The persistence of gender salary inequality in Portuguese companies : 1988-2008

Between 1988 and 2008 the employment feminization and tertiarization in Portugal resulted in a profound occupational rearrangement of the Portuguese population. Despite the generalization and increasing qualification of women’s work, the wage gap between men and women is still a structural characteristic of the country.

Considering the existence of various types of women discrimination and segregation in the labour market, our aim is to know the gender wage gap and the changes that occurred during these twenty years.

Portuguese workers in 1988 and 2008 : feminization, education and tertiarization

In this period of twenty years the overall activity rate remained almost the same, but when we look at the activity rate by gender we understand that this immutability results from a balance between a decrease in male activity rate (from 75% to 70%) and an increase in female activity rate (from 51% to 56%).

The percentage of population working in primary and secondary activity sectors decreased. The terciarization of Portuguese workforce is particularly significant among women : in 1988 50% were already employed in the tertiary sector, in 2008 this number rose to 71%. Therefore, in this period there was a marked feminization and tertiarization of the active population, a reality that began to emerge in the sixties.

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The previous data was collected among a population sample and refers to the global population. The information presented below was collected administratively and refers to the specific universe of private sector workers in Portugal. Between 1988 and 2008 there was an increase of more than one million workers : in 1988 there were 1,997,560 workers in Portuguese companies, in 2008 there were 3,271,947 workers.

The growing number of workers was especially pronounced among women, which more than doubled in these twenty years, representing 44% of the total workforce in 2008 (Table 2).

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The feminization of private sector employees reflects the larger transformation that was the feminization of the active population in Portugal (Table 1), with the massive entry of women into the labour market since the last century sixties.

In this twenty years period, the education level of workers in the Portuguese companies increased. As we can see in Table 3, the progression of educational attainment was more pronounced among women. In 2008 the percentages of women with higher education levels (ISCED 4, 5 or 6) are more expressive than men’s. We saw a great progress in that period especially in the percentage of women with higher education (ISCED 5 or 6) : they represent 3% in 1988 and 17% in 2008.

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This change in workers education follows the sexual recomposition of university students. Actually, since the mid 80’s onwards women became the majority of university students in Portugal.

The workers educational level improvement was reflected in changes in the social and professional structure of the private sector (Table 4) [1] : the most qualified socio-professional categories increased in absolute and relative terms. Both entrepreneurs and executives (EE) and professionals and managers (PM) increased considerably in absolute terms, as well as in the weight they have in the class structure. Nevertheless, we must mention the difference between percentages of EE men and women. On the other hand, the evolution of absolute and percentage values of PM shows how the intellectual and scientific professions gained importance in the Portuguese society in these twenty years.

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Another observation that can be done through the analysis of Table 4 is about the loss of relative importance of industrial workers. In 1988 industrial workers accounted for 60% of male workers and 44% of females’. In 2008, these percentages decrease to 45% and 17%, respectively.

At the same time, there is an increase in the specialization of women in routine work, i.e., in tasks related to the tertiary sector. In 1988 already 48% of women worked in such jobs, in 2008 they rose to 57%.

On the one hand, the absolute increase of RE class (in 1988 it had some 550,000 workers and in 2008 it contains more than 1,200,000 workers) and, on the other hand, the reduction of the relative weight of the industrial workers class, reflects the changes that characterized the Portuguese society since the sixties and in the decades that followed : first, the agricultural sector lose importance, then this breakdown happened in the industries sector, while at the same time the services sector knew a big rise.

The intense tertiarization of employment must be seen as a cause and an effect of the transformation processes mentioned above : on the one hand, it relates to the rising percentage of working women, on the other hand, with the increasing school attainment of Portuguese workers.

The Portuguese female workers in 1988 and 2008 : the persistence of unequal pay

Until now we have discussed the changes related with feminization, scholarization and tertiarization of private sector workers in Portugal between 1988 and 2008. Below we will show how this transformation wasn’t accompanied by salary equity between men and women, with a persistent pattern of inequality.

Considering full-time and full-pay employees [2], Figure 1 and Table 5 and 6 show how, both in 1988 and 2008, men’s average salaries are always highest than women’s with the same level of qualifications.

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The percentage difference between men and women’s salaries has remained virtually unchanged between 1988 and 2008 (Tables 5 and 6). The most significant difference regards workers with higher education (ISCED 5 / 6) : in 1988 men earned, on average, 27% more than women, in 2008 this percentage rose to 32%.

This means that in 2008, as already was happening in 1988, Portuguese female workers earn average wages substantially lower than men with equivalent levels of qualification. And in 2008, as in 1988, the wage inequality widens in highest education levels.

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Figure 2 and tables 7 and 8 show the wage difference between men and women according to their socio-professional class. In all classes, women have lower mean salaries than men. But while in 1988 the mean salaries of the five socio-professional classes are clearly different from each other, in 2008 there is an overlap of routine employees, industrial workers and agricultural workers salaries, while entrepreneurs and executives and professionals and managers are isolated.

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Besides the greater proximity between the lower classes’ wages, the main change occurred between 1988 and 2008 relates to the reduction of the gender gap salary among professionals and managers. While in 1988 PM men earned on average more 33% than women of the same socio-professional class, in 2008 this percentage was 17%. However, the school attainment of PM women is quite superior to the PM men, as it can be seen in Figure 3. That is, from 1988 to 2008, the gender salary gap among the PM socio-professional group decreased, but the school attainment of women became considerably higher man’s, which makes us question whether there was indeed an improvement towards equality.

On the other hand, it is interesting to note that even in the socio-professional class that aggregates more women (routine employees) there is a significant gender wage gap (men earn more 18% than women in 1988 and more 15% in 2008).

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The data above analyzed show very clearly the socio-professional restructuration that occurred in Portuguese society since the sixties. In the considered period, the Portuguese women working in the private sector more than doubled. In those two decades, female workers with a higher education level increased from 3% to 17%, surpassing in number and percentage men with the same level of education.

The trend observed in 1988, which consisted in a women’s concentration on routine tasks, is more pronounced in 2008, when 57% of female workers belonged to routine employees’ socio-professional class.

These changes were not accompanied by salary equalization between men and women. Considering men and women with the same education level, men earn more than women. And the higher the education level is, the greater is the inequality between sexes. This discrepancy was a reality in 1988 and remains so in 2008.

If one considers the socio-professional class, it is verified that, within each class, the men also earn, on average, higher salaries than women. One of the main changes occurred in that period was a decrease in the wage gap between PM men and women. Nevertheless inequalities remain.

Please click below to read the article of Margarida Carvalho from Observatòrio das Desigualdades, organisation member of Inequality Watch.

The persistence of gender salary inequality in Portuguese companies


[2N 1988 = 1.546.661. N 2008 = 2.278.538.

Photo : © auremar - Fotolia


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Thèmes : • Salaires • Revenus • Europe méridionale et balkanique


En partenariat

L’Observatoire des inégalités portugais (Observatòrio das Desigualdades) est une structure indépendante créée par le Centre de recherche et d’études en sociologie de l’institut universitaire de Lisbonne (CIES, ISCTE-IUL), responsable du travail au quotidien et de la coordination scientifique, en partenariat avec l’institut sociologique de la faculté des arts de l’Université de Porto (ISFLUP) et le centre d’études sociales de l’Université d’Azores (CES-UA).

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