Men vs women: The impact of gender inequality

Gender inequality is still a big issue in the UK today, just as it is around the world. As the government’s Gender Equality Roadmap reveals, women in the UK are, on average:

  • more likely to enter the workforce with higher qualifications than men, but earn less per hour,
  • more likely to take on unpaid work,
  • three times as likely to work part time, and
  • likely to save less into their private pensions.

Among full-time employees, the latest gender pay gap (published in 2019 by the Office for National Statistics) is 8.9 per cent. Yet gender inequality isn’t a problem that’s confined to the workplace. Inequality between men and women is something that affects almost every aspect of society and the way we live, from education to our relationships.

We’ve taken a closer look at the impact of gender inequality on life in the UK.

What is gender inequality?

The European Institute for Gender Inequality defines the term as:

“Legal, social and cultural situations in which sex and/or gender determine different rights and dignity for women and men, which are reflected in their unequal access to or enjoyment of rights, as well as the assumption of stereotyped social and cultural roles.”

It's a wide-reaching definition, and it’s not hard to see why gender inequality is so pervasive in our lives, even if we’re not always aware of it.

To a great extent, our ideas about the two traditionally defined genders – what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman – are based on long-held cultural and societal norms that haven’t changed or adapted to reflect modern society.

Gender may no longer define what we can or cannot do like it once did, but our ways of thinking about these gender ‘roles’ aren’t always so progressive. This becomes even more problematic when you consider that these traditional standards of gender still inform the structural fabric of our day to day lives, such as determining how much an individual is likely to earn during their lifetime.

What’s more, gender inequality works both ways. When you hear the phrase, examples of inequality in which women are at a disadvantage to men may spring to mind, but there are many ways in which men are also disadvantaged by traditional ideas of gender. These beliefs may be less tangible in the way they affect men, but their impact is no less important.

Gender inequality in the workplace

As we’ve already touched upon, there is still significant disparity between the opportunities and earning potential of men and women in the world of work.

Although progress has been made, society still views women as the primary caregivers of children, while men are still seen as the breadwinners with a responsibility to earn more. These views still go a long way to inform the type of jobs many women and men end up doing and how these are paid.

Roles that take a caregiving approach for example, such as caring for the elderly or teaching children, still carry a lower economic value than those in business or finance, which are still largely preoccupied by men. At the same time, men may be reluctant to or even be dissuaded from pursuing caregiving or other traditionally ‘female’ roles.

As the Gender Equality Roadmap states, “even in the industries where high numbers of women work, men are still more likely to occupy more senior positions. For example, in secondary

schools, women make up only 38 per cent of head teachers, despite representing 63 per cent of the teacher workforce.”

The lower-paid, often part-time work many women do also often comes with less job security, career progression and pension growth.

Gender inequality in education

Traditional gender stereotypes inform every area of our culture and as such, begin to affect us at a very young age. Despite girls consistently outperforming boys in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) at school, boys aged 7-11 are almost twice as likely as girls to want to be scientists. At the same time, almost 60 per cent of girls aged 7-10 think girls are better than boys at housework.

There seems to be a disparity between what girls can achieve and what they believe themselves to be capable of. Even though girls tend to leave education with better qualifications than their male counterparts, they generally go on to fare worse in the workplace. Research has shown that this is largely due to the fact the boys and girls associate certain industries and roles with one gender or the other, and tend to adjust their own aspirations according to gendered perceptions of ability.

Gender inequality in relationships

Personal relationships, particularly heterosexual romantic relationships, are another area heavily impacted by gender stereotyping. We may approach our relationships understanding that both partners are equal, but deep-seated cultural norms around gender can often creep in.

The idea that men are the more dominant gender and should take the lead in relationships is still widely held today, from being the one to doing the asking out and paying the bill, to earning the most money. Simultaneously, women are still largely seen as the receivers and caregivers in relationships, with the greater responsibility to do most of the housework, child-rearing and other domestic tasks.

Perceptions of gender in relationships may be shifting over time but pressure to conform, however subconscious this may be, can damage a couple’s ability to develop true intimacy. Playing to these ‘performative’ gender roles can stifle each person’s freedom to be themselves as individuals and get to know each other on a deeper level.

Further to this, men in particular can suffer as a result of trying to fit to society’s idea of the ‘perfect’ partner. Alongside the pressure to be the main breadwinner, men can often feel a need to stay quiet about problems or worries that may be affecting them, thanks to the traditional image of a man as ‘strong and silent’.

While women are often encouraged to share their feelings from a young age, men can find themselves programmed to try and cope alone – so much so that as many as 40 per cent of men wouldn’t talk about their mental health until their struggles had escalated to thoughts of suicide or self-harm.

Working towards gender equality in all areas of life

The first step to working towards gender equality is awareness that as a society, we still have a way to go before we can achieve it.

At Chrysalis, we believe that no one should feel restricted or confined by societal or cultural norms, and this should never affect your health or wellbeing.