The pay gap between men and women in the UK could be wider than official figures suggest, according to new research, with the differences in some areas reaching 30 per cent.
Research by the website PayFinder.com, which asks visitors to provide details of their income and compares salaries across the UK, found that the average pay gap for the same job was 24 per cent.
This represents an increase of five per cent on the same survey a year ago.
The figures are based on almost 125,000 submissions to the site over the last 12 months and contrast with official research by the Office for National Statistics which puts the pay gap at 19 per cent.
Regionally the gap is highest in the South East, where men are paid 30 per cent more. In Scotland, the gap is 29 per cent, and in Eastern England and the North East it is 26 per cent.
Meanwhile the reported figure for Wales showed an increase of 14 per cent over the past 12 months to 23 per cent.
What Payfinder does not mention is that in London and the South East, pay figures have always been slanted by the concentration of very high earning City professionals - most of whom are male.
Indeed the huge pay rises awarded to a small number of male executives over the past three years have been so large that they have widened the overall pay gap statistics against the long-term trend.
Another significant factor in the gender pay gap is occupational segregation, where women are concentrated in a narrow range of low paid occupations such as cleaning, catering and caring. The impact of career breaks and caring responsibilities on women in the labour market, including the ability of women to work full-time or over-time, is also significant.
Examinations of the pay gap in greater details also reveals wide variations. For example, research carried out in 2003 by the Chartered Management Institute and Remuneration Economics found that the belief that female managers are paid less than their male counterparts is a myth.
Meanwhile a survey earlier this year for the GMB union found that the pay gap had reversed in some parts of Northern Ireland with women earning on average £38 per week more than men.
Yet as the growing number of high-profile legal action demonstrate, women continue to lag behind male colleagues in other areas, particularly in the investment banking sector.
According to Payfinder’s figures, the gap is at its most yawning in sales jobs, where mean are paid on average 61 per cent more than their female colleagues. But the banking sector was not far behind with an average 54 per cent gap.
A spokeswoman for PayFinder said it was “incredible” that a pay gap existed at all in 2004.
She said: “When we found the gap was 19 per cent last year, we thought it would even out and get less as more people logged on. But it's got worse.
"It's not just in one or two careers, it's across the board, in banking, sales, public relations, real estate, everything.
"A lot of it may be because many women do not ask to have their salaries reviewed. We found that about three-quarters of them have never tried, but we don't exactly know why. I suppose it just reflects the general sexism still present in society."
The Equal Opportunities Commission, which launched a campaign in January this year to tackle the ‘culture of secrecy’ surrounding the issue of pay in the UK and help women take action to improve their salaries, said that the figures were “really interesting”.
"Although they relate to people logging on, rather than official Government figures, there will have been a great many people contributing so the results are important,” a spokesperson said.
"They are similar to those we found ourselves and underline the scale of the problem that exists in Britain's workplaces. We need more employers to review their systems to make sure that pay is based on contribution and not on gender.”