The BBC’s unhelpful article on the gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is a sensitive, highly topical subject and the deadline is approaching for companies to report their data, often for the first time. It’s a shame then that the BBC article from their “data journalists” setting out to explain what’s happening, “Gender pay gap deadline: What to know“, misses some simple points and does little to help anyone who might be confused. The data is not complicated but there are various aggregate statistics in the public domain which are based on different definitions, and thus need to be used carefully and described clearly. 

Here are my grumbles*:

  1. The article rather irritatingly bigs up the research. It opens with “The vast majority of firms pay men more than women, BBC analysis shows”. Everyone has known this to be the case for ages. It’s a bit like BBC pushing analysis showing that the sun rises in the mornings. (Mind you it is April fool’s day so watch out!) I also quibble with the phraseology as by simply saying that “firms pay men more than women” the article adds to the narrative that discrimination is rife when most (but not all) of the gap is caused by men and women doing different jobs and with different levels of experience. The article does not even touch on this yet it is the vital link to a full understanding of the data.
  2. The article misrepresents the ONS. It says: “The UK has a national median pay gap of 18.4%, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). ………. It’s calculated on an hourly basis and includes both full-time and part-time workers. It’s the key measurement used by the ONS.” I do not think that the all workers measure is the “key measure” used by the ONS. Indeed the ONS article quoted by BBC, discusses the full-time gap (about 9%) and the part-time gap (about negative 5%, ie women are paid more than men), before concluding that the overall gap is 18%. The ONS then continues: “Given the strong influence of the balance between full-time and part-time employees, the majority of detailed analyses of the gender pay gap in this bulletin are presented for full-time employees alone. However, there is not one single measure that adequately deals with the complex issue of gender pay differences …….”.
  3. The article says: “Around the world companies are increasingly being asked to provide the same set of information.” This is interesting but it turns out to be no more than a throw away line to look clever as it does not say which countries are doing what, or give any dates or figures. Is it true?
  4. Finally, the article includes a chart from the OECD which is poorly explained, not consistent with the earlier UK data and probably wrong.Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 18.02.30.png


The BBC article is not totally clear about which OECD data it is using though if it is the one I found in the link they give (and under LMF1.5 below), it relates to full-time workers only. And the data relates to 2015 for most countries and earlier for some.

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 21.30.31.png

The UK figure in the OECD chart (for 2015) is 17%. Yet (perhaps) the closest figure in the ONS publication is that in figure 6, reproduced below. It shows a full-time gender pay gap of under 10%, now and also in 2015. The large difference between these numbers is ignored by the BBC but needs to be explained.

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In a final act of confusion, the OECD chart seems to suggest a different story from the BBC’s words based on the chart! The EU average seems to be plotted in the chart as being higher than the UK’s figure despite the text saying it is below the UK figure. Though surely the EU average is wrongly plotted – with just two EU countries above it and 20-odd below it! It looks like it might be the OECD’s mistake but the BBC has compounded it.

Screen Shot 2018-03-31 at 18.03.19.png

In search of more clarity ………..

Readers might prefer this article among others from Full Fact. Or perhaps the BBC’s reality check team’s article on the gender pay gap – including the BBC’s own gap (of 10%). Finally, this BBC article makes it clear that: “The gender pay gap is the pay discrepancy between men and women irrespective of their job or position ….. (and) …… is distinct from equal pay – when companies are required to ensure that men and women carrying out the same or similar roles are paid the same for the amount of work they do.”


* My comments were based on the version of the article published on 31 March 2018 which was on the BBC UK news home page at the time.

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