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25 April 2014

Gender gap in the EU: some progress, but challenges remain

On 14 April the European Commission released a report on progress made last year in terms of equality between women and men. Since the outbreak of the crisis, the gender employment gap has decreased somewhat. This ‘progress’ is, however, the result of a 3% decrease in the male employment rate in the EU over the period 2008-2013 in conjunction with a stabilization of the employment rate among women.

‘However this may be, the crisis marks a clear break with the progress made in employment rates of women since the early 2000s. Over the 2002-2008 period, female employment rose by 4.5 percentage points. Now, five years after the onset of the crisis, it is back down to 2008 levels, while in the worst affected countries it has even slipped back as far as 2002 levels. Meanwhile, the part-time rate has increased in most of the EU28 countries, showing that, in terms of full-time equivalents, the crisis has had an even stronger negative effect on women’s labour market participation’, commented Agnieszka Piasna, researcher at the ETUI, on the basis of her own research.

The Commission's report also shows that the educational attainment of women has improved substantially over the last decade. In 2012, the proportion of young women school drop-outs was lower than the proportion among men.

Despite their investment in education, women are paid 16% less per hour than men and continue to find themselves affected by the ‘glass ceiling’ – in 2013, only 18% of board members of the largest publicly listed companies in the EU were women. Research and innovation are no exception – only 20% of top-level academics are women and just one out of ten universities in the EU has a female vice-chancellor.

The report also highlights the persisting gender segregation, with only 16% of all employees working in gender-mixed occupations. ‘Such high segregation narrows employment choices for both men and women’, observed Agnieszka Piasna.

Female workers are more likely to work part-time and to take a career break to care for others, for women still bear the brunt of unpaid work within the household and family. On average, they spend 26 hours a week on care and household tasks compared with only 9 hours for men.

The fact that women are much more likely to break off their careers contributes to a gender gap in pensions. Not surprisingly, the report shows that older women are more at risk of poverty or social exclusion than older men (22% versus 16%).

In spite of the progress made since the early 2000s, tremendous effort is still going to be required to close the gender gap. ‘Under current rates of progress, it will take almost 30 years to reach the EU’s target of 75% of women in employment, 70 years to make equal pay a reality and 20 years to achieve parity in national parliaments’, states in the report.

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