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Reducing inequalities for EU citizens and promoting upward convergence in living conditions is high on the policy agenda for the European Commission. Drivers of inequality can include gender, age, disability, employment status and citizenship, with implications for pay and income, access to welfare, health and education services. 


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Eurofound research

Income inequality

Since the onset of the crisis, income inequality in the EU has increased because the process of income convergence between countries has stalled and income inequalities within countries have expanded. Pay and income inequality remains a concern and the working poor are still a substantial group among workers in the EU. Eurofound has carried out a range of research on these issues highlighting impacts on employment, living conditions and quality of life, and working conditions.

Eurofound has examined recent developments in the distribution of wages in the EU, focusing both on the EU dimension but also offering country comparisons in terms of income and wage inequality. Research has also explored the role that occupations play in structuring wage inequality in the EU. 

A study on income inequalities and employment patterns before and after the Great Recession showed that the recession pushed inequalities upwards both for the EU as a whole and across most Member States. It demonstrates that unemployment and its associated decline in income is the main reason for inequality surges in recent years. 

Recent research has also explored the case of in-work poverty and the ‘working poor’. Alongside direct measures by governments to prevent or alleviate inequalities and increase incomes, such as the minimum and living wage, progressive taxation, in-work benefits and social assistance, more policy attention is needed regarding indirect measures that improve living standards of the working poor households, such as more flexible working arrangements, housing benefits, upgrading of skills and childcare.

A policy brief on social cohesion and well-being in the EU considers how income inequalities undermine social cohesion and the well-being of European citizens. 

Social inequality

Eurofound’s European Quality of Life Surveys (EQLS) explore inequalities across various indicators of quality of life. EQLS 2016 shows that despite improvements on some indicators, there are persistent inequalities on others. It underlines the dilemma that the rising tide of the post-crisis recovery has not lifted all citizens equally; quality of life for people in the lowest income quartile improved less between 2011 and 2016 than for others. The new topic in the 2016 survey has looked at ‘economising’ in savings on food, and delaying visits to doctor or dentist as ways to cope with deprivation. 

The EQLS 2016 highlights that inequalities in access to and quality of care are significant factors in limiting access to employment and participation in society, as well as reducing quality of life. Large differences between Member States and between socioeconomic groups in ratings of quality of services emphasise the continuing importance of measures to address inequalities.

Differences or inequalities in health are receiving increased policy focus. EQLS data shed light on changes across the EU population as a whole and in relation to specific groups. The most pressing inequalities are related to income and are underlined, for example, in the experience of greater problems in accessing primary healthcare for people in the lowest income quartile, as well as lower ratings of satisfaction with the quality of GP and hospital services.

Women in the lower income quartiles are particularly at higher risk of mental health problems. Some groups, particularly the (long-term) unemployed, are much more likely to experience feelings of social exclusion. People with lower secondary education or less report higher social exclusion and, unlike others, there was no improvement on this between 2011 and 2016.

Eurofound has carried out a range of studies on the challenges facing older people and young people, both on entering the labour market and related to their social situation. 

Social mobility

Across the EU, citizens and governments are becoming more concerned that – for the first time in decades – younger generations will have fewer opportunities for upward social mobility than their parents’ generation. This concern is shared by those on low incomes and the middle classes.

A Eurofound study sheds new light on the debate on social mobility in the EU and provides new evidence on patterns of intergenerational social mobility. It identifies key barriers to social mobility and reviews policies aimed at facilitating upward social mobility and equal opportunities specifically in the areas of childcare, early education, schooling and the labour market.

Gender inequality

A range of research on the topic of gender equality has looked in particular into inequalities in the working conditions of men and women, as part of Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS). Other research has been conducted on topics such as the gender employment gap, the gender pay gap, pay transparency, work–life balance and flexible working arrangements, and more recently on discrimination against men at work. The European Quality of Life Survey underlines the message that women continue to carry out most of the unpaid household and care work.

Inequalities in working conditions

Besides gender inequalities in working conditions, research has also explored various forms of fraudulent work and of self-employment in the EU, issues facing posted workers, as well as the implications for working conditions and for social protection. 

Key outputs


This report explores the distribution of household wealth in the EU Member States and analyses the role of wealth in social mobility. Using data from three datasets (the Household Finance...

