The majority of women in the workforce earn less than men for performing the same work — and a new report found that for health and care workers, the discrepancy is even more stark. 

Women health and care workers face a larger gender pay gap than in other economic sectors, according to “The Gender Pay Gap in the Health and Care Sector,” jointly published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday.

The most comprehensive global analysis of gender pay inequalities yet found that women in the health and care sector earn an average of 24% less than male peers, in addition to the preexisting gender pay gap. 

Globally, women earn 68% of what men make for the same work and just 40% on average in countries with the least gender equality. 

“The health and care sector has endured low pay in general, stubbornly large gender pay gaps, and very demanding working conditions,” said Manuela Tomei, director of the Conditions of Work and Equality Department at the ILO.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that women make up 70% of frontline health care workers globally. Due to the public health crisis, women health care workers’ roles in keeping families, societies, and economies together became even more clear, Tomei explained. 

Countries’ systemic barriers are to blame for the unequal pay for women's health and care, Jim Campbell, WHO director of health workforce, explained. Governments, employers, and workers must apply the evidence and analysis in the report to urgent action, he advised. 

A stronger health and care workforce is crucial to a sustainable recovery, according to Tomei. Access to quality health care and services can only be possible with more supportive working conditions including fairer wages for health and care workers who are disproportionately women.

“The time has arrived for decisive policy action, including the necessary policy dialogue between institutions,” Tomei said. 

Here are five ways the report found the gender pay gap is disproportionately impacting women health and care workers worldwide. 

1. We don’t know enough about the wage gap in the health and care sectors.

There isn’t much explanation for the gender pay gap women health and care workers face. The ILO speculates discrimination toward women results in limited data and information about the challenges they encounter. 

2. Labor market factors don’t explain why men who work in health and care earn more. 

The reasons women who hold the same health and care jobs as men receive unequal compensation cannot be reasoned by certain factors. There is not enough correlation between women’s age, education level, or hours worked within the public and private sectors to justify a wage gap. 

3. Women who work in the health and care sector are up against both typically low wages and the gender pay gap.

Compared to other economic sectors, the health and care industries tend to pay less overall. All sectors where the majority of the workforce are women often pay lower wages.

4. Gender pay gaps in health and care range around the world.

A wide variation in gender pay gaps across countries suggests that lower wages aren’t an industry standard and more can be done to close disparities. Gender pay gaps skew wider in higher pay brackets where men are over-represented while women are over-represented in lower pay categories. 

5. Mothers who work in health and care face more challenges within the workforce.

Employment and gender pay gaps within the health and care sector increase during women’s reproductive years and persist throughout their working lives. Sharing family household duties more equitably between men and women could support women’s career choices. 

Editorial

Demand Equity

5 Ways the Gender Pay Gap Disproportionately Impacts Women Health and Care Workers

By Leah Rodriguez