Gender equality

20 July 2021

Woman working in warehouse

Gender equality refers to equality between women and men with respect to their rights, treatment, responsibilities, opportunities, and economic and social achievements.Read more

Gender equality refers to equality between women and men with respect to their rights, treatment, responsibilities, opportunities, and economic and social achievements. Gender equality is achieved when men and women have the same rights, responsibilities and opportunities across all sections of society and when the different interests, needs and priorities of men and women are equally valued. 

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Recent updates

Upward convergence in gender equality: How close is the Union of equality?

Over the last decade, the EU has made slow progress towards gender equality. As achievements in gender equality vary...

Gender pay transparency: Advancing the cause through a truly European proposal

With its proposed directive on gender pay transparency, the European Commission has significantly bolstered the set of...

Watch the webinar: #AskTheExpert - EU citizens experience deep fatigue and frustration as pandemic enters second year - New survey findings from Living, working and COVID-19

#AskTheExpert webinar - EU citizens experience deep fatigue and frustration as pandemic enters second year: New survey...

EU context

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Gender equality is a core value of the EU, a fundamental right, a critical component of economic growth and a key principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights. In this light, the EU has been making progress in the gender equality field over the last decades.Read more

Gender equality is a core value of the EU, a fundamental right, a critical component of economic growth and a key principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights. In this light, the EU has been making progress in the gender equality field over the last decades. Despite progress, however, two decades into the 21st century, gender inequalities in labour markets, employment, quality of life and at work persist. As part of the European Commission’s adjusted 2020 programme, gender equality remains an important policy priority, with the goal being to roll out a new European Gender Equality Strategy and improve on the 2020 Gender Equality Index score of 67.9 for the EU. 

On 5 March 2020, the Commission launched a new Gender Equality Strategy 2020–2025. The Strategy’s main topics are: violence against women; pay transparency and the gender pay gap; gender balance on company boards; and work–life balance. It is also guided by the vision of ‘a Europe where women and men are free to pursue their chosen path in life, where they have equal opportunities to thrive, and where they can equally participate in and lead our European society’.  As one of the first deliverables of the Strategy, the Commission presented a proposal on binding pay transparency measures on 4 March 2021.​​​​​​

From 26 to 29 October 2020, the European Parliament held its first-ever European Gender Equality Week, at the initiative of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Committee (FEMM). Parliament committees hosted discussions on a range of issues linked to gender equality. During the week, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) also published the findings of its Gender Equality Index 2020, with a special focus on digitalisation in the world of work and the impact of this on gender equality.

The COVID-19 pandemic is having vast implications on health, well-being, quality of life, the labour market and the economy. It is also having a multifaceted impact on gender equality at work and at home. Promoting gender equality is at the heart of the EU policy response to the crisis, in line with the Gender Equality Strategy. 

Eurofound’s work on gender equality links in with the Commission’s 2019–2024 priority on an economy that works for people. Eurofound has contributed in the recent past to the EU initiative on work–life balance and on the pay transparency initiative.

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    Research

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    Minimum wages infographic
    Infographic

    Eurofound adopts a gender mainstreaming approach systematically in its research. Where possible and relevant, research findings, including surveys and policy analyses, disaggregate data by gender. Other research projects provide specific analysis relevant to gender equality. The research covers a wider variety of topics from a gender perspective, such as pay and income, minimum wage, care, employment participation, leave, skills and training, work organisation, job quality, working time, work–life balance and upward convergence, including in pan-European surveys and regular reporting at national level.

    COVID-19 and gender equality

    The COVID-19 pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on gender equality in a number of areas. This includes employment, where 75% of those working in the health sector in the EU are women. The labour market stressors of COVID-19 are exacerbating existing trends, where women already report higher levels of emotional demand at work. 

    Eurofound’s e-survey Living, working and COVID-19 offers an insight into the impact of the pandemic on the lives of EU citizens. Three rounds of the survey have been completed to date. The first two rounds, in April and July 2020, enable comparison between the initial lockdown situation with the gradual reopening of society and economies three months later. A third round in March 2021 took place almost a year into living through the pandemic and as vaccination programmes were being rolled out. Findings show that COVID-19 is impacting gender equality at home. The pandemic has significantly increased the number of teleworkers in Europe, particularly among women. Furthermore, the closure of schools and childcare facilities during confinement disproportionately impacts women, who generally assume greater domestic and care responsibilities.

