Trajectory of Ireland’s Industrial Gender Pay Gap

There is no way around it: Money is an important resource.   

” our tendency to sideline the past as impertinent to the present, only to rediscover how central it is in understanding the driving forces of our world and harnessing them toward a better future.”

Maria Popova, Brainpickings.

To ensure the freedom of choice in labour market participation, we need equal opportunities for every individual. 18% of Irish employers and 15% of Irish employees say they are “aware of a gender pay gap in their organization” (Hayes, 2019).

Ireland’s gender pay gap is an accumulation of social norms, employment law and family planning which have a significant influence on individuals in employment, and the roles and responsibilities of employers.

In 1992 the world felt imperfect hopeful and full of opportunity. But by 2019, exasperated,  I set out to better understand Ireland’s gender pay gap of 20+%. 

Here is one perspective of what got us here. A document of contemporary commentary.  

Jane Morgan

What Is The Gender Pay Gap?

The (unadjusted) Gender Pay Gap, is an aggregate figure of everyone in the labour market which summarizes the social, legal and economic aspects in a society collectively. Currently the results show an imbalance of economic power, i.e. men hold more money power.

The Central Statistics Office, Ireland uses the Eurostat calculation of: the difference between male and female average hourly earnings as a percentage of male earnings. This figure is not adjusted for education, hours worked, unpaid work, sectoral employment, age, taxation nor any other factor. This unadjusted gender pay gap is often abbreviated to ‘GPG‘.

(The Gender Pay Gap is frequently confused with the concept of ‘equal pay for equal work / work of equal value’, which relates to direct comparison between individual cases.)

Ireland’s Industrial Sector GPG

Here we look at the industrial sectors, which broadly includes workers in production, craft, manual, clerical, sales, service, office, managerial, technical and professional roles. It excludes the public sector work of the state, education and healthcare.

Three state aspects that have a critical impact on people’s working lives in Ireland. Our governments’ work in two main ways; by enabling or preventing things with legislation, and by investing in projects. Projects and state services are funded through taxation. Here we consider three aspects, ‘levers’, that change society in Ireland aligned with changes in the industrial GPG.

  • education (in blue),
  • children/family planning (in orange) and
  • employment & employment law.

Ireland’s Industrial GPG by the Decade

Skip to the decade of most interest to you.

2020s   2010s   2000s   1990s   1980s
1970s   1960s   1950s & 1940s
1930s   1920s   1910s


Changes In Education Enable (Only) Privileged & Persistent Women An Education

  • 1845-49 – The Great Famine
  • 1851 – Dublin census shows 56% of women and 45% of men had occupations.
  • 1878 – The Intermediate Education Act is passed creating a system of public examinations for those who can afford it.
  • 1879 – The Royal University Act examination board is created.
  • 1884 – All Irish men get the vote (previously only available to male property owners).
  • 1884 – Despite male-only university colleges, the first 9 women graduate via the university examination board in Dublin.
  • 1892 – Children “in cities and urban areas” between the ages of 6 and 14 must be sent to school for at least 75 days a year (The Irish Education Act).
Workers in Waterford Bakery 1896 – Photograph courtesy of National Library of Ireland
Workers in Skibbereen between 1890-1910. Photograph courtesy of Mason National Library of Ireland
Women at work harvesting with men in ca. 1897
Workers in Rural Ireland ca. 1897 Photographer Robert French


Killybegs Factory Workers ca. 1905. Photograph courtesy of National library of Ireland


Against the Backdrop of War, People Work in Agriculture, in Homes, and in Industry. Literacy is High But Education Limited.

