Women earn 24 per cent less than men in health and care sectors: WHO-ILO report

A rural health worker in Asia (Credit: Pippa Ranger/UK Department for International Development)

The report analysed data from 54 countries from across the world, representing around 40 per cent of the sector’s total workforce.

Women working in health and care sectors across the world earn a staggering 24 per cent less than their male counterparts, a report by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Labour Organization (ILO) has found. 

Health and care sector is heavily feminised. Across the world, women constitute about 67 per per cent of the workforce in these sectors. But despite this heavy tilt towards providing employment to women, the sector is severely affected by gender pay-gap, the report stated. 

“Women comprise the majority of workers in the health and care sector, yet in far too many countries systemic biases are resulting in pernicious pay penalties against them,” said Jim Campbell, the WHO’s health workforce director.

The report analysed data from 54 countries from across the world, representing around 40 per cent of the sector’s total workforce. 

What else the report says 

  • Gender pay gap between men and women working in the health and care sector is between 15 per cent (hourly wages) and 24 per cent (monthly earnings), with men earning more than women. 

  • Women are over-represented in low-paid roles where the pay gap itself is narrow. Meanwhile, in roles that have higher pay, men outnumber women and the pay gap is also wider. 

  • The pay gap in the health and care sector is also wider than any other sector of employment. 

Why is this happening? Age, education and gender segregation across the hierarchy in the sector are some of the factors behind the pay gap.  However these are only small factors that explain the pay gap. A large part of the pay gap remains unexplained by the available data in the labour market. 

Since women form a majority in the health and care sectors, the “motherhood gap”, which is the pay gap that exists between mothers and non-mothers, is also one of the factors that is driving the gap in earnings between men and women. 

Why it matters. The world faces a global shortage of health and care workers and a crisis like Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted this shortage across the world at multiple instances. Closing the pay gap would help to attract more workers into the sector, the report argues.

Addressing pay gaps also helps in making health systems more resilient to tackle similar crises in the future. 

What’s the way forward? One way to address this systemic injustice is to ensure that data is properly collected. Data, for example, on employment, working conditions and wages paid to workers will help policymakers to analyse and interpret trends and patterns. 

Similarly, converting informal jobs to formal jobs, encouraging collective bargaining for better pay, and recruiting more permanent workers are also measures that would help to strengthen the healthcare sector. 

The report argues there also needs to be more investment in training and ensuring upward mobility of women workers. This can also be achieved by encouraging girls in schools and colleges to pursue health and care work as a career option, or by conducting awareness programmes and career counselling sessions. 

“There will be no inclusive, resilient and sustainable recovery without a stronger health and care sector. We cannot have better-quality health and care services without better and fairer working conditions, including fairer wages, for health and care workers, the majority of whom are women,” Manuela Tomei, director of the ILO’s conditions of work and equality department.