The pay gap between men and women is closing at its fastest rate since measurement began, according to the latest round of official figures published today (8 November).
The Office for National Statistics' Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings revealed that the gender pay gap for full-time employees narrowed from 12.2% in April 2009 to 10.2% in April this year, the largest drop since the full-time employee measure began in 1997 when the gender pay gap was around 17%.
Women's median full-time weekly earnings were up by 3.1% to £439, while men saw a 1.3% rise to £538 per week.
However, the working patterns between men and women varied greatly. Only 12% of men worked part time, compared with 42% of women - indicating that women are also more likely to receive lower hourly rates of pay.
Overall, gross annual earnings for full-time employees were £25,900 - an increase of 0.3% from 2009.
Charles Cotton, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's performance and reward adviser, described the gender pay gap fall as "significant" but said that it was likely to be due to the fact that more men work in the construction and engineering industries, which have seen caps on pay.
"Women are quite well represented in the public sector, leisure, hospitality and retail," he told Personnel Today. "It's a reflection of the economy and it's just that their pay has been less affected by the downturn between 2009 and 2010.
"I think the impact of pay freezes in the public sector could potentially see the gap widen. If the economy starts to take off we could see some upturns in construction and engineering. Then individuals in those areas could start to see their pay go up."
Sarah Welfare, XpertHR's deputy editor of pay and benefits, added: "While the news that the pay gap has narrowed so significantly will be greeted as welcome news, it is mainly because of a significant decline in men's hourly earnings growth over the recession.
"Whether or not the gender pay gap will continue to narrow over the coming few years remains to be seen in view of the likelihood that public spending cuts will hit women's jobs and pay harder than men's."
Earlier this week the Government announced that gender pay audits will not be compulsory under the Equality Act 2010.