The Music Biz Pay Gap

This week a new IFS report on the gender pay gap (UK) was published.  The key – and by now oft-quoted – statistics were: (a) women earn an average of 18% less per hour than men, and (b) by  the time a woman’s first child is 12 years old,  she will be earning an average  of 33% less per hour.

While the narrowing of the pay gap – 18%, down from 23% in 2003 – is positive, there is no doubt that the figures, on the face of it, are pretty shocking.  Putting an exact figure on the current pay gap in music is difficult (trust me, I’ve been Googling for hours) but with almost 50% of women in the industry earning less than £10,000 per annum – now less than the national minimum wage, let alone the living wage – and only 6% earning more than £29,000, there’s clearly a problem. Probably as a result of these wages, only 30% of London’s music industry personnel are female.


The numbers revealed in the new study do not necessarily mean that women are earning 18% less than men doing exactly the same jobs. Rather, they give an indication of how much a woman will earn over her lifetime, compared to a man.


The reasons given include:

There are fewer women ‘at the top’ than men and those who achieve directorships or CEO positions can expect to enjoy £16,500 less than their male counterparts.

73% of entry / junior roles are filled by women and women tend to take lower paid jobs; and almost 2/3 of those earning £7 per hour or less are female.

Male managers (of any variety – not just the musical kind) are 40% more like to be promoted than female managers.  After maternity leave, women tend to go back to work part-time; this does not necessarily result in a pay cut (per hour), but results instead in missed promotion opportunities. The pay gap therefore begins to widen as men climb the career ladder and women stay where they are.


A related stat from the music industry: Women working in the music business are likely to have higher qualifications than their male counterparts, but “women only have a 15% chance of owning a label”.


The assertion that women are simply choosing to take lower paid jobs is troubling.  It muddies the water somewhat – ‘Women aren’t being paid less than men?  They’re just choosing jobs that pay less?  So what’s the problem?’  Rather than women being paid less because they are taking low paid jobs, some jobs are low-paying because they are associated with women.

“According to the Fawcett Society, jobs traditionally done by women, such as cleaning, catering and caring, are “undervalued and paid less than jobs traditionally done by men, such as construction, transportation and skilled trades” meaning “men’s work” is generally given a higher value both socially and economically.”
Atkinson, 2016 (BBC)


Similarly, the way in which the pay gap for women widens after becoming mothers does not mean that women choose lower wages when they choose to start a family. It seems fair that someone working fewer hours will be not be promoted, but that’s not the problem. The problem is that women are doing a disproportionate amount of childcare.

“ Implying that childcare is firmly a woman’s responsibility permits the gender pay gap to continue. It allows women to take the burden of childcare and the lower wages it brings with it, rather than encourage men to help and employers to make better provisions for new parents.

It’s particularly telling that the report found male employment patterns are almost totally unresponsive to the arrival of children. While their hours do not decrease, women’s do.” 

Sanghani, 2016 (Telegraph)

Women are also expected to take on greater responsibilities when it comes to caring for sick or elderly relatives, which can lead to them working fewer hours.  This indicates that it is caring work in general that women are disproportionately burdened with, not just childcare.  This can be a particular problem in the entertainment industries as they often demand a lot of travel and long hours.

“[For Anna Harvey] being a single mother of two had impacted severely on her career “… It is not a matter of whether your kids mind or not, but whether you have enough money to pay for a nanny.” The 94% of women who earn less than £29,000 – and the nearly half who earn less than £10,000 – would most likely have difficulties affording childcare without a second breadwinner in the family.”

Lindvall, 2010 (Guardian)


There is a culture within the music industry that objectifies, demeans, and patronises women (and worse), which probably has a direct impact on the pay that women in the industry receive and is definitely responsible for the lack of women in the industry overall. This disparity leads to there being fewer women to put their heads above the parapet and challenge the gender inequality in the industry. All this while societal norms pull women back into the home and away from the music business.

The most crucial thing  is to enforce equal pay as far as possible, ensure provision for equal paternal leave, and equal opportunities for promotion and career advancement, across industries.

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