Persistence of gender pay gap

In 2002, women’s total earnings per hour were, on average, 19% less than those of men in France. This gap can partly be explained by factors such as occupation, company size and incidence of career breaks. However, when all these factors are taken into account, there remains an 11% pay gap between men and women. The pay gap is particularly acute for women in management positions (19%) and for manual workers (15%), and tends to increase with age.

Gender pay gap

The base hourly wages of women are, on average, 18% less than those of men. This gap increases by a further percentage point, to 19%, when income supplements such as bonuses and payments for overtime work are taken into account. In fact, women receive much fewer bonuses than men do and, among those receiving bonuses, the amount of these payments is 31% lower for women than for men.

Moreover, the gender pay gap increases with age, widening from 7% for workers aged under 35 years to 22% for those aged over 35 years. This initial variation in pay can partially be explained by the fact that younger workers have access to a broader range of occupations today; nonetheless, the pay gap continues to widen during the career.

The hourly wage gap is also greater among management staff and among blue-collar workers, at 20% and 16% respectively; these proportions contrast with the much lower 5% pay gap among administrative staff. With regard to sectors, financial services (35%), corporate services (32%) and real estate (30%) show particularly significant pay gaps.

Structural factors

The gender pay gap is partly caused by structural factors, namely qualification, occupation, career breaks, company size and sector.

In general, women are as qualified as men, but have a shorter career and length of service in the companies in which they work: 29% of women, compared with 18% of men, have interrupted their work for more than one year since they started to work. For 50% of women, this is due to family needs. Both occupation and career progress also contribute to the overall average difference. A considerable proportion of women (37%) work in administration, while relatively few reach management positions: only 15% of women attain management level, compared with 23% of men.

Furthermore, fewer women than men work in large companies, where the pay gap is likely to be smaller; instead, women frequently work in sectors that maintain a significant gender pay gap.

Up to 55% of the gap in bonuses can be explained by the gender difference in exposure to risks and arduous working conditions, such as noise and night work, which affect men more.

Wage discrimination

When all of the structural factors are taken into account, the remaining gender pay gap stands at 11% in France. The following table summarises possible discrimination in the hourly wage.

Discrimination in hourly wage, by age, occupation and sector (%)
Discrimination in hourly wage, by age, occupation and sector (%)
  Observed pay gap Explained pay gap Wage discrimination due to non observable factors
All workers 19 8 11
Management staff 20 1 19
Intermediate professions 11 -2 13
Administrative staff 6 -5 11
Manual workers 16 1 15
Workers aged under 35 years 7 1 6
Workers aged 35 years and over 22 10 12
Manufacturing and mining 22 10 12
Construction 10 -6 16
Retail trade; car and domestic appliance maintenance 26 13 13
Hotels and restaurants 17 10 7
Transport and communications 3 -1 4
Financial services 35 21 14
Real estate 30 16 13
Corporate services 32 23 9

Note: The percentages refer to the total hourly wage, including base wage and supplements. The negative figures in the column ‘explained pay gap’ mean that, when structural factors are taken into account, women should be better paid than men. The population sample represents salaried workers in companies with 10 employees or more.

Source: Structure of earnings survey 2002, National Institute for Statistics and Economic Studies ( Institut National de la Statistique et des Études Économiques, INSEE).

This table shows considerable wage discrimination among management staff. Overall, men with university degrees are better paid than women with the same educational level: the pay gap between a graduate and an undergraduate is 23% for men and 15% for women. A similar differentiation can be observed for management staff: men’s salary at this occupational level is 62% higher than that of male administrative employees, while the pay difference between the two occupational levels among women stands at 50%.

Thus, women not only encounter difficulties in accessing management positions but also, when they do reach this level, they face further significant discrimination in terms of pay: structural factors only explain 1% of the gender pay gap at this level, leaving 19% unexplained.


Petit, P., ‘Les écarts de salaires horaires entre hommes et femmes en 2002: une évaluation possible de la discrimination salariale’, Premières Informations, Premières synthèses, No. 22, Ministry of Labour research and statistics unit (Direction de l’animation de la recherche, des études et des statistiques du ministère de l’emploi, DARES), 29 May 2006.

Anne-Marie Nicot, ANACT

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