Women in the health and care sector face a larger gender pay gap than in other economic sectors, earning on average of 24 per cent less than peers who are men, according to a new joint report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Cited as the world’s most comprehensive analysis on gender pay inequities in health, the report finds a raw gender pay gap of approximately 20 percentage points. Additionally, it jumps to 24 percentage points when accounting for factors such as age, education and working time. This highlights that women are underpaid for their labor market attributes when compared to men.

Lower Wage in Health Care
Much of the wage gap is unexplained, perhaps due to discrimination towards women – who account for 67 per cent of health and care workers worldwide. The report also finds that that wages in the health and care sector tend to be lower overall, when compared with other economic sectors. This is consistent with the finding that wages are often lower in economic sectors where women are predominant.

The joint report (The gender pay gap in the health and care sector: A global analysis in the time of COVID-19) finds that, even with the COVID-19 pandemic and the crucial role played by health and care workers, there were only marginal improvements in pay equality between 2019 and 2020.

There is also a wide variation in pay gaps in different countries, identifying that the pay gap can be managed. Within countries, the pay gap is more apparent at the higher pay categories (which are over-represented by men), while women are more in the lower pay categories.

Mothers working in health care suffer additional penalties, the report points out. The pay gap drastically increases during a women’s reproductive years and maintains throughout her working life.

Reason for Disparity Unknown
Unfortunately, the exact reasons why women in the health care sector are paid less than men can yet be explained by labor market factors. As far as the study shows, differences in age, education, working time, and the difference in the participation of men and women in the public or private sectors only address part of the problem.

“The health and care sector has endured low pay in general, stubbornly large gender pay gaps, and very demanding working conditions. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly exposed this situation while also demonstrating how vital the sector and its workers are in keeping families, societies and economies going,” said Manuela Tomei, Director of the Conditions of Work and Equality Department at the International Labor Organization.

“There will be no inclusive, resilient and sustainable recovery without a stronger health and care sector. We cannot have better-quality health and care services without better and fairer working conditions, including fairer wages, for health and care workers, the majority of whom are women.”

“The time has arrived for decisive policy action, including the necessary policy dialogue between institutions. We hope this detailed and authoritative report will help stimulate the dialogue and action needed to create this,” she adds.


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