30 Marzo 2021
Research report

EU context

Inequalities have risen in some countries in recent decades, due to factors such as globalisation, technological change, taxation policy and the economic crisis. These inequalities are hampering economic growth and can lead to social conflict, reducing participation in society and leading to increased social exclusion. 

The 2017 European Pillar of Social Rights aims to tackle inequalities in key areas and thereby to strengthen the European Social Model. The key dimensions of the Pillar are equal opportunities and access to the labour market, fair working conditions, adequate social protection and social inclusion.


Eurofound expert(s)


Massimiliano Mascherini has been Head of the Social Policies unit at Eurofound since October 2019. He joined Eurofound in 2009 as a research manager, designing and coordinating...

Head of Unit,
Social policies research unit

Tadas Leončikas is Head of the Employment unit at Eurofound since September 2022. Prior to this, he was a senior research manager in the Social Policies unit, managing the European...

Head of Unit,
Employment research unit
Publications results (40)

This report examines trends in income inequality in the EU and explores whether the middle class is becoming smaller due to disparities in household disposable income.

12 July 2024

La transición de la UE a una economía climáticamente neutra requiere nada menos que una revolución industrial limpia. En este informe se analizan las posibles repercusiones socioeconómicas que tendrá este cambio fundamental para diferentes regiones y grupos de población europeos, siguiendo un

19 June 2023

Históricamente, el debate político en torno a la convergencia de la UE ha cobrado impulso tras una crisis. A raíz de la pandemia de COVID-19, el objetivo del presente informe es hacer balance de las dos últimas décadas de tendencias de convergencia. El estudio comienza con una investigación empírica

22 March 2023

La pandemia de COVID-19 tuvo diferentes repercusiones en los grupos sociales, en función de las desventajas existentes, y en general se considera que desencadenó un aumento de las desigualdades en diferentes ámbitos de la vida. A partir de los indicadores del marco de seguimiento de la desigualdad

24 January 2023

En el informe se examina cómo evolucionó la confianza de los ciudadanos en las instituciones —incluidos los gobiernos nacionales, la UE, la ciencia y los medios de comunicación— durante la pandemia de COVID-19 en 2020 y 2021. Se analiza el papel de los medios de comunicación, en particular la

16 November 2022

La pandemia de COVID-19 ha acentuado las desigualdades en numerosas dimensiones de las sociedades europeas, incluidas las desigualdades entre hombres y mujeres en varios ámbitos clave. En el presente informe, se examinan las desigualdades de género que ya existían antes de la crisis de la COVID-19 y

13 October 2022

This paper provides a context for the questions to be explored within the Foundation Forum 2022. Europe is emerging from the COVID-19 crisis having managed to protect its economy in the face of a major shock and prevent mass unemployment. However, challenges remain. While the Member States up to now

24 February 2022

La convergencia ascendente se sitúa en el centro del proyecto de la UE. Los Estados miembros y sus ciudadanos se adhieren a la Unión con la esperanza de que su pertenencia a la misma genere una prosperidad económica equilibrada y progreso social en todos los países. Las crecientes desigualdades

20 December 2021

Durante más de una década, la incertidumbre sobre el futuro ha ido en aumento en la mayor parte de la UE. Mucha gente cree que la sociedad está en declive, lo que ha dado lugar a un sentimiento general de pesimismo. ¿Existe un vínculo entre el auge de la popularidad de los partidos antisistema y el

16 September 2021

A lo largo de la última década, la UE ha avanzado lentamente hacia la igualdad de género. Dado que los logros en materia de igualdad de género varían considera-blemente de un Estado miembro a otro, es importante comprender la evolución de las disparidades entre los Estados miembros y las

15 July 2021

Online resources results (74)

In this special episode of Eurofound Talks for International Women's Day 2024, Mary McCaughey speaks with Eurofound researchers Carlos Vacas and Barbara Gerstenberger about the gender pay and employment gaps in Europe.

4 Marzo 2024

Living, working and COVID-19: Impact on gender equality 11 March 2021, European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) virtual meeting Presentation by Maria Jepsen, Acting Executive Director, Eurofound

22 Marzo 2021

Sweden: latest working life developments Q2 2018

A historic agreement on industrial action regulations and a narrowing gender pay gap are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Sweden in the second quarter of 2018.

Romania: New law aims to reduce pay inequality in the public sector

New government legislation to reduce financial inequalities in the public sector will see workers receive considerable wage increases, the introduction of paid overtime and a reduction in the wage gap. However, some employer organisations fear such legislation could see an exodus of workers from the

EU level: Latest working life developments – Q1 2017

Issues related to the European Commission’s proposal on the European Pillar of Social Rights, as well as some developments in social dialogue at EU level, are the main topics of interest in this article. This update reports on the latest developments in working life at EU level in the first quarter

Finland: Migrant experiences of the labour market

A recent survey from Finland finds that fluency in Finnish is crucial for the employment prospects of workers of migrant origin. It also finds that – while most migrants feel they are fairly treated at work – people of African and Middle-Eastern origin report the greatest difficulties.

Migrant workers: positive assets or ‘benefit tourists’?

In Denmark, the election of members to the European Parliament [1] on 25 May 2014 took place during a period of heated debate. Discussions centred on what influence EU rules on ‘the free movement of labour’ has and will have on the Danish welfare model. [1]

Trade unions’ initiative promotes social dialogue

In November 2010, the National Trade Union Confederation Meridian (CSN Meridian [1]), and the Farmers’ Federation (FAF [2]) started a joint project to promote social dialogue in rural areas of Romania. The three-year project, Together for the development of social dialogue in Romania, was co

Working mothers entitled to paid breastfeeding breaks

The right to breastfeeding breaks has guaranteed by labour legislation since the 1950s, although employers have been left to decided whether working mothers who take them should be paid or not.

Study points to discrimination in recruiting process

A study has looked at the question of ethic, age and gender discrimination in the recruiting processes of the Austrian labour market.

Blogs results (11)

Inequalities have become more apparent in many areas: between men and women; between rich and poor; between young and old; and between rural and urban areas. What are the implications of these inequalities across the EU?

2 Mayo 2024

The state in which the EU finds itself has been described as a ‘permacrisis’, whereby the Union is confronted by challenge after challenge, and citizens are constantly having to adapt to a ‘new normal’.

11 Diciembre 2023

Today is Europe Day, and one hundred young people from Ireland and Ukraine will be marking the event at Eurofound, in peaceful south Dublin. Europe Day has traditionally been seen as a celebration of peace and unity in Europe, but, unfortunately, it must be marked differently this year. Europe Day 2

9 Mayo 2022
Pay inequalities come back into focus in post-crisis Europe

The ability to make ends meet is a vital issue for many Europeans and an important priority for European policymakers. In the immediate aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis the initial focus was to mitigate and reverse job loss, particularly in the countries most affected. With employment back to p

3 Noviembre 2017
The many faces of self-employment In Europe

While the Europe 2020 strategy actively promotes entrepreneurial self-employment as a means to create good jobs, policy makers at national and EU level are actively looking at better social protection for self-employed workers. Understanding this paradox requires looking beyond the ‘self-employed’ l

26 Octubre 2017

In-work poverty increased during the economic and financial crisis that hit European shores in 2008. By 2014, ten per cent of European workers were at risk of poverty, up from eight per cent in 2007. Ten per cent is a significant figure: the working poor represent a substantial group that can’t be i

13 Octubre 2017

The Great Recession depressed real income levels across European countries. But the impact was very unequal across countries and income groups. Countries in the European periphery have been more affected than those in the core, halting the process of income convergence between European countries tha

23 Junio 2017

Equality of opportunity and upward social mobility are important aspects of the European social model. Until quite recently concerns about rising inequalities were often countered by assurances about protecting social mobility, and the assertion that an individual’s status is mainly down to their wo

26 Abril 2017

EU-wide income inequality declined notably prior to 2008, driven by a strong process of income convergence between European countries. The Great Recession broke this trend. After 2008, income convergence has been sluggish, while inequality within many countries has increased significantly.

21 Marzo 2017

One of the common values that unites the European Union is that of equal opportunities: all citizens should have the same possibility to improve their lives and participate in the labour market regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. Ensuring equal opportunities in finding w

Upcoming publications results (1)

The focus of this report is on the role that human capital plays in determining inequalities across the EU, as well as within Member States. Using Cedefop’s work in this area, the report provides a comparative analysis of national trends in education and lifelong learning, including differences betw

August 2024
Data results (2)
12 Diciembre 2023


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