Exploring the Trajectory of Ireland’s Industrial Gender Pay Gap

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

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

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

In 1992, the world felt imperfect, hopeful, and full of opportunity. 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 social commentary.  

Jane Morgan

What Is The Gender Pay Gap?

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

The Central Statistics Office of 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‘. Equal pay related to directly comparing between individual cases exploring ‘equal work’ or ‘work of equal value’.)

Ireland’s Industrial Sector GPG

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

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, three ‘levers’, that change society in Ireland. This article considers changes by decade as Ireland crawls towards closing the gender pay gap. It outlines the Irish industrial GPG combined with changes in the areas of;

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

Ireland’s Industrial GPG by the Decade

Jump to the decade of most interest to you.

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


In 1846 the potatoes famine tips the majority of Irish people from surviving to starvation. Emigration and death halves the population from 8 million. For women and girls, changes in education enable (only) privileged and persistent.

  • 1845-49 – The Great Famine brings mass starvation and creates almost 2 million Irish refugees.  Half of those born in Ireland in the nineteenth century emigrated.
  • 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 creates third level education open to all religions.
  • 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).
  • 1898 – Women over 30 who own or rent property are granted the right to vote in local elections.

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


  • 1901 – Two-thirds of women of working age in Ireland have no wage-earning jobs. For an Irish woman, emigration meant earnings, and 3/4 go on to an independent livelihood. In rural Ireland, young unmarried women emigrate (and send money home) to realize “material expectations and achieve economic independence” which Ireland could not provide.
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 national 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.
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 (or 27%) 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 school children 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 (shown in green in the graph) and 58% boys (purple). They have similar pass rates (indicated by the broken line). Smaller numbers sit the middle and senior cert with girls passing at slightly higher rates than boys.
Island of Ireland State Examinations 1969, 11 Candidates, 42% girls, 58% boys
  • 1916 – The Easter Rising culminates in Patrick Pearse reading the ‘Proclamation’ at the GPO in Dublin with a guarantee of “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all [Ireland’s] citizens”.
  • 1916 – Over 7,000 people, three quarters of whom are young unmarried females travelling alone, emigrate.

There were approximately 10 million Irish emigrants over 1800s and 1900s. Single women emigrants dominated Irish emigration for the thirty-five years between 1885 and 1920.

Janet Nolan, 1989
  • 1918 – As the Proclamation promised, women over 30 with property (and all men over 21) get the vote for national politicians. World War 1, often called ‘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.
    • The majority are factory workers, waitresses, typists and shop assistants.
    • 12% – teachers and nurses.
    • 6% – managerial roles.
    • 1% – are in higher professions.
  • 1937 – A new draft constitution defines citizenship for women solely in terms of a wife and mother. Objections ensue and continue through 2020.
  • 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 during World War II.

1940s – Industrial GPG 40%

The World At War, The Industrial GPG In Ireland At ~40%. Discrimination, Based on Binary Gendered Social Roles, Continues As The Gap Increases.

  • 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. Fathers control this state benefit.

1950s – Industrial GPG 40%

After a shaky start, Ireland’s gender pay gap shrinks through 1956. A decade of two halves, the positive trend of the first half is reversed in the second half of the 1950s.

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

1960s – Industrial GPG 40%

For the third decade in a row, the industrial GPG is 40% and Worsens While Access To Secondary School Education Improves.

  • 1960 – Of the 140,000 students in third-level education, 2000 (14%) are women.
  • 1966 – Free secondary school education to the “Intermediate Certificate” is introduced.

In 1976 Tussing, reflecting 10 years after the introduction of free secondary school education, notes “…. throughout all the years of age, among married as well as single women; and what is implied is a demand for jobs with career ladders permitting lifelong advancement, as among men”.

Doris, 2019
Fruit Seller Dublin 1969
Photographer Elinor Wiltshire
Fish Factory Workers, Killybegs, Donegal 1961
Photographer Denis Tynan 

1970s -Industrial GPG 43%

European winds of change blow and 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

1980s – Industrial GPG 32%

Building on the 1970s improvement, the Irish Gender Pay Gap bobbles around the low 30s.  Family law moves towards recognising married women as individuals (not addendum to 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

1990s – Industrial GPG 31%

The industrial gender pay gap continues the improvements of the 1970s and 1980s breaking 30% for the first time. The century closes well short of pay parity with a gap of ~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.


2000s – Industrial GPG 26%

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%

  • 2000 – National minimum wage is introduced. 
  • 2004 – Equality Act prevents discrimination in employment, vocational training, advertising and more.

2010s – Industrial GPG 26%

The gender education gap is reversed with women / girls better educated than men / boys (with data beyond the gender-binary unavailable).  The state takes small steps towards a more gender-balanced model of parental childcare.  Overall the imbalance in pay continues with more men in both higher paid industries and 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.”  CSO.ie 

  • 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%) who earn €50,000. To narrow the gender pay gap requires more women to earn these higher salaries.

68% of people in the highest income band are men (purple). On the flip slide, women (in green) are over represented at the lower income bands.

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%.

2020s – Industrial GPG – No CSO Data Available

What does the future hold for economic power in Ireland?  The gender pay gap persists .  The introduction of the minimum wage “effectively eliminated the wage gap at low-wage levels” (Bargain in Doris, 2019), a major rebalancing.  Other wage groups, across the earnings distribution, continue to experience a gender pay gap.

  • 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.  For those with children under 13 years, unpaid parental leave (job protection) is extended by 4 weeks for a total of 26 weeks.
  • 2022 – Gender Pay Gap Information Act 2021 comes into force in December 2022 requiring organizations who employee 250+ people to report on their gender pay gap.

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 who wish to but are not, working to their full capacity. 

Women’s Underemployment

These are people who:

  • wish to work but various impediments prevent them (such as cost of childcare or eldercare responsibilities). 
  • work part-time but experience bias in “labour market experience”.  Part-time work is  under-rewarded and does not accumulate 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  third-level graduates. 
  • work part-time but wish to work and are available to work more hours, ‘time-related underemployment’ see below.

% 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