Tackling the gender pay gap in the European Union

Tackling the gender pay gap in the European Union

What is the gender pay gap? What are its causes and what are the benefits of closing it? On the occasion of the 2014 European Equal Pay Day1, DG Justice of the European Commission published a brochure ‘Tackling the gender pay gap in the European Union’, which explains the gender pay gap and shows examples of national good practices to tackle it.

The brochure is available in English, French and German but will be available in the 23 languages soon.

What is the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap is the difference between men’s and women’s pay, based on the average difference in gross hourly earnings of all employees. The gender pay gap reflects ongoing discrimination and inequalities in the labour market which, in practice, mainly affect women. On average, women in the EU earn around 16 % less per hour than men.The gender pay gap varies across Europe. It is below 10 % in Slovenia, Malta, Poland, Italy, Luxembourg and Romania, but wider than 20 % in Hungary, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Germany, Austria and Estonia. Although the overall gender pay gap has narrowed in the last decade, in some countries the national gender pay gap has actually been widening (Hungary, Portugal).

Read about the latest report by the European Commission on our section about Gender Equality: Women In Europe Still Work 59 Days ‘For Free’, according to EU Commission Report.

What are the main causes of the gender pay gap?

There are a number of complex and often interrelated factors that explain the existence of the gender pay gap. In particular:

Discrimination in the workplace: the so called “direct discrimination”, where women are simply treated less favourably than men.

Different jobs, different sectors: Women and men carry out different jobs and often work in different sectors. In the health sector, women make up 80 % of all workers. Sectors where women are in the majority have lower wages than those dominated by men.

Workplace practices and pay systems: Women and men are affected by different workplace practices, such as access to career development and training, this is the case of the so called “glass ceiling”.

Undervaluing of women’s work and skills: Women’s skills and competences are often undervalued, especially in occupations where
they are in the majority. This results in lower rates of pay for women.

Few women in senior and leadership positions: Women are under-represented in politics and in the economy.

Gender roles and traditions: Gender roles and traditions shape women’s and men’s roles in society from a very early age. Traditions and gender roles may influence, for example, the choice of educational path taken by a young man or woman.

Balancing work and family responsibilities: Women work shorter hours and often part-time in order to combine their family responsabilities with paid work.

What are the benefits of closing the gender pay gap?

Women have played a vital role in Europe’s employment and economic growth and their skills and talent are necessary for the economic and social development of our societies. Closing the gender pay gap can help to reduce levels of poverty and increase women’s earnings during their lifetimes. This not only avoids the risk of women  falling into poverty during their working lives, but also reduces the danger of poverty in retirement. In Europe, the at-risk-of-poverty rate is around 22% for women over 65, compared to 16% of men over 65.

What is the EU doing?

Reducing the gender pay gap is a priority identified in a range of policy areas. For example:

  • „„The European Pact for Gender Equality which was adopted by EU leaders in 2011
  • „„The framework of actions on gender equality agreed between the European social partners in 2005

Communication on the gender pay gap, 2007
The European Commission’s 2007 Communication on the gender pay gap proposed a series of actions to tackle the gender pay gap. These included the better application of existing legislation, fighting the gender pay gap in employment policies, promoting equal pay among employers and through social partnership, and supporting the exchange of good practices across the EU.

Strategy for equality between women and men, 2010-2015
Closing the gender pay gap through legislative and non-legislative measures is a core objective of the European Commission’s Strategy for equality between women and men (2010-2015). The Strategy sets out actions in five areas: the economy and labour market; ; equal pay; equality in senior positions; tackling gender violence; and promoting gender equality beyond the EU.

Directive on Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value
The principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value has been enshrined in Treaties since 1957 and is incorporated in the Directive 2006/54/EC.

Equality Pays Off

To support employers in their efforts to tackle the gender pay gap, the Commission carried out the ‘Equality Pays Off’ project during 2012 and 2013. Its aim was to raise companies’ awareness of the ‘business case’ for gender equality and equal pay, that is, better access to the labour force potential of women in a context of demographic changes and skill shortages.

Read the brochure.

1 Council Conclusions on the Gender Pay Gap adopted during the Belgian Presidency of the EU in 2010 called for the introduction of a European Equal Pay Day to highlight the issues surrounding the persisting gender pay gap.
The first European Equal Pay Day was held on 5th March 2011. This date was chosen to mark the number of extra days (64) women in Europe must work during 2011 to match the amount of money earned by men in 2010. The event aimed to raise awareness throughout Europe of the gender pay gap. As part of the initiative, an online gender pay gap calculator was launched to help employers and employees to visualise the pay gap.

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