being made in some areas, sustained business action is needed to ensure that these gains continue.


“We need to ensure we’re implementing long-term solutions, not just quick fixes, to close the pay gap for good.”


PwC says that, closing the gender pay gap in the UK could boost women’s wages by £90bn per annum, increasing women’s incomes on average by £6,300 per woman per year.

To identify long-term solutions to end pay disparity, PwC economists identified the underlying common key drivers of the gender pay gap across all OECD countries. The results show larger government spending on family benefits significantly pushes down the gender pay gap, which suggests that greater availability of affordable childcare could improve female participation in the workforce by helping parents, especially mothers, return to work.

Countries with a larger share of female employers also tend to have smaller pay gaps, suggesting that more female entrepreneurs and women in decision-making positions could potentially increase the promotion and introduction of gender equality policies. 

The research shows that a one percentage point increase in the proportion of female business owners, with more than one employee, is associated with a .53 percentage point decline in the gender pay gap.


Laura Hinton, executive board member and head of people at PwC, said:


“Our research shows that there are common and persistent factors that contribute to the gender pay gap in all countries. Despite the push for organisations to publish their gender pay gaps in the UK, progress will be slow until businesses start addressing the complex underlying reasons. Merely reporting numbers without concrete action won’t change anything.


“Action needs to focus on bringing more women through to higher-paying and higher-skilled roles, such as those in the technology sector, providing greater flexibility so that part-time working isn’t the default option, and encouraging more men to take up shared parental leave.”



Notes to editors.

  1. For more information on the report please visit
  2. The five indicators that make up the Women in Work Index are: the gender pay gap, female labour force participation, the gap between male and female labour force participation, female unemployment and female full-time employment rate

Contact us

Follow us: