Equal Pay as a Moving Target: International perspectives on forty-years of addressing the gender pay gap

Jacqueline O'Reilly, Mark Smith, Simon Deakin, Brendan Burchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper provides an overview of the key factors impacting upon the gender pay gap in the UK, Europe and Australia. Forty years after the implementation of the first equal pay legislation, the pay gap remains a key aspect of the inequalities women face in the labour market. While the overall pay gap has tended to fall in many countries over the past forty years, it has not closed; in some countries it has been stubbornly resistant, or has even widened. In reviewing the collection of papers that make up this special issue we identify four broad themes with which to group the contributions and draw out the explanations for diverse trends: theo- retical and conceptual debates; legal developments and their impacts; wage setting institutions and changing employer demands; and newly emerging pay inequali- ties between and within educational and ethnic groups. Across the four themes we underline how the trends in the gender pay gap capture the dynamism of inequalities, as the market power of different groups and stakeholders changes over times. Three key dimensions emerge from the papers to provide a frame- work for future research and policy discourse: the relationship between litigation and bargaining strategies; the interaction between wage-setting institutions and new organisational practices; and the increasing and range of diversity or equality strands competing for equal treatment. We conclude that progress towards clos- ing the gender pay gap will not be easy, will require a collective effort of various actors, and will not be quick.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-317
JournalCambridge Journal of Economics
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Mar 2015

Bibliographical note

© The Author 2015. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Cambridge Political Economy Society. All rights reserved.


  • equal pay
  • gender pay gap
  • wage determination
  • collective bargaining
  • litigation
  • equality and diversity


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