The gender pay gap in architecture does not discriminate, hitting just about every age group from young graduates to architects of 30 years standing. Gill Matthewson digs into the Census stats and uncovers disturbing results.

Mind The Gap

Image courtesy of Sian To, London Underground Lover.

The gender pay gap is the difference between what women are paid compared to men. Once upon a time, women were paid less than men on principle because men had to support families and women didn’t. Although family structures and social attitudes have shifted that thinking (and law changes have made it outright illegal), the gender pay gap still seems to persist across most industries. Looking closely at the data from the 2011 Census reveals the size of that gap for architects, and shows how it increases with age.

In a previous post I wrote that working out the statistics for the architecture profession was complicated – very complicated. That was never truer than for the gender pay gap. We suspected it was there – there are many hints, and why would architecture be any different than other area – but tracking down its extent is not easy. All the statistical sets bring with them complexities; in particular, any survey collects data from a limited number and range of people, and so can be skewed one way or another.

The Census provides the most inclusive and comprehensive count of those active in the profession. This means that is is also one of the most useful resources when seeking to understand the nature of the pay gap.1

The Census is more reliable than any other source  for two interrelated reasons. Firstly, the very large number of respondents means that, for the most part, the resulting figures avoid the anomalies and uneven data that can arise from smaller or more limited surveys. Secondly, this large amount of data can be broken down into smaller units – in terms of the pay gap the most important breakdown is by age, as discussed below.2

However, despite this comprehensive coverage, the Census data is not perfect. Calculations at the high pay end of earnings are not especially accurate because the highest pay category available is ‘more than $2,000 a week’, which corresponds to a salary of $104,000. This means that we cannot differentiate between those earning $105,000 and those earning over $250,000 – a sizeable gap! This affects our understanding of the pay of just under a quarter of all architects, who the 2011 Census records as earning over $2,000 per week. In the calculations outlined below I compensate for this by making a rough, but conservative, estimate using data from the annual Association of Consulting Architects National Salary Survey.

Age and the pay gap

It is particularly important to break the numbers down by age, because the age profile of men in architecture is much older than that for women. Figure 1 shows this imbalance for women and men in full-time work from the 2011 Census.

Fig 1

Figure 1: Number of persons in age cohort by gender – full-time workers

This very different age profile distorts any overall average income by gender because it means that more men are more experienced and therefore likely to earn more. Consequently, the average pay gap for full-time architectural workers comes out at an alarming 19%; women earning on average $68,154 per annum and men $84,206. If part-time workers were included in the calculation the gap would widen further, because more women than men work part-time. The best way to overcome these distortions introduced by differing age profiles and work-force participation is to look at earnings for full-time workers by age group. This gives some kind of even footing for comparison (see Figure 2).3

Fig 2 

Figure 2: Average annual income by age and by gender

Figure 2 shows that there is a consistent pattern of a pay gap – men are paid more than women and this difference gets greater as age increases. The only anomaly is for those aged 60–64 years. This deviation is simply because there are not many women in this group – 40 women and 705 men, to be precise (figure 1). This means that each woman represents nearly 3% of all the women in the age cohort, so it doesn’t take many to flip the chart; small sample sizes such as this cause anomalies.

It is also important to note that because a considerable proportion of people in the age groups over 40 are earning in the highest bracket, the gaps shown are conservative and may actually be greater. This is because of the approximation at this end of earnings as outlined above.

Another way to look at the pay gap is to look at the distribution of people within the earning brackets identified in the 2011 Census – this is shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Distribution of earnings per week by age group and gender

Proportionally, fewer men earn in the lower bands of less than $1,000 a week (those coloured green) in every age bracket. The reverse is true for the highest earning bracket (those in red) where, proportionally, more men are earning more than $1,500 a week in all age cohorts (except for the anomaly of the 60–64 group).

Of most concern are the younger age groups, particularly 25–29, where we see a gender pay difference of 6% (note that this figure is the same as that identified in the 2012 GradStats report). This is especially disturbing for a number of reasons. In this age group we can assume that the experience levels of full-time architects are similar and many would still be covered by the Architects Award. Fewer in this younger age group are likely to have families, something that can typically impede women’s careers. Lastly, the sample size for this group is also large, with women well represented, which results in particularly reliable data.

The gap is not great for the mid-earners within this cohort – roughly half the women and half the men aged 25–34 earn between $1,000 and $1,500 a week – but we see the difference at the upper and lower limits. A quarter of the men earn more than $1,500 but just 15% of the women. And 35% of the women earn under $1,000 while only 27% of the men do. Keep in mind that these are full-time workers. All indicators suggest that this gap will only expand as this group progresses through their careers.

Where does the pay gap come from and what can we do about it?

Pay gaps are tricky things, and inequity can occur both within individual practices and across the profession – that is, between practices. There are reasons why different firms might have different capacities to pay different salaries. Factors include a practice’s client base and the type of work they do: for example, commercial fees traditionally have more flesh on them than social infrastructure, and high-end residential more than small-scale additions and alterations. Different types of roles are also rewarded differently (for example, the ACA Salary Survey suggests that BIM managers are among the highest paid, and there are suggestions of a gender imbalance in these roles). However, women now make up more than a third of the Census architect population and are spread throughout the profession in firms of all sizes and configurations – especially in those younger cohorts. There is no reason to assume that women cluster in practices that pay lower wages.

This suggests that we need to look at the more complex factors of gender bias that can tint how we interact in architecture and that subsequently impact on women’s careers and earning capacity. As the Parlour Guide to Pay Gap notes, these include:

  • Differing starting salaries (which the data above confirms is certainly happening)
  • Uneven pay rises and opportunities for promotion for employees with similar experience and performance
  • Different pay rates for roles requiring similar levels of expertise, skill and experience
  • Different negotiation skills and expertise
  • Different levels of pay for part-time employees who are performing the same work as their full-time counterparts
  • Uneven access to opportunities for professional development
  • Uneven access to bonuses or performance pay
  • More limited employment or promotion prospects for those with family responsibilities

Many of these factors are cumulative and build up, one of top of the other, over time.

The nature of gender bias and consequent inequity is such that it often sneaks in like a nasty weed and it requires vigilance to keep under control. Use the Parlour Guides to help keep the weeds at bay and ensure that you are not letting covert biases disadvantage women in terms of pay.


Gill Matthewson is a researcher, architect and educator, based at Monash University. Her PhD “Dimensions of Gender: women’s careers in the Australian architecture profession” was awarded by the University of Queensland in 2015. 

Image: courtesy of Sian To of London Underground Lover. 

  1. Census data was requested from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) as part of the State of the Profession Research for the Association of Consulting Architects – South Australia, funded through a grant from the Architectural Practice Board of South Australia, led by John Held and Sue Phillips of ACA – SA. Thanks to ACA ­­– SA for making this data available for this analysis.[]
  2. There is a limit to how far the data can be broken down. We initially asked for the data divided not just by age but also hours worked and occupation status (owner, employee, etc). ABS informed us that that level of detail leads to strange statistical anomalies and would not be reliable.[]
  3. First I nominated a single figure in the middle of each income bracket provided by the ABS (so in the $800–999 range, $900 was the figure). That figure was then multiplied by the number of men and the number of women in the bracket. The total for the age group was added and then divided by the total number of men and women in the age group. For those earning more than $2,000, the figure $2,400 was used.[]