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Old-fashioned view of nursing as ‘feminine’ undervalues profession, RCN study reveals

Gender inequalities affecting pay and status persist despite the fact that nine out of ten nurses in the UK are women, study finds
Gender and pay in nursing

Gender inequalities affecting pay and status persist despite the fact that nine out of ten nurses in the UK are women, study finds

Nurses are undervalued in status and pay because the profession is predominantly made up of women, a new study carried out by the RCN and Oxford Brookes University finds.

Experts warn that the UK will continue to experience severe nursing shortages if pay which they say does not reflect nurses skills and experience is not improved.

Nursing pay does not reflect the highly skilled nature of the job

The study, Gender and Nursing as a Profession: Valuing Nurses and Paying Them Their Worth , states that

Gender inequalities affecting pay and status persist despite the fact that nine out of ten nurses in the UK are women, study finds


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Nurses are undervalued in status and pay because the profession is predominantly made up of women, a new study carried out by the RCN and Oxford Brookes University finds.

Experts warn that the UK will continue to experience severe nursing shortages if pay – which they say does not reflect nurses’ skills and experience – is not improved.

Nursing pay does not reflect the highly skilled nature of the job

The study, Gender and Nursing as a Profession: Valuing Nurses and Paying Them Their Worth, states that the ‘old-fashioned view that caring for others is a feminine characteristic still persists in British society'.

Despite this, researchers found nurses ‘routinely take on tasks previously the preserve of doctors’ and are constantly pushing forward advances in nursing practice.

‘We see care as a naturally feminine skill or characteristic,' said Oxford Brookes University centre for diversity policy research and practice director Anne Laure Humbert.

‘This sits in direct opposition to the high level of skills and professionalisation required in contemporary nursing.’

The researchers found that the pay gap between the sexes in nursing is largely the result of gender differences in working hours rather than direct discrimination and gender inequality. 

The study report shows that the nursing workforce is made up of 90% women, but that they fill less than one third of senior positions and earn on average 17% less than men in similar positions.

Forced to choose between career progression and flexible work conditions

Oxford Brookes research fellow Kate Clayton-Hathway explains this discrepancy: ‘In terms of career progression, increasing numbers are choosing flexibility over career development.

‘This is largely because of a lack of choice or control over working patterns or working hours, a paucity of family care provision and lack of support for training and development.’

The researchers also found that nurses from a black or minority ethnic background tend to earn about 10% less than their white counterparts when other factors are taken into consideration.

Challenging and changing perceptions about nursing

RCN senior research lead Rachael McIlroy said the report was an important step in challenging and changing perceptions about nursing.

‘We hope that this research will spark a conversation within the nursing profession, among nursing staff, employers, regulators and policymakers about the critical role played by the largest healthcare occupation in the country and how we better value it in terms of status and pay.’

The report makes a series of eight recommendations for the college to take action on, including: further research; developing fairer job evaluation frameworks; and creating a platform to articulate the value of nursing.


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Gender and Nursing as a Profession: Valuing Nurses and Paying Them Their Worth


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