Social and labour market situation of women in Spain

Since 1994 the employment situation of women in Spain has improved considerably. In particular, the salary gap between the genders has remained stable over the 10-year period. However, recent research indicates that women are still more likely than men to be working under temporary contracts. Moreover, recently implemented measures aimed at achieving a work-life balance are regarded as insufficient.

In December 2003, the Spanish Economic and Social Council (Consejo Económico y Social) - CES - published their second report (pdf file; in Spanish) on the situation of women at work and in society. This report follows on from the 1994 report (pdf file; in Spanish) , and includes new issues, such as reconciling work and family life, immigration, single-parent families, dependency problems and the ageing population. Two of its eight chapters focus on working conditions.

According to the report’s findings, the proportion of Spanish women engaged in temporary employment (34.1%) was still greater than for men (29%) in 2002 (Spanish National Statistical Institute), This gap has narrowed somewhat since 1992, when it was 39% and 30.7%, respectively. (Spanish Labour Force Survey)

Temporary employment

Part-time work in Spain is less common than the EU average: in 2002, 16.7% of Spanish women and 2.5% of men worked part time, compared with EU averages of 35% for women and 5% for men. (Labour Force Survey, Eurostat)

More women have entered the workforce across all occupational groups since 1994, especially young women with higher educational levels. More women occupy highly qualified jobs, particularly technical and professional; indeed, they now make up more than 50% of the workforce in that group. (Spanish Labour Force Survey)

However, more young women are to be found in non-qualified jobs too, perhaps due to the entry of young female immigrant workers into the Spanish labour market. There were 700,000 female immigrant workers in Spain in 2001, compared with 180,000 in 1991. (Spanish Population Census 1991 and 2001)

The salary gap between men and women has remained quite stable (or even increased slightly) throughout the 1990s. If total average earnings are given an index value of 100, female earnings represented 92.6 of the total in 2000, as opposed to 104.3 for men (see table). Possible explanatory factors, in addition to the persistence of gender-based discrimination, include objective elements such as working hours, occupation, activity sector, etc. (European Union Household Panel)

Average net hourly earning index (% over total), by gender
Earning index, by gender
1994 2000
Men 102.9 104.3
Women 94.4 92.6
Total 100 100
Source: EU Household Panel, Spanish National Statistical Institute

The greatest salary gaps were found in the private sector, among younger workers and those with higher education. However, the report emphasises that, according to available data, the average hourly net earnings of women in companies with 100 employees exceeds those of men in businesses with less than 20 employees. The report argues that this result may be to a large extent influenced by the pressure effect of collective bargaining.

Work-life balance

Spain’s Law 39/1999 (in Spanish) , approved in 1999, promotes the reconciliation of work and family life. However, the existing measures are considered to be too vague and mainly centred around labour market actions, such as the provision of leave periods allowing men to take care of children or other dependent members. It is women who tend to opt for these measures, showing that they are still mainly responsible for family issues and having to face a choice between their professional and family life.

According to the report, little has been done towards adapting working hours to create a better work-life balance, even though some companies and sectors have already started introducing time distribution schemes.

The report also suggests that an extensive public network of support and care for children and other dependent members should be established in order to free families, and mostly women, from these duties. The authors suggest that the actions so far taken tend to be fragmented, leading to a different degree of coverage depending on the region of residence. The allocated budget is also deemed to be insufficient.

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