What is the difference between the gender pay gap and equal pay?

Published: 1 July 2021

Last updated: 1 July 2021

What countries does this apply to?

  • England
  • Scotland
  • Wales

The difference in pay

While both equal pay and the gender gap deal with the difference (disparity) in pay women receive in the workplace, they are two different issues:

Equal pay:

Means that men and women in the same employment performing equal work must receive equal pay, as set out in the Equality Act 2010.

Gender pay gap:

Is a measure of the difference between men’s and women’s average earnings across an organisation or the labour market. It is expressed as a percentage of men’s earnings.

In the Britain, there is an overall gender pay gap of 18.1%. 

Causes of the gender pay gap

The causes of the gender pay gap are complex and can be overlapping. Factors include:

Highest paid sectors are male-dominated

Girls often do well at school, but tend to end up concentrated in employment sectors that offer narrower scope for financial reward. On the other hand, many of the highest paying sectors are disproportionately made up of male employees.

The effect of part-time work

The difference in years of experience of full-time work, or the negative effect on wages of having previously worked part-time or of having taken time out of the labour market to look after family.


Unconscious stereotyping, with assumptions about women not wanting to accept promotion, or not being in a position to do so, particularly where they have caring responsibilities. Women make up 47% of the workforce, but only 35% of managers, directors and senior officials.

Gender pay gap reporting

See our guidance on gender pay gap reporting to find out what the requirements are, who they apply to and what you need to do.

Contact Acas for further information

If you are involved in an employment dispute or are seeking information on employment rights and rules, you can contact the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas):

Freephone: 0300 123 1100 (8am to 6pm Monday to Friday)

Text Relay service: 18001 0300 123 1100.

Visit the Acas website
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0300 123 1100

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