Presence of women in irregular employment

About 17% of all women working in Spain are not covered by the National Social Security System. The women affected can be characterised as being younger than their female counterparts within the social security system, are mainly employed in certain sectors, and represent a higher proportion of non-nationals. In addition, women working in irregular conditions have less working hours and less employment experience, which results in lower salary levels.

In March 2005, the Instituto de la Mujer (Women’s Institute), a subsidiary body of the Spanish Ministry of Employment and Social Affairs (in Spanish), published a study on the Presence of women in irregular employment (2.9Mb pdf; in Spanish). The study was carried out within the framework of the Observatory for Equal Opportunities among Men and Women (25Kb pdf; in Spanish). The report provides an initial estimate of the number of women who are working under irregular conditions in Spain (i.e. not affiliated to the compulsory National Social Security System). In addition, the report tries to identify the main socio-economic characteristics of these women, compared with their counterparts working within the social security system.

From a methodological perspective, the report is based on the results of an extensive survey conducted among 2,400 randomly surveyed women throughout Spain (1,200 in regular employment conditions and 1,200 in irregular ones). This strategy was combined with a number of extensive qualitative interviews with some of the women working in irregular conditions.

In 2002, there were 522,700 women working in irregular conditions, which means that about 17% of all working women in Spain were not recognised within the National Social Security System.

The economic sectors providing most of this irregular employment include domestic services (house assistants and the like: 30% of the total), followed by services to enterprises (jobs in industrial cleaning, etc: 16%), hotels and restaurants (waitresses, cooks, etc: 14%) and the retail trade (shop assistants, etc: 13%).

Sector distribution of women working in irregular conditions

Further findings of the report can be summarised as follows:

  • By geographical origin, foreign female workers represent only 3% of the total regular Spanish female employment, but this percentage is considerably higher within irregular employment (up to 11% is of non-Spanish origin). In some sectors (i.e. domestic services), the presence of foreign women in irregular conditions is as high as 19%.
  • Women working in irregular conditions are younger than their counterparts working in regular conditions. Thus, up to 30% of women working in irregular conditions are less than 25 years old; this percentage declines to 8% among women who are affiliated to the social security system.
  • Up to 60% of women working in regular conditions are married/cohabiting, whereas this situation is the case among only 40% of women in irregular conditions.
  • Women working in irregular conditions have shorter working hours than their counterparts in regular employment. Some 61% of women in irregular conditions work less than 20 hours per week, whereas 66% of women in regular conditions work more than 30 hours per week.
Table 1: Number of working hours per week
Number of working hours per week
  Women working in regular conditions Women working in irregular conditions
From 1 to 10 hours per week 3% 29%
From 11 to 20 hours per week 8% 32%
From 21 to 30 hours per week 13% 17%
From 31 to 40 hours per week 54% 14%
More than 40 hours per week 22% 8%

Source: Instituto de la Mujer, 2005

  • This employment situation has an obvious impact on salary levels. More than 50% of the female workers in an irregular situation receive less than €300 per month, whereas this is the case among only 3% of women working in regular conditions. Conversely, 33% of women in regular conditions receive more than €900 per month, which is the case for only 2% of women in irregular conditions.
  • Generally speaking, women working in irregular conditions have shorter employment experience than their regular counterparts. Nearly 30% of women in irregular conditions have less than three years of employment experience, while only 9% of women in regular conditions are in that situation.
  • Women working in irregular conditions mainly rely on their close social network in finding a job. Up to 64% of them found their job through friends or family members; this percentage is almost double that for women working in regular conditions (34%). The importance of social networks is even higher among women working irregularly in certain sectors (i.e. domestic services, where the percentage relying on friends and family rises as high as 78%).
Table 2: Means of obtaining current job
Number of working hours per week
  Women working in regular conditions Women working in irregular conditions
Family or friends 34% 64%
Own initiative 48% 28%
Press 4% 6%
Others 14% 2%

Source: Instituto de la Mujer, 2005

Five typical profiles

The report identifies five typical profiles of women working in irregular conditions: ‘older women’, ‘women in charge of dependent people’, ‘foreign women’, as well as two additional profiles, ‘young women living in their parental household’ and ‘independent young women’. These two last profiles reveal new aspects of the female irregular employment situation in Spain.

The first three groups of women are characterised by a low to medium educational level and are predominantly involved in domestic service activities. Conversely, the remaining two groups have a high educational attainment and work in different sectors. The first of these two groups (‘young women living in their parental household’) work on average 15 hours per week, which contrasts with the last group (‘independent young women’), whose average working hours go up to 29 hours per week.

Useful? Interesting? Tell us what you think. Hide comments

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment