The lifetime gender pay gap in the UK: A multilevel accelerated cohort-sequential growth curve approach

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis investigates the development of the lifetime earnings gap in the UK during the period 2010-2015, and the crucial role education plays as a potential mediator. Despite the steady decreases in the gender pay gap over the last two decades in the UK, the overall declining trend masks the extent of the earnings gap over the life course across cohorts. The current thesis highlights multiple challenges recent cohorts (born in 1980 onwards) face against the backdrop of the introduction of university tuition fees in 1998, and their improved educational achievements. The intensification of neoliberal reforms not only levied high costs on educational opportunities, but also exposed recent cohorts to intense competition in the labour market. As this combined with the UK's sustained liberal market-oriented family policy characterised by limited childcare support, younger generations were found to be relatively worse off. This thesis uses UKHLS earnings data to apply multilevel growth curve modelling with the accelerated cohort sequential design sample. The key enquiry to be addressed is whether education mediates the negative impact of having children on the long-term gender earnings gap. The study subsequently addresses women's occupational mobility, to examine the extent to which degree-holding women's moves to less-feminised occupations mediate the negative impact of occupational sex segregation on long-term earnings prospects. This innovative approach reveals the earnings trajectories that individuals experience over the life course and unmasks the extent of the long-term gender pay gap by age. The age effects are disentangled from potentially confounding cohort effects operating in earnings growth trajectories across the working age range in a systematic manner. First, overall lifetime earnings are predicted by age to estimate the gap between the two genders. Then, interaction terms including education, and gender, are utilised to capture the moderating effect of education on the development of lifetime earnings, in the presence of negative impact by parenthood and occupational sex segregation. The findings suggest that the unadjusted gender pay gap grew from just 1% at 20 years of age to 21% at 40, then to 25% for women in their 60s, sustaining significant gaps throughout working age. Parenthood had a negative impact on the development of a large gender earnings gap, but attaining a high-level of education was not enough to mitigate the parenthood penalties over the working life. Still, education is seen to hold potential for increasing earnings for women, through women's occupational mobility to less-feminised occupations. Evidence highlights the need for more supportive childcare support policies, and the need to address the institutional inertia that helps maintain sex segregation in the UK labour market.
Date of Award31 Dec 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorTina Hannemann (Supervisor) & Wendy Kay Olsen (Supervisor)


  • earnings trajectories
  • UK lifetime gender pay gap
  • accelerated cohort sequential design

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