  • 1910 – Under British rule women have no vote. Various organizations work to secure women’s suffrage, the right to vote, in Ireland.
  • 1910s – Industry is dominated by agriculture, linen production, shipbuilding and brewing & distilling.
    • 23% of the economically active population was involved in manufacturing or construction.
      • Urban women work predominantly in industry which is also the main employer of urban men. Factory work includes textiles and food.
      • Others work as telegraphists, clerks, bookkeepers, typists, furniture makers, dress makers, teachers, nurses, grocers, and coal vendors.
Jacob’s Factory Workers ca. 1900. Over 2,000 women were employed in 1913.
  • 1911 – Three-quarters of the population can read and write. Delia Larkin (sister to Jim) and Rosie Hackett, an employee at the Jacob’s biscuit factory, found the Irish Women Workers’ Union.
  • 1913 – 32 of the 118 graduates at University College Dublin are women.
  • 1913 – Employers ‘lockout’ 15,000 workers in Dublin, “a city wracked with poverty, infant mortality, illness and near starvation”, over trade union membership. Children’s death rate from infectious diseases rise by almost 50%.
  • 1914 – The Great War starts. Women work as munitions workers, ambulance drivers,  nurses, and anti-enlistment activists amidst a period of labour shortages. Cumann na mBan (the Women’s League) is founded with members working as politicians, soldiers, couriers, drivers, signalers, nurses, doctors, and cooks.
  • 1916 – With a total of 699,000 pupils enrolled in schools, there are >8,000 national (primary) schools on the island of Ireland. ~70% of primary attend school on any given day.
  • 1916 – 7,000 students , or <1% of all pupils, sit the (under 16s) intermediate (state secondary) school examination. 42% are girls and 58% boys. Smaller numbers sit the middle and senior cert with girls passing at slightly higher rates than boys.
  • 1916 – The Easter Rising culminates in Patrick Pearse reading the ‘Proclamation’ with a guarantee of “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all [Ireland’s] citizens” at the GPO in Dublin.
  • 1916 – Over 7000 people, three quarters of whom are young females, emigrate.
  • 1918 – As the Proclamation promised, women over 30 with property get the vote. World War 1, the Great War, ends.
  • 1919 – The Sex Disqualification Act enables women to enter the legal profession.
Irish Women Workers’ Union on the steps of Liberty Hall circa 1914


As Education Improves The Promise of the Irish Constitution Erodes.

  • 1920s – Agriculture continues to be the dominant industry. Manufacturing industry in the Free State is now made up of:
    • 45% in food, drink and tobacco
    • 20% in textiles, clothing and footwear
    • 15% in metals, engineering and building products
    • 10% in paper and publishing
    • 10% in chemicals and other miscellaneous sectors (Frank Barry, TCD, 2017)
  • 1922 – The Irish Free State Constitution guarantees equal rights and equal opportunities for all citizens. Women and men over 21 get the vote. Divorce is no longer allowed.
  • Education in the Irish Free State is largely controlled by the Catholic church with teachers trained in religious colleges.
  • 1923 – the number of schools has dropped to ~5,700.
  • 1925 – Senators Eileen Costello and Jennie Wyse Power object to a bill aimed at confining women to the lower grades of the civil service.
  • 1927 – Minister Kevin O’Higgins attempts to exclude women from serving on juries.

“never had there been such a firm foundation of
justice and freedom guaranteed by any country of its women citizens”

Hanna Sheehy Skeffington 19 June 1935

1930s – GPG 46%

Gender Inequality Enters Law Contravening the Constitution. Women Working Outside the Home Is No longer A Private Matter, But State Regulated.

Average pay for Irish women is “a mere 5s 3d, compared with a man’s 9s 6d”. (This equates to approximately 26 pence versus 48 pence.) Irish Women’s Liberation Movement in the Irish Times , 1936

The Exclusively Male Chamber of Commerce, Waterford
12th May 1930
Photograph National Library of Ireland
  • 1932 – The “Marriage Bar”, which prevents married women from working in the public sector, is introduced despite objections.
  • 1935 – Contraception becomes illegal. Women’s organizations do not object.
  • 1936 – A third of the 702,000 workers in Ireland are women. This falls further over the next 5 census.
    • 1% – are in higher professions.
    • 6% – managerial roles.
    • 12% – teachers and nurses.
    • Remainder – factory workers, waitresses, typists or shop assistants.
  • 1937 – A new draft constitution defines citizenship for women solely in terms of a wife and mother. Objections ensue.
  • 1939 – World War II starts. Thousands of women leave domestic life to work in munition, aeroplane, cloth, uniforms, tobacco and other factories. 6,000 women work sourcing sphagnum moss for surgical dressings, a replacement for cotton wool which is in short supply. Living standards rose and poverty levels fell.

1940s – 1950s

The World At War, The Industrial GPG At ~40%. Discrimination Continues Based on Gendered Social Roles.

  • 1940s – Food shortages and rising prices are common. Bread, flour, sugar, butter and tea are all rationed.
  • 1940s – Women’s societies, active since the 1920s, continue to campaign for the rights of women as workers.
  • 1944 – Children’s Allowance (now ‘child benefit’) is introduced with fathers in control of this state benefit.
Graph of Ireland industrial gender pay gap 1950s from 40% in 1950 through a peak of 44% with trough of 38%
Gateaux  Workers 1950s – with kind permission of Tony Smullen whose mother, Peggy, is pictured bottom row far right. Peggy Smullen was the longest serving woman in Gateaux when it closed ca. 40 years later in 1990.
Photograph of Photographer Elinor Wiltshire  in cattle market Dublin, 16 June 1954.
Photographer Elinor Wiltshire in the cattle market, Dublin.
16 June 1954


Industrial GPG Worsens While Access To Education Improves

Fruit Seller Dublin 1969
Photographer Elinor Wiltshire
Fish Factory Workers, Killybegs, Donegal 1961
Photographer Denis Tynan 


European winds of change blow as Ireland begins to reduce industrial gender pay inequality.

Irish Gender Pay Gap for Industrial Workers 1970s graphed
Irish Gender Pay Gap for Industrial Workers 1970s graphed

Since 1973 much of the Irish national legislative and other approaches has been influenced by the European Union. Men of church and national politicians lose some influence.

  • 1970 – 10 Things Women In Ireland Can’t Do
  • 1971 – The Contraceptive Train to Belfast
  • 1973 – As a condition of joining the then-EEC (now EU), the “marriage bar” is removed to comply with the 1958 Treaty of Rome.
  • 1973 – The ban on importing contraception is overturned via the Mcgee case
  • 1976 – The ‘Family Home Protection Act’ requires husbands to have the consent from their wives before selling or mortgaging the family home.
  • 1977 – Most gender discrimination in employment and some maternity protection is introduced in the Employment Equality Act .
Women workers in net factory, Killybegs, Co. Donegal. Photographer D Tynan. 6th June 1977, National Library of Ireland
Net Factory Workers, Killybegs, County Donegal
6th June 1977
Photographer D Tynan


Building on 1970s improvement, the Irish Gender Pay Gap bobbles around the low 30s. Family law moves towards recognising women as individuals rather than addendum to their husbands. Family planning starts to move from the state control, introduced in the 1930s, back to the private sphere.Trajectory of Ireland's Industrial Gender Pay Gap through 1980s graphed 32% in 1989

  • 1980 – Contraceptives “for the purpose, bona fide, of family planning or for adequate medical reasons” is permitted upon presentation of a prescription in the Health (Family Planning) Act. It is still illegal to advertise contraceptives.
  • 1981 – Maternity Leave protection introduced.
  • 1981 – ‘Criminal conversation’ (adultery) where a husband may sue someone who has sexual relations with his wife (irrespective of her consent) is overturned.
  • 1983 – Abortion is made illegal except as a medical intervention to save the life of the pregnant woman.
  • 1985 – People over 18 may purchase condoms and spermicides without a prescription in pharmacies.
  • 1986 – The dependent domicile of married women is repealed and foreign divorce recognised.
  • 1988 – Legal action for restitution of conjugal rights, requiring one’s spouse to return home, is abolished.

Women at work in white lab coats at Analog Devices 1980


Workers at Analog Devices  – 1980

Graph showing Irish-Maternity-Leave-OECD 1970-2016


The industrial gender pay gap continues the improvements of the 1970s and 1980s. It breaks 30% for the first time and closes the century well short of parity ~27%. The state continues to pull back from its paternalistic role as ‘family guardian’ moving towards supporting parents equally.Trajectory of the Irish Industrial Gender Pay Gap through 1990s graphed closed decade at 27%

  • 1990 – Martial rape is outlawed.
  • 1992 – Censorship laws are amended to allow information about contraception.
  • 1994 – Adoptive leave introduced
  • 1995 – Third level tuition fees are halved.
  • 1996 – Free tuition is introduced for third-level education reducing the cost of attending college.
  • 1996 – Divorce is legalised.
  • 1998 – Employment Equality Act upholds gender equality in employment, ‘equal pay for like work’, extends state maternity benefit to 18 weeks and adds ‘parental leave’ enabling parents to take up to 14 weeks (unpaid) leave.
  • 1998 – ‘Force majeure’ allows for up to 3 days emergency family leave over a 12 month period.


