Equity, Diversity and Inclusion

Health and social care's gender pay problem

The gender pay gap in health and care is more pronounced in high income countries.

The gender pay gap in health and care is more pronounced in high income countries. Image: Unsplash/Francisco Venâncio

Victoria Masterson
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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Education, Gender and Work

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  • Women make up 67% of health and care workers, according to new global pay gap analysis from the International Labour Organization and the World Health Organization.
  • Average pay for women is about 24% lower than men in the health and care sector and 20% less overall.
  • For mothers raising families, gender pay gaps in health and care “significantly increase”.
  • The report backs global calls for significant investment in the care sector to help reach the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal targets.

Women health and care workers earn almost a quarter less on average than their male colleagues, a new report finds.

Low pay, “stubbornly large” gender pay gaps and very demanding working conditions are enduring features of the health and care sector, the authors add.

The gender pay gap in the health and care sector: a global analysis in the time of COVID-19, uses data from 54 countries and is published by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Women earn less in health and social care

Discrimination against women – who account for 67% of health and care workers globally – may be at the root of this, the report suggests, as labour market data alone does not explain the main reason for the gap.

For mothers who are raising families, employment and gender pay gaps in the health and care sector “significantly increase” and persist for the rest of their lives.

COVID-19 has highlighted the vital role of health and care workers, but also led to a dramatic deterioration in working conditions in the sector, with a “disproportionately high” risk of infection.

Chart showing Gender pay gap in healthcare work.
Gender pay gap in healthcare: Women make up almost 70% of the global health and care workforce, but earn around a quarter less than their male colleagues. Image: ILO/WHO

Richer countries have a bigger gender pay gap

The gender pay gap in health and care is more pronounced in high income countries (HIC) like Australia, Canada, the United States and several European countries, because a high proportion of women in these countries – 70% or more – are in paid employment, the report finds.

In low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) like Bangladesh, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Yemen, the gender gap is smaller because less than 30% of the workforce are women.

These countries also have a “significant” share of informal employment. This is generally defined as work that may have no, or insufficient arrangements like employment contracts, working conditions or government registration for social security, tax or minimum wage protection.

Informal employment is a “key factor behind wage inequality”, the authors note.

Charts showing gender pay gap.
In high income countries where there are more women in the workforce, the gender pay gap is bigger. Image: ILO/WHO

Reducing the gender pay gap

With the world facing a global shortage of health and care workers, governments, employers and workers must “take effective action” to help address these issues, the authors say.

Changes that would make a difference include standardizing employment contracts between men and women – by offering permanent rather than temporary contracts, for example.

Providing training to help progress women in health and care and attracting more men into mid-level health and care jobs would also help lower the gender divide. Other strategies should include regularly analyzing wage data in the sector, improving pay, formalizing informal work and making pay transparency a requirement.

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The state of the global gender gap

These findings echo key trends in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2022, which analyzes the gender gap between men and women in 146 countries across four key areas covering work, education, health and political empowerment.

The world is still 132 years away from closing the gender gap, the report concludes.

Chart showing Gender pay gap in unpaid care work.
Gender pay gap in among care givers: Women spent almost three times as much time as men doing unpaid care work like home-schooling and childcare during the pandemic. Image: WEF

One of the areas the report assesses is the impact of unpaid care – such as home schooling and childcare – on women in the workforce.

Women “disproportionately” carried this burden during the pandemic, the report finds. Across 33 countries representing 54% of the global working-age population, women spent 55% of their working time in unpaid work, compared to 19% for men.

More than 2 million mothers left the global workforce during 2020, according to the ILO.

Women still face barriers

Women were also harder hit by job losses during the pandemic and its lockdowns, because of the high proportion of women working in service sector jobs like retail and hospitality.

While more women have been moving into paid work – including leadership positions – “societal expectations, employer policies, the legal environment and the availability of care” continue to play an important role in the educational and career paths women take, the Forum says.

The deepening cost-of-living crisis is also likely to impact women more severely than men, as “women continue to earn and accumulate wealth at lower levels”, the Global Gender Gap Report 2022 warns.

In March of this year the Forum launched the Global Parity Alliance, a cross-industry group of companies taking action to accelerate diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) in the workplace and beyond. Established in collaboration with McKinsey & Company, the initiative plans to ensure that DE&I best practices are hardwired in the global world of work.

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Equity, Diversity and InclusionHealth and Healthcare Systems
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