    The findings also reveal a general deterioration of work–life balance among workers in the EU with more women and men reporting work–life conflicts, but women who have to telework and care for small children appear to be struggling most. The percentage of women reporting difficulties was higher in April 2020 than in previous Eurofound surveys. Women are also reporting greater financial strain than men during the pandemic. The COVID-19 survey questionnaire drew on questions used in  Eurofound’s pan-European surveys, the EQLS and EWCS.

    In May 2020, Eurofound launched COVID-19 EU PolicyWatch, a new database collating and mapping the national-level policy responses during the pandemic introduced across Europe. Some of these measures have a gender dimension.

    Employment and gender 

    Eurofound research explores the characteristics and consequences of gender gaps in labour market participation, as well as policies and measures aimed at fostering female labour market participation. Women’s employment and participation rates are still lower than those of men in almost all EU Member States. Eurofound has estimated the cost of this gender employment gap in the EU at more than €320 billion in 2018. Although the cost of the gap is falling, the economic loss is still significantly high. Research also looks at upward convergence in the gender employment gap, assessing which are the best and worst-performing Member States in this regard. 

    The European Jobs Monitor (EJM) tracks structural change in European labour markets in terms of occupation and sector, giving a qualitative assessment of these shifts using various proxies of job quality. This monitoring includes analysis of patterns of employment change by gender and by job-wage quintile, as well as labour market segregation. 

    Wages and gender

    Eurofound research covers a range of topics linking wages and gender, such as variable pay, performance-related pay, low pay and the gender pay gap. Survey research looks at earnings as one of seven indicators of job quality for men and women at work. On minimum wages, an annual review monitors the level of minimum wages across Europe, also measuring coverage rates of workers by gender in 2019 and the link with the gender pay gap. Furthermore, the EJM analyses the extent to which different jobs, occupations and sectors contribute to the gender pay gap. This will be useful for the interpretation of the Commission’s social scoreboard’s indicator on the gender pay gap and for the implementation of the gender-equality principle of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

    Eurofound reviewed the first experiences of countries with gender pay transparency measures in 2018. At the Commission’s request, Eurofound has initiated an ad hoc study on measures to promote gender pay transparency in companies, looking at how much they cost and whether companies can see any opportunities. This will feed into the Commission’s impact assessment.

    Working conditions and gender

    Eurofound’s European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) covers a range of aspects of working conditions from a gender perspective. In recent questionnaires, gender mainstreaming has been an important topic. The survey monitors occupational, sectoral, time and pay gaps, as well as working time patterns, work–life balance, violence and harassment at work, and health and well-being, including what all this means for sustainable work. 

    EWCS analysis will help to inform policies aimed at closing gender gaps in the area of job and employment quality. The knowledge provided is relevant for the principle of gender equality and initiatives to improve work–life balance, as well as those included in the context of the European Pillar of Social Rights.

    Research also looks at the experience of women in management roles and how their underrepresentation in management can be addressed. It analyses the job quality of both male and female managers, and the impact a management job has on personal life.

    Other research analyses the level of female entrepreneurship in Europe and the market gap when it comes to investing in women-led enterprises. It examines the financial hurdles facing female entrepreneurs and the use of private or public funds to invest in this group. In addition, it investigates the prevalence of public finance tools and public support schemes that effectively remove barriers and enable women to become competent entrepreneurs.

    The higher participation of women in the labour market has prompted changes in the way European social partner organisations tackle gender issues. Research has also assessed the role of the EU social partners in advancing gender equality, exploring actions taken within the different national frameworks of industrial relations and against the ranking of Member States on EIGE’s Gender Equality Index.

    Moreover, Eurofound has worked on a joint project with the International Labour Organization (ILO) to look at working conditions in a global perspective. It expands on gender gaps across the world (1.2 billion workers) and provides evidence on the gendered differences in job quality and on higher risk of women to be exposed to sexual violence; the latter is also identified in EWCS 2015.  