Despite economic boom, this Celtic Tiger pays the average women in industry 20% less than the average man.trajectory of Ireland's Gender Pay Gap through the 2000s graphed closing the decade above 23%

  • 2004 – Equality Act prevents discrimination in employment, vocational training, advertising and more.


23% differential in the average of of women in industry versus men. The state takes small steps towards more gender-balanced model of parent care. The imbalance in pay includes an imbalance in gender with more men in better paid industries and more men in senior roles.

Across all of Ireland, “in 2011, men had an average income of €33,364 while the average income for women was €24,515 or 73.5% of men’s income. When these figures are adjusted to take account of the average hours per week in paid employment, women’s average hourly income was about 94.1 % of men’s in 2011.”

  • 2011 – Building on 1998 legislation, employment discrimination is strengthened.
  • 2011 – Employers are obliged to prevent (sexual and other) harassment in the workplace. (What year did this come into force?)
  • 2012 – 94% of those in primary school attend daily.
  • 2016 – The Irish Census shows that 55% of 20-39 year olds have a third level qualification.
  • 2018 – ‘Early Childhood Care and Education’ which provides 3 hours per day, 5 days a week care & education for pre-school children introduced.
  • 2019 – 51% of the ~225,000 third-level students are women.
  • 2019 – Childcare subsidy payment for pre-school children starts at 50 cent / hour called National Childcare Scheme commences.
  • 2016 – Fathers finally gain 2 weeks paid leave via the ‘Paternity Leave and Benefit Act’.
  • 2018 – Abortion is reinstated when the Eighth Amendment is repealed in a referendum.
  • 2019  – Parental Leave provides (unpaid) job protection for parents wish to spend 16-22 weeks looking after their (8-12 years old) children.

Considering income that is liable for social insurance, 18.2% of men are in the highest tax band (€50,000 and above). This is almost double the number of women, 9.5%, suggesting that to narrow the gender pay gap more women need to earn these larger salaries.

68% of people in the highest income band are men. On the flip slide, women are over represented at the lower income bands where they are more than 50% of earners.

With 2 million people in the Irish labour market in 2011, there continues to be difference in the numbers of men and women participating: 1.2 million men and 950,000 women (a 13% difference).

As the decade ends, 28% of senior executives are women; 72% are men. Women continue to do the overwhelming majority of unpaid work. The imbalance in pay chases women into retirement; the gender pension pay gap is 26%.


What does the future hold for economic power in Ireland?

  • 2020 – March. Covid-19 disrupts everything. ‘Essential workers’ include those in healthcare and food provision. Odlum’s flour plant is at 110% capacity for the first time in its history.  Everyone who can is asked to work from home.
  • 2020 –  September.  Unpaid parental leave (job protection) is extended by 4 weeks for a total of 26 weeks for those with children under 13 years.

photograph of a workplace in 2020 - home office with computer video conferencing

As social scientists, economists and others continue to research the gender pay gap, our understanding grows and more complexities emerge.


One example of this complexity is the number of women in “underemployment”, i.e those not working to their full capacity.  These are people who:

  • wish to work but various impediments prevent them (such as cost of childcare or eldercare responsibilities). 
  • work part-time but wish to work and are available to work more hours (‘time-related underemployment’ see below).
  • work part-time but experience bias in “labour market experience”.  Part-time work is  under-rewarded and does not accumulates in line with experience, i.e. particularly for third-level graduates.
  • work part-time in roles that are a poor fit for their skills. Quality part-time jobs are hard to come by. This results in a greater gender pay gap amongst the more educated. 

Women’s Time-related Underemployment in Ireland


To move towards equal opportunity in the workplace public actors (our public servants and elected officials),  organizations (of all sizes), and individuals needs to act.

Further Resources on the Trajectory of the Irish Gender Pay Gap