Following our analysis in 2016 of What Is It Really Like To Be a Woman In The UK? we have summarised an update for 2024.

1. Gender Pay Gap:

  • Overall Gap:
  • The gender pay gap was 15.5% in 2020, meaning that women earned, on average, 85p for every £1 earned by men.

  • Age-Specific Gaps:
  • The pay gap tends to widen with age. For women aged 18–21, it was 2.7%, but for women aged 50–59, it increased to 18.6%.

  • Ethnicity Disparities:
  • Ethnicity compounds the gender pay gap, with women of different ethnic backgrounds experiencing varying levels of pay inequality. For example, the pay gap for Black African and Black Caribbean women was higher than the average at 23.4%. (Source: ONS)

2. Occupational Segregation:

  • Sector Breakdown:
    • The majority of administrative and secretarial roles (83%) are held by women, while skilled trades and science and engineering roles are predominantly male.

  • Impact on Pay:
    • This occupational segregation contributes significantly to the pay gap, as female-dominated sectors tend to be lower paid. (Source: ONS)

3. Board Representation:

  • FTSE 100 Progress:
    • In 2020, women held 36.5% of FTSE 100 directorships, an increase from 12.5% in 2011.

  • FTSE 250 Improvement:
    • The FTSE 250 also showed improvement, with women holding 32.9% of directorships in 2020, up from 24.9% in 2011.

  • Leadership Roles:
    • However, women remain underrepresented in leadership roles within executive committees. (Source: Hampton-Alexander Review)

4. Unpaid Care Work:

  • Time Allocation:
    • Women in the UK spend, on average, 26 hours per week on unpaid care work, which includes activities like childcare and household responsibilities.

  • Impact on Employment:
    • The unequal distribution of unpaid care work can limit women’s opportunities for paid employment and career advancement. (Source: UK Government Equalities Office)

5. Maternity Discrimination:

  • Discrimination Instances:
    • Around 54,000 women per year in the UK may lose their jobs due to pregnancy or maternity discrimination.

  • Frequency of Discrimination:
    • Research indicates that 77% of pregnant women and mothers experience negative or discriminatory treatment at work. (Source: EHRC)

6. Violence Against Women:

  • Domestic Abuse Prevalence:
    • In the year ending March 2020, an estimated 7.5% of women in England and Wales experienced domestic abuse.

  • Impact on Mental Health:
    • The mental health impact of domestic abuse on women is significant, with survivors experiencing higher rates of depression and anxiety. (Source: ONS)

7. Underrepresentation in Politics:

  • Parliamentary Representation:
    • As of 2020, women make up 34% of Members of Parliament in the House of Commons.

  • Regional Disparities:
    • Representation varies across regions, with some constituencies having a higher percentage of female MPs than others. (Source: UK Parliament)

8. Access to Education:

  • STEM Gender Disparities:
    • In 2020, only 24.3% of computer science A-level entries were by female students.

  • Educational Attainment:
    • While girls often outperform boys in overall academic achievement, gender gaps persist in certain subjects and fields. (Source: UCAS)

9. Healthcare Disparities:

  • Cervical Screening Attendance:
    • Women in more deprived areas are less likely to attend cervical screenings, contributing to health disparities.

  • Mental Health Impacts:
    • Economic and social factors impact women’s mental health, emphasising the interconnectedness of gender and health. (Source: Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust)

10. Body Image Pressures:

  • Mental Health Impact:
    • A survey by the Be Real Campaign found that 87% of women and 65% of men in the UK feel that pressure to conform to an unrealistic body image has negatively affected their mental health.

  • Media Influence:
    • Unrealistic portrayals of body images in the media contribute to societal pressures and body dissatisfaction. (Source: Be Real Campaign)

This area has seen a small improvement since 2021, according to research by Bournemouth University and York University:

Fitness-themed social media posts have become slightly less focused on body image and more focused on motivating people to exercise over the last ten years, a new study suggests. However, the researchers warn that a lot of content still risks perpetuating stigma about weight due to a lack of body diversity depicted in posts.

The study team was led by Dr. Beth Bell of the University of York and included Dr. Catherine Talbot of Bournemouth University. Their findings have been published in the journal Psychology of Popular Media.

“Social media content that aims to inspire fitness is hugely popular but has been criticised for being heavily objectifying and focused on an attractive body, rather than simply helping people get fit and healthy,” explained Dr. Catherine Talbot, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Bournemouth University. “A lot of content also carries problematic messages that can shame people for their dietary choices and behaviours,” she added.

Most of the research analysing such content has been based on posts from over five years ago. Since then, there has been a rise in attitudes around body positivity in media and society, so the researchers set out to see if fitness content has evolved since the early studies.

The team looked at Instagram posts with the hashtag “#fitspiration”, which has become increasingly popular over the past decade, rising from 1.8 million posts in 2014 to nearly 20 million in May 2021. They examined 1000 posts from 2021 and compared them to 1000 posts from the same period in 2014, analysing the style of images posted and the text that accompanied them.

They found notable differences between the two sets of posts. Fitspiration posts from 2021 contained significantly more exercise content and significantly fewer messages around diet. There were also fewer people in the images who adhered to cultural body ideals such as thinness and muscularity, and fewer markers of objectification, for example, as a result of how an individual poses and their clothing.

Text that explicitly emphasised the link between fitness and sexual desirability was less prevalent in 2021, and text focusing on exercise-related knowledge and instruction was more common.

“Our analyses suggest that over time, #fitspiration posts have become slightly more exercise-focused and slightly less appearance-focused,” Dr. Talbot said. “However, images from 2021 do continue to perpetuate problematic norms through a lack of diversity in the body types they present. Both creators and consumers of fitspirational content need to be aware of these issues we’ve identified to minimise any risks,” she concluded.

Overall, some things have improved, while others still pose a very serious challenge

Positive Trends:

  1. Increased Awareness: There has been a notable increase in awareness and public discourse surrounding gender inequalities. This awareness has led to greater scrutiny and discussions on issues such as the gender pay gap, representation, and discrimination.
  2. Legislative Changes: The UK has implemented various legislative measures to address gender inequalities. For instance, there are laws against discrimination in the workplace, including maternity discrimination, and efforts to increase board diversity.
  3. Organisational Initiatives: Many organisations have implemented initiatives to promote diversity and inclusion, aiming to address gender disparities within their structures.
  4. Educational Opportunities: There has been progress in promoting equal educational opportunities for girls and boys, with initiatives to encourage female participation in STEM subjects.

Challenges and Areas of Concern:

  1. Persistent Gender Pay Gap: Despite efforts, the gender pay gap remains a significant issue. Closing this gap has proven challenging, and progress has been slow.
  2. Underrepresentation in Leadership: Women are still underrepresented in leadership positions across various sectors, including business and politics.
  3. Violence Against Women: Rates of domestic violence and sexual assault continue to be a concern, emphasising the need for ongoing efforts in prevention and support for victims.
  4. Work-Life Balance: Balancing work and family responsibilities, particularly for women, remains a challenge. Issues like affordable childcare and flexible work arrangements are crucial for addressing this concern.
  5. Online Harassment: The rise of online spaces has led to increased instances of harassment and abuse, disproportionately affecting women. Cybersecurity and online safety remain critical issues.
  6. Global Economic Challenges: Economic shifts and global events, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, have had differential impacts on men and women, potentially exacerbating existing inequalities.

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