The gender wage gap: evidence from the cohort studies


This project aims to investigate the gender wage gap (GWG) over the life course and across cohorts, using three CLS studies – the National Child Development Study, 1970 British Cohort Study and Next Steps.

Research details

Project title

The gender wage gap: evidence from the cohort studies

Project lead

Alex Bryson


Employment, income and wealth



September 2019 – August 2022




Nearly half a century after the Equal Pay Act, women still earn less than men and convergence is slow.

The gap grows with family formation, as mothers spend time out of the labour market and face lower pay than previously on returning to employment, particularly part-time.

One view is that the GWG reflects conventional norms about the division of domestic labour, while others point to discriminatory practices in the workplace.

Growing concern about the persistence of the GWG and the way it evolves over the life course and across cohorts prompted the team to start examining the reasons for the GWG.

This project will use data from three CLS studies – the National Child Development Study, the 1970 British Cohort Study, and Next Steps. It will provide a comprehensive analysis of the GWG across individuals’ lives across these three generations and up to the age of 60 in the case of the oldest.

The detailed information contained in these cohort studies, including genetic and childhood development data, will be exploited to provide new insights into wage formation, how the GWG evolved, and what policy instruments will be needed to create pay equality.

The study will address five related questions:

  1. What does the GWG look like over the life course and across birth cohorts? Does it change later in life and how does it compare across cohorts for people at the same points in their life?
  2. How much of the GWG is accounted for by differences in human capital accumulation over the life-course? How different does the wage gap look over the life course for men and women with similar human capital (qualifications and labour market experience)?
  3. What role do parenthood and caring responsibilities play in the emergence of the GWG in mid-life and how persistent is this penalty over the life course?
  4. How much of the gap is attributable to the sorts of jobs undertaken by men and women, particularly in relation to occupation and part-time status?
  5. What role do childhood attributes and experiences play in determining the subsequent GWG and do childhood influences still matter, having accounted for early adulthood experiences?



Scientific publications

Bryson, A., Joshi, H., Wielgoszewska, B., Wilkinson, D. (2020)
A Short History of the Gender Wage Gap in Britain
IZA Discussion Paper No. 13289
Read the full paper
Joshi, H, Bryson, A, Wilkinson, D, Ward, K. (2019)
The Gender Gap in Wages over the Life Course: Evidence from a British Cohort Born in 1958
IZA Institute of Labor Economics
Read the full paper

Relevant studies


Project lead
Alex Bryson Professor of Quantitative Social Science at UCL's Department of Social Science

Heather Joshi Emeritus Professor

Phone: 020 7612 6874

With a background in economic demography, notably on women’s lifetime incomes, Heather became the founder director of the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS), and of the Centre as a whole. She has retired from these roles but continues to provide advice within and beyond the department, based on that experience.

More recently Heather led a project, ‘Moving Home in the Early Years’ which compared the MCS with a cohort from the US. She is currently a co-investigator on two research projects about child development in the MCS: ‘Trajectories of Conduct Problems from Ages 3 to 11’ (Principle Investigator Leslie Gutman) and ‘Early family risk, school context, and children’s joint trajectories of cognitive ability and mental health’(Principal Investigator Eirini Flouri). In April 2017 Heather became the Executive Editor of the journal, Longitudinal and Lifecourse Studies.

David Wilkinson Principal Research Fellow at UCL's Department of Social Science

Bozena Wielgoszewska Research Fellow

Contact us

Centre for Longitudinal Studies
UCL Social Research Institute

20 Bedford Way
London WC1H 0AL


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