Gender pay gap opens up in social work

Average male social worker now earns 3.4% more than average female, despite there being no gap in 2016

A person with a gender pay equal banner at a political protest march
Photo: ink drop/Adobe Stock

A  gender pay gap in social work has opened up over the past three years during which men’s pay has edged ahead of women’s, official data has shown.

As of April 2019, the median average female social worker was paid 3.4% less the median male. In 2016, women earned very slightly more than men on average, but since then a gap has grown in favour of male practitioners, according to the data from the Office for National Statistics.

On average, women in the profession earned £18.76 per hour while men earned £19.42 on average across the UK. Women made up 78% of roles.

The social work gap in 2019 was comparable to those of other female-dominated public service professions including nurses and primary and nursing teaching professionals (both 2.6%).

How the pay gap is calculated

The gender pay gap is the difference between average hourly earnings (excluding overtime) of men and women as a proportion of men’s average hourly earnings (excluding overtime). It is a measure across all jobs in the sector, not of the difference in pay between men and women for doing the same job. The pay gap for social workers has emerged since 2016, when it was -0.3% (i.e. women earned more), rising to 0.7% in 2017, 3.3% in 2018 and 3.4% in 2019.

It is not clear why the gap has grown in the past three years among frontline practitioners, as there is little available data to draw on, for example, in relation to the gender breakdown of specific social work roles and how this has changed over time.

Approved mental health professionals (AMHPs), who tend to be paid more than non-AMHP social workers, were disproportionately male in England, a Skills for Care report published last year found. However, this doesn’t show changes in the gender breakdown of AMHPs over time and the statistics quoted date back to 2017, when the gender pay gap overall was small.

The average gender pay gap for health and social services managers and directors was 16.9%; however, the ONS did not publish statistics for the median gap for social services managers and directors specifically because the data was either unavailable or unreliable.

Current approaches “insufficient”

Claudia Megele, chair of the Principal Children and Families Social Work Network (PCFSW), said it was obvious that current approaches were insufficient in addressing the “prevailing and pervasive gender gap”.

“What is needed is a more proactive policy and approach to addressing gender inequalities and regular monitoring and publication of gender gap data by all employers,” she said.

Beverley Latania, co-chair of the Adult Principal Social Worker Network, said: “Social work is a challenging role and a profession which should be transparent and open about the rates of pay between its workers.”

Broader diversity challenge

However, she also raised broader issues around diversity in the profession, particularly in relation to PSWs.

Latania cited a recent survey of children’s and adults’ PSWs that found that three-quarters of respondents were female, 86% white, two-thirds aged 45-59 and just 3% had a disability.

She said this showed the need to attract more men and people from black, Asian and minority ethnic communities into the profession more generally, as well as PSW roles.

Rachel Dickinson, president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “It’s important that social workers are properly recognised and remunerated for their part in keeping vulnerable children and young people safe from harm,” she said.

“As leaders of children’s services we are committed to achieving a diverse workforce through encouraging more people well-suited to the role to choose social work as a career.”

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2 Responses to Gender pay gap opens up in social work

  1. HJ December 13, 2019 at 12:40 pm #

    As a female senior worker I was not supported to work part time when I became a parent so had to chose between a full tome role, which would not suit my family, or taking a pay cut. This is one reason there is a pay gap as as roles become more senior they are less flexible and it’s usually women wanting to reduce hours for parenting.

  2. Claudia Megele December 17, 2019 at 9:12 pm #

    These gender gap for social workers pay over the last 4 years has widened from 0.2% in 2016 to 3.1% in 2019 which is largely in line with the average gender gap nationally going from 0.7% in 2017 to 3.4% in 2019. There is even a wider gender pay gap (11.5%) for managers and directors of social services. These are huge gaps when we consider that although the large majority of social workers and social care professionals are women, still proportionately there are more men in executive position in social services than women and on average male managers and directors of social services earn 11.5% more than women in the same positions.

    The gender pay gap is a widespread global problem that goes beyond social work and social care and affects almost every sector and industry. For example, in the USA although nearly 80% of all elementary and middle school teachers are women, women on average earn $982 per week while men’s average weekly pay is $1,148.

    It is obvious that the current approaches are insufficient in addressing the prevailing and pervasive gender gap. This is partially because gender gap is a complex problem that is partially the result of deeply rooted patriarchal stereotypes about gender roles and abilities. These challenges are compounded by a number of other factors including the so called “motherhood penalty” (when women return to work after taking time off for pregnancy they usually see a drop in their pay which often has a lasting residual effect). Many women also choose jobs that allow for flexible working hours often to take care of children or be able to carry out other caring roles; the previous comment for this article by HJ is an example of this problem.

    The World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report” highlights the enormity of challenge and the slow pace of change as it states: “At the present rate of change, it will take nearly a century to achieve parity, a timeline we simply cannot accept in today’s globalized world, especially among younger generations who hold increasingly progressive views of gender equality.” (World Economic Forum, 2020)

    Therefore, what is needed are more proactive policies and approaches to addressing gender gap and gender inequalities these should include greater awareness and transparency about gender pay and regular monitoring and publication of gender gap data by all employers.