Labour market Participation
Women remain underrepresented in the labour market. In 2021, 67.7% of women were in employment, whereas men’s employment stood at 78.5%. In other words, there is still a gender employment gap of 10.8 p.p., which has only slightly decreased in the last 10 years (-1.9 p.p.).
Even if more women participate in the labour market, the burden of private and care responsibilities, the unpaid work, still rests largely on their backs. Women’s increase in working hours doesn’t usually lead to more balanced sharing of domestic and caregiving work between women and men. As a result, when combining the amount of time dedicated to unpaid labour (day-to-day, domestic duties, including care), overall, women work more.
Women are increasingly well qualified: more women than men graduate from universities in Europe. However, due to care responsibilities, many women do not feel as free in their choice of jobs or do not get the same job opportunities as men. For the same reason, women are more likely than men to work in part-time jobs.
Work is the best way to empower women economically. It is therefore necessary to increase women’s labour market participation.
Economic impact of the gender employment gap
The economic loss due to the gender employment gap amounts to €370 billion per year. Taking action is both a social and an economic imperative. Improving gender equality could lead to an increase in GDP of up to €3.15 trillion by 2050.
OECD’s data on gender equality
Eurostat gender statistics web page
Gender Equality Strategy Monitoring Portal
Gender Pay Gap
Overall women on average earn less than men per hour. This gender pay gap stands at 13.0 % for the EU27 in 2020 and declined only by 2.8 pp since 2010. Several factors contribute to this gap: different working patterns of women, often linked to their career breaks or change in working pattern to look after a child or other relatives; gender segregation in low-paid sectors; part-time employment… Some women are even paid less than men for the same work.
Find out more about the Gender pay gap.
In order for both men and women to engage equally in the labour market, caring responsibilities have to be shared equally. This is at core of the EU’s Directive on work-life balance for working parents and carers.
Statistics show that men would prefer to work less hours during the parenting phase. These findings also suggest a potential for change: men’s aspirations could be met by offering better and more equally shared work-life balance arrangements to families. These arrangements include measures such as paid paternity leave and adequately paid reserved periods of parental leave for fathers (“daddy months”). Men with care responsibilities also have the right to request flexible working time arrangements such as a reduction of working hours, flexitime and telework.
Care responsibilities and the Care Strategy
Although more and more women are employed and increase their working hours, they still assume the bulk of private domestic and care work both for children and for other family members in need of care. Such care needs can be more or less time intensive and can be temporary or permanent. Care responsibilities should be shared more equally with men.
Working arrangements need to allow for a better reconciliation between work and private life. In addition, the availability of affordable and high quality care services is also crucial to facilitate women’s engagement in paid work. Wider access to high-quality care services (e.g. childcare and long-term care) should ensure more opportunities for women to enter or stay in employment. It also reduces the risk of poverty and social exclusion among older women, children and vulnerable groups.
The Commission adopted on 7 September 2022 a European Care Strategy. It consists of a chapeau communication on the European care strategy, a proposal for a Council recommendation on the revision of the Barcelona targets on early childhood education and care, and one on access to affordable high-quality long-term care. On 8th December 2022 the Council adopted the two Recommendations.
In order to remove disincentives for female labour-market participation, the 2002 Barcelona European Council set two targets on childcare: a participation rate in early childhood education and care (ECEC) of 33% for children under 3 years of age and of 90% for children from age 3 until compulsory primary school age. The 2002 Barcelona targets were reached on EU average, but progress has been uneven among Member States. After 20 years, the availability of accessible, affordable and high quality ECEC remains a crucial element for gender equality. It is also important to achieve the target set by the European Social Pillar Action Plan to halve the gender employment gap by 2030.
The Council recommendation proposes to revise the 2002 Barcelona targets with the aim to encourage Member States to increase participation in early childhood education and care in order to facilitate women’s labour-market participation and enhance the social and cognitive development of all children, and, in particular of children in vulnerable situations or from disadvantaged backgrounds. It adds new dimensions to the original Barcelona targets namely (1) closing the participation gap between children at risk of poverty and the overall population and (2) paying attention to the time intensity of participation in early childhood education and care. It also invites Member States to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of early childhood education and care for all children.
The European Care Strategy will support the implementation of several principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights. Notably in the area of early childhood education and care (principle 11), but also gender equality (principle 2) and work-life balance (principle 9).
Gender segregation in the labour market
The uneven concentration of women and men in different sectors of the labour market is a persistent problem in the EU. 3 in 10 women work in education, health and social work (8% of men), which are traditionally low-paid sectors. On the other hand, almost a third of men is employed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (7% of women), which are higher-paid sectors.
Find more statistics on the gender segregation.
Gender stereotypes in all spheres of life influence very much people’s choices of work they do and how they can combine it with private life. They are at the root of occupational, sectoral, time and hierarchical segregation between women and men.
Gender stereotypes related to the division of care responsibilities usually turn out to be detrimental
for women and their career paths. Women opt for part-time work more often, with consequences for their life-long income, including pension, and with impact on their career possibilities. Likewise, stereotypical masculinity norms hinder men from fully participating in parenthood, and in caregiving in a wider sense.
We need to build a future Europe where girls and boys can choose freely their education and profession.