Women in Health Care Earn 24 Percent Less Than Male Colleagues: Report

Women around the world who work in the health care sector earn about 24 percent less than their male colleagues, according to a gender pay gap analysis released this week by the Geneva-based International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The health care sector's gender wage gap is mostly "unexplained" but could be "due to discrimination towards women," the ILO said. The gap is larger than gender wage gaps in other industries but differs from one country to another, according to a Wednesday ILO news release. That "wide variation" identified in health care sectors around the world suggests "pay gaps in the sector are not inevitable and that more can be done to close these gaps," the ILO said.

The report, titled, "The gender pay gap in the health and care sector: A global analysis in the time of COVID-19," comes more than two years after the WHO declared the spread of COVID-19 a pandemic. Health and care workers around the world—about 67 percent of whom the report said are women—have been and continue to be under strain amid elevated public reliance upon them.

Equal pay rally in New Zealand
A new global report shows women in the health care sector earn about 24 percent less than their male colleagues. Above, health care workers hold signs calling for equal pay during a rally at Parliament in Wellington, New Zealand, on June 9, 2021. Lynn Grieveson/Getty Images

Despite health care workers' "crucial role" during the pandemic, "there were only marginal improvements in pay equality between 2019 and 2020," the ILO said.

Manuela Tomei, the director of the ILO's Conditions of Work and Equality Department, said in the organization's news release that "better-quality" care cannot happen "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," Tomei added.

Health care workers make up about 3.4 percent of all people employed around the world, the report said. As of 2020, women accounted for an estimated 67.2 percent of them, which the report said is a decline from the estimated 70.3 percent in 2013. Health care workers who are mothers also "appear to suffer additional penalties," the ILO said, with wage gaps increasing during the years women have children and continuing "throughout the rest of a woman's working life."

The report calculated the global "raw" gender pay gap to be about 20 percent. That gap increased to about 24 percent once age, education and time spent in the workplace were taken into account.

Health care pay overall was additionally found to be lower than other sectors, which the ILO said was "consistent with the finding that wages are often lower in economic sectors where women are predominant."

Women around the world make on average about 23 percent less than men, according to the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women). As in health care, UN Women said mothers tend to face larger gender pay gaps in other sectors.

In the U.S., the overall gender pay gap has been "relatively stable" through the last 15 years, according to Pew Research Center analysts. As the U.S. began battling the coronavirus in 2020, analysts estimated women were earning about 16 percent less than men, with women ages 25 to 34 experiencing "smaller" gender pay differences.

The U.S. Census Bureau also said the gender pay gap in the U.S. tends to be narrower for younger women, though it noted that women overall "consistently earn less than men." According to national data from 2020, women in the U.S. earned an average of about "83% of what men were paid," according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

At the global level, the report from the ILO and the WHO encouraged countries to collect and assess data from every sector to determine the extent of existing gender pay gaps, and to bolster transparency about this information. The report also advises "ensuring the decency" of conditions at health care jobs and said countries should work to get rid of gender segregation within the wider health care sector.

Despite the data showing the majority of health care workers around the world are women, "in far too many countries systemic biases are resulting in pernicious pay penalties against them," WHO Director of Health Workforce Jim Campbell said. "The evidence and analysis in this ground-breaking report must inform governments, employers and workers to take effective action."