The Wage Gap

Female workers seated, overlooked by two males

The gender wage gap is often discussed in the media. As recently as October 2016 the Office of National Statistics produced a report indicating that men working full time earn 9.6% more, on average, than their female counterparts. At Quarry Bank in the 1860s, the gender pay gap was 300%!

Magaret Magan was a mill worker at Quarry Bank and former apprentice.  Margaret became an overlooker of a group of 23 Winders, and she was paid 8 shillings per week in 1863 (about 96p in modern currency).  In the same week, William Thompson, the highest paid of 18 workers in the 3rd Spinning Room, earned 1 pound and 4 shillings (about £2.88 today). This is nearly three times the amount earned by Mary for supervising a similar number of workers.  

Margaret Magan's wage was remarkable even despite the difference from William's, as she was also one of very few women who achieved the position of overlooker at Quarry Bank.  We know from the census returns that she had this job in 1861, but the vast majority of these positions were held by men.

In order to find out about Margaret, we undertook research at Manchester Central Library. This is where the Quarry Bank wage books from the 1850s and 1860s are held. Although the wage books don't identify jobs within each room in the mill, we can make the logical assumption that the highest paid worker in any area is the overlooker. These wage books can be accessed by you too. If you'd like to learn more about this exciting period of history, and really delve into the detail of what was happening at Quarry Bank at this time, the Archives at Central Library are accessible by appointment.

There was only one woman who earned a wage that was comparable to that earned by the highest paid man at Quarry Bank.  Elizabeth Jones was a weaver who earned 15 shillings and tuppence.  The wages of the weavers varied week by week, whereas those of other workers were more constant, which is most likely because the weavers were paid according to the cloth that they produced rather than the time that they spent at work. This is known as piecework, and we can assume that Elizabeth Jones was very good at it.

In the course of my research I've discovered that the gender pay gap has changed from 300% to about 10% in 150 years.  How long will it be until there is parity?


Written by Ian Tams, Archive Volunteer