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Closing the gender pay gap: A review of the issues, policy mechanisms and international evidence

International Labour Organization




Workplace Gender Equality

Gender diversity Gender equality Workplace Gender Equality Gender parity Women in the workplace Workplace equality

Closing the gender pay gap: A review of the issues, policy mechanisms and international evidence

Closing the gender pay gap: A review of the issues, policy mechanisms and international evidence

The Closing the Gender Pay Gap report from the International Labour Organization reviews the key issues, policy mechanisms and international evidence with respect to closing the gender pay gap. The core focus of this report is on wage setting institutions and their impact on inclusive and gender equitable labour markets.

Closing the gender pay gap is an aspiration found in many international policy documents. The principle of equal remuneration for men and women for work of equal value needs to be implemented if gender equality and decent work for all is to be achieved. However, while the principle of equal pay for work of equal value has been widely endorsed, and is included under Goal 8 in the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, a key problem is that the policy mechanisms needed to achieve this objective are not well understood and in fact are both multifaceted and vary according to the institutional context.

Specific gender equality policies are certainly required, but these are only likely to be effective if embedded within a general policy environment which is promoting equal and inclusive labour markets. For example, trends towards greater inequality in wage structures, more individualised pay determination and more variable working hours in higher level jobs are likely to be increasing the gender pay gap, offsetting to some extent the more beneficial effects of women’s rising educational attainment and more continuous participation in employment.

While the gender pay gap is difficult to measure, the ILO estimates that if the current trends prevail, it will take more than 70 years before the gender wage gap is closed completely. Furthermore, as the gender wage gap is unrelated to a country’s economic development, research is needed to understand how an equitable distribution of economic growth can be achieved.

Policy measures are analysed using a three-level framework covering:

  1. four types of measures (legal, social dialogue and collective bargaining, voluntary and social policy);
  2. gender specific and general measures to promote more equal, inclusive and transparent environments; and
  3. policy developments at four levels (international, national, sector, company) and involving key actors (the state, employers, trade unions, community groups, individuals etc.)


  • Conditions conducive to gender equal, inclusive and transparent labour markets can be characterised as requiring:
    1. high coverage of employment standards, and
    2. supportive wage practices.
  • These labour market conditions need to be complemented by social policies, to support and facilitate women’s continuous employment integration. Ideally these should be funded by the state not employers, and serve both to engage fathers in care and reduce discrimination against mothers.
  • The key message from this report is that gender pay equity needs to be pursued through a policy package that promotes an inclusive and transparent labour market alongside specific measures to address gender pay equity. Strengthening and extending employment standards, through higher minimum wages, more equal rights for non-standard workers and more extensive and inclusive collective bargaining need to be combined with effective gender specific measures to address the undervaluation of women’s work and extend duties on employers to actively promote gender equality.
  • To bring these two elements together and widen support and understanding of gender pay equity policies, consideration should be given to generalising a right to fair pay and equal pay for work of equal value within an employing organisation, though this should not be allowed to detract from efforts to remedy the undervaluation of women’s work.


  • Preface
  • Executive summary
  • Abbreviations
  • List of tables
  • List of figures
  • Closing the gender pay gap: the contextual framework
  • Legal mechanisms
  • Social dialogue and collective bargaining
  • Voluntary actions to close the gender pay gap
  • Social policy and support for closing the gender pay gap
  • Policy mix: complementarities, interactions and trade-offs
  • Monitoring and enforcement of equal pay
  • Conclusions and policy implications
  • References
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