Pay differences in optometry

Findings of the 2018 Optometrists' Futures Survey

Gender pay gap

WHY DID WE ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT PAY IN THE OPTOMETRISTS’ FUTURES SURVEY?

The College of Optometrists' 2015 Optical Workforce Survey alerted us to the possibility of significant differences in pay between men and women. We wanted to see if we would get similar findings in our 2018 survey.   

WHAT DID WE FIND?

What was analysed

We asked survey respondents to give us information about their hourly pay. When looking at differences in pay, the Institute for Employment Studies, which carried out the analysis on AOP’s behalf, wanted to reduce the chances of the data being skewed by a few individuals. They used the income data for respondents who said they worked 30 or more hours a week, and excluded outliers who quoted very high or very low figures.

Pages 43-44 of our Optometrists’ Futures report describe how the data was analysed and what we found.

Key findings  

Our survey found differences in pay between women and men, and between Asian and white respondents. Younger optometrists were found to earn less per hour than older ones, and there were geographical differences too.

The researchers then ran regression analyses comparing hourly pay as the outcome variable, with a range of other variables. The predictor variables used in the regression were: age group, gender, whether the individual has a child or children, whether the individual is female and has a child or children, ethnicity, whether the individual has an impairment, their total working hours, region of the UK (country for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, and region for England), and whether the individual has a child, or is a carer for one or more adults. The statistically significant results of this analysis were: 

  • Using 21 to 30 year olds as a benchmark: on average 31 to 40 year olds earn 13.7% more per hour, holding all else constant; on average 41 to 50 year olds earn 27.4% more per hour, holding all else constant and on average 51 to 60 year olds earn 25.5% more per hour, holding all else constant
  • On average women earn 15.5% less per hour than men, holding all else constant
  • Using the East of England as the reference category (as it is the largest group in terms of survey responses): those in Northern Ireland earn 28.4% less per hour, those in Scotland and the North East earn 15.7% less per hour, those in the South East earn 12.9% less per hour and those in the West Midlands earn 18.7% less per hour, holding all else constant

HOW DO THESE FINDINGS COMPARE WITH PREVIOUS STUDIES?

The differences between the earnings of men and women found in the College of Optometrists' 2015 Optical Workforce Survey might be explained by the fact that some of the respondents were business owners, with substantially higher incomes than those of employees. These business owners were more likely to be men. 

Working with us, the College has re-analysed the 2015 data, excluding confounding factors like hours of work and seniority. The results have now been published in the Optical Sector Workforce Survey 2015: Report on Further Analysis of Gender Pay Differences. This joint report found a mean difference of 27% between men’s and women’s salaries, compared to 15.5% in our 2018 survey.

The difference in the findings of the two surveys does not mean that  the gap between men’s and women’s earnings has reduced between 2015 and 2018. The main reason for the difference is probably that the pay gap analysis in our 2018 Optometrists’ Futures survey included only those working more than 30 hours a week. There is evidence that, across society, part-time workers earn less per hour than full-time and more women than men work part-time. Therefore, excluding those working less than 30 hours from the analysis will give a lower difference in pay between men and women than if they were included.

WHAT CONCLUSIONS CAN WE DRAW?

Both surveys show statistically significant differences that are not explained by the confounding factors that were tested. 

However, this does not mean that direct discrimination is taking place. For example, it does not show that men and women are earning different salaries for the exact same work in individual workplaces. If this was happening, it would almost certainly be unlawful, whether it was deliberate or not.

WHAT WE ARE DOING

We are concerned about this issue on behalf of all our members, both employees and employers. We want our employee members to be remunerated fairly, and we want to help our employer members to do the right thing and manage the risk of challenge.

Our survey also showed that optometrists rate the culture and values of an employer highly when deciding where to work. Fairness is a strong positive value that could attract staff. We believe that it is in employers' interests to be able to show that they are paying their staff fairly.

Over the next few months we will develop advice and resources for members who are looking to ensure that their workplaces are fair and attractive to all staff.