    Quality of life and gender

    The European Quality of Life Survey (EQLS) also covers the gender dimension, in relation to issues such as employment, income, risk of poverty, household composition and well-being, education, family and care responsibilities, health and work–life balance.

    Both the EWCS and EQLS data contribute to the policy debate on reconciliation issues and work–life balance for men and women. The EQLS looks at the difference between men and women in their levels of life satisfaction or happiness. The gendered division of unpaid work, in relation to for example childcare or caring for elderly relatives, is also covered in the EQLS.

    Research on patterns of social mobility for men and women across the EU looks at barriers to equal opportunities and policies to promote it. It highlights the increasingly important gendered patterns of social mobility in different countries.  

    Eurofound collaboration with EIGE

    Eurofound cooperates with the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) on gender-related topics. Eurofound is a key data provider for EIGE’s Gender Equality Index and is involved in the working group for this indicator. In 2021, the two Agencies will collaborate on a joint project on upward convergence in the various dimensions of the Gender Equality Index. Other areas for collaboration include the socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on women and gender equality, the thematic analysis of the EJM on gender and age, as well as research on platform work. 

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    Policy pointers

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    Based on Eurofound's work on this topic, a number of policy pointers can be suggested. 

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    Based on Eurofound's work on this topic, a number of policy pointers can be suggested. 

    COVID-19 and gender equality

    • Based on the findings of Eurofound’s e-survey, Living, working and COVID-19, women continue to face a disproportionate impact from the crisis and remain less optimistic about their future than men – this gap widened further between April and July 2020
    • The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the work–life balance of women more than men, with women impacted more in terms of reduced working hours and young women more likely to lose their job than men. In particular, the burden of care responsibilities increased during the pandemic for women. Repairing this damage will be critical to ensure women do not pay disproportionately for the pandemic.

    Employment

    • The gender employment gap in the EU continues to narrow. Around 46% of EU workers are women compared to 40% a generation ago. However, the gender employment gap has stagnated in recent years and stood at 11.7 percentage points in 2019, costing the EU €320 billion annually. COVID-19 measures have disproportionately affected low-paying service sectors with a majority of female workers, forcing more women out of the labour market. 
    • Women continue to be significantly overrepresented in low-paying jobs, but female employment has been growing faster than male employment in the highest-paying jobs, which are those accounting for the top 20% of employment by average wage. 

    Wages

    • Women are overrepresented among the low-paid and minimum wage earners in nearly all EU Member States.
    • Variable forms of pay, such as shares in the company or payments based on company performance, are becoming more common. These pay components are increasing more rapidly among men than women which may widen the gender pay gap (at 14.1% in 2019). 
    • Simpler versions of gender pay reporting do not pose major obstacles for companies. But reporting and auditing requirements become more meaningful when they include more complex and thorough data and analysis, including various components of pay beyond basic salaries and extra information, such as length of working experience or tenure of the employees.

    Working conditions

    • Gender inequalities in labour markets, employment and at work stretch well beyond labour market segmentation and gender pay gaps, and lie also within the working conditions and job quality that women and men experience in their jobs across countries, sectors and occupations.
    • Men report higher levels of quantitative demands at work, whereas women are much more likely to report exposure to emotional demands, such as handling angry clients, patients or pupils, or being in situations that are emotionally disturbing.

    Quality of life

    • Women and men have similar subjective well-being across Europe. However, when controlling for other factors (especially income), women have higher life satisfaction than men, and it is presumed that lower average income contributes to a reduction in women’s average well-being.
    • Most nuclear families are dual-earning and have the most unbalanced allocation of unpaid work: women do the most housework, and many have problems with work–life balance.
    • Women are twice as likely to provide long-term care than men every day. The difference is highest at age 50–64.
    • As well as the clear economic objective to close the gender employment gap, there is also a social imperative due to its implications for women’s lives, including their financial security and quality of life. 
      o    Publication: Women and labour market equality: Has COVID-19 rolled back recent gains?
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    Publications & data

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    The sections below provide access to a range of publications, data and ongoing work on this topic. 

    • Publications (616)
    • Data
    • Ongoing work (3)

    Ongoing work

    Research continues in this topic on a variety of themes, which are outlined below with links to forthcoming titles. 

     

    Other ongoing work

    • Forthcoming policy brief: The cost of the gender employment gap