Spotlight on gender wage gap and qualification levels

A report on the gender wage gap in Italy shows that women are consistently paid lower salaries than their male colleagues. The pay gap has remained generally stable at about 20%, and this is despite the fact that many women are better qualified. The report uses figures from the 2008 Isfol PLUS survey, and shows that wage premiums for highly-qualified employees are generally low, except among highly educated men over the age of 40 whose careers have not been interrupted by childcare.

Introduction

Since its first edition in 2005, the PLUS (Participation, Labour and Unemployment Survey) (in Italian), carried out by the Institute of Training and Labour Studies (Isfol), has been among the richest sources of information relating to gender differences in the labour market in Italy. It is especially useful for information regarding the gender pay gap (IT0611049I).

The gender pay gap

The report on the 2008 edition – Survey Plus: Indagine PLUS: il mondo del lavoro fra forma e sostanza. Terza annualità [The world of work between form and substance: Third annual edition] – was published in November 2012. It shows that more women are employed in the female intensive sectors, such as public administration, education, health and social services.

It also reveals that women fill only one in five positions in managerial and professional roles, despite the fact that they are more highly qualified in all age groups.

However, the gender pay gap decreases as qualification levels increase. Figure 1 shows how the gap decreases from 30% among lower qualified men and women to 15% among more highly qualified workers. It seems the more consistently women are able to work, without interruption due to the need to care for children or other dependants, the narrower the pay gap is likely to be between them and their male colleagues.

On the other hand, the gap increases with age – except for those over 50 since retirement age increases with qualification attainment. The gap is lower in less developed regions and higher in more highly developed regions.

Finally, the gender pay gap correlates positively with women’s activity rates, especially among working women with medium and low qualification levels.

Figure 1: Gender pay gap by age, qualification and geographical area; full time employees

it1212019i.tmp00.jpg

Source: Isfol 2012

Because of differences in qualification attainment between men and women, the gender pay gap figures may have been underestimated. Normally there would be a wage premium for better qualified workers.

By breaking down the figures by both age and qualification, it can be seen that the gender pay gap among full-time employees is lower among younger workers aged between 18 and 29 years, regardless of qualification attainment. This, of course, is when employees are at the very beginning of their working lives. In this age group, men display a poorer qualification premium then women, especially among those who have a degree.

In general, the gap tends to decline as qualification levels increase among all age groups. However, in the 40–49 age group, the pattern is reversed because of the poor qualification premium for highly qualified women.

These findings are consistent with those of the 2005 wave of the survey, where disaggregation was done by seniority. Furthermore, the earning premium for highly educated men is negative for those aged under 40 and who are therefore in the first phase of their career, while it is strongly positive for those aged 50 and above. It is weakly positive for women aged 30 to 49, a period in many women’s lives when they have most parental duties.

Table: Average earnings by gender, age and qualification (in euro)
 

Men

Women

Total

Ratio women/men (%)

18 to 29 years

       

Low qualified

17,569

13,680

16,338

78

Medium qualified

19,813

14,430

17,536

73

Highly qualified

19,560

19,411

19,474

99

30 to 39 years        

Low qualified

21,899

13,156

18,778

60

Medium qualified

23,674

17,138

20,962

72

Highly qualified

22,193

21,132

21,756

96

40 to 49 years        

Low qualified

25,553

19,775

23,775

77

Medium qualified

35,316

23,456

29,447

66

Highly qualified

36,960

23,280

29,941

63

50 to 64 years        

Low qualified

26,597

16,645

22,935

63

Medium qualified

35,887

23,152

30,958

65

Highly qualified

43,057

30,549

38,107

71

Source: Isfol, 2012

The study also shows that men are routinely paid more, even though men are outnumbered by women among the highly qualified. This is true for all socio-demographic variables: geographical area, age classes, professional status, industry and sector.

These findings are consistent with those of an Isfol paper, The gender pay gap and typically ‘female’ work (in Italian, 1.2Mb PDF) (Centra and Cutillo, 2009), based on the 2006 Plus wave (IT0904049I), which shows that women are paid less regardless of their productivity.

Commentary

Comparing 2008 findings with those from previous years, the gender pay gap is roughly stable at around 20%. This analysis shows more accurately than previous studies the variation by age and qualification. It clears up apparent inconsistencies between descriptive statistics and regression analysis. This report also highlights the poor wage premiums for highly qualified workers. It shows that the only exception to this is among men over the age of 40 who, unlike many women, have not had to take a career break for parental reasons.

References

Centra, M. and Cutillo, A. (2009), Differenziale salariale di genere e lavori tipicamente femminili [The gender pay gap and typically ‘female’ work], Isfol Study Collection, January 2009, No. 2, Isfol, Rome

Survey Plus 2008

Mario Giaccone, Ires

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