Gender wage gap for women

In December 2005 the Institute for Economic and Social Research (WSI) published its report, Economic and social situation of women 2005. Containing 60,000 up-to-date facts and figures, the report focuses on the economic and social situation of women in Germany. It looks at such issues as education, employment, income, social security and working time. Based on official statistics and recent academic studies, the report places its findings in a European perspective. While opportunities for German women still lag behind those available for men, the nature of gender inequality has changed over the years. Young women, on average, now attain higher educational levels in school than their male counterparts. However, the gender wage gap in Germany is one of the biggest in the European Union. Furthermore, the percentage of women who work in marginal part-time jobs has increased over the period of study from 6% to 13%.

In December 2005, the Institute for Economic and Social Research (Wirtschafts- und Sozialwissenschaftliches Institut, WSI) within the Hans Böckler Foundation (Hans-Böckler Stiftung, HBS) published its new Women Data Report 2005 [amk1](Bothfeld, Silke et al., 'WSI-FrauenDatenReport 2005', Berlin, Edition Sigma, 2005) ( This 480-page comprehensive report is a follow-up to a report on the same subject published in 2001. Containing 60,000 up-to-date facts and figures, the report focuses on the economic and social situation of women in Germany. It covers such subjects as education, employment, income, social security and working time. Based on analysis of official statistics and recent academic studies, the report places its findings in a comparative European perspective. Some of the main findings are highlighted in this article.

Education levels

The educational situation of women has improved since the early 1990s. In 1991, 11.9% of women between 25 and 29 years of age had an upper secondary leaving certificate (Abitur), giving them access to university studies. This compared with a figure of 18.5% for men of the same age. In 2004 the percentages had risen to 40.6% for women and 37.8% for men. At university level, the numbers of female and male students are approximately equal. However, the percentage of female students drops at higher degree levels. Only 39% of students with a Ph.D. qualification (Promotion) were women, while only 22.7% with a postdoctoral lecture qualification (Habilitation) were women. In terms of the choice of field of study, women are particularly prevalent in languages and cultural studies and are less likely to be represented in the sciences (see table). Notable also is the fact that women are in the majority in medical studies.

Table: Gender breakdown in academic field of study, winter 2004–05 (%)
Field of study Women Men
Languages and cultural studies 69.8 30.2
Law, economics and social sciences 48.2 51.8
Mathematics and sciences 36.3 63.7
Engineering science 20.9 79.1
Medicine 58.8 41.2

Source: WSI-FrauenDatenReport; Federal Office of Statistics (Statistisches Bundesamt Deutschland, destatis).

Employment rate

The employment rate of women in Germany is still increasing; in 2004, 59.2% of women were working – slightly above the EU15 average of 56.8%, but considerably below the levels reached in the Scandinavian countries and the United Kingdom.

The increase in female employment was due to the increase in the numbers of women in part-time work. The number of women working full time decreased between 1991 and 2004 by 1.6 million; however, the number of women working part time rose by 1.8 million. Therefore, if the female employment rate is calculated in full-time equivalents, it was only 46% in 2004 (compared to an EU15 average of 47%). A regional breakdown of the figures shows that 45% of women in western Germany work part time, but only 28% in eastern Germany. Only 20% of women with under-age children were in full-time employment in 2004.

Working time

The fact that so many women work part time leads to a considerable difference in the effective weekly hours that women work, compared to men. This gap in working time increased between 1991 and 2004. In 2004, women worked on average 30.8 hours a week, compared to men’s working week of 40.2 hours. This working-time gap exists in all EU countries, but Germany has one of the biggest. (Only the United Kingdom and the Netherlands have a bigger gap.) Increasingly, women work in marginal part-time jobs. The percentage of women employed for less than 15 hours a week increased between 1991 and 2004, from 6% to 13%. According to the WSI report, many of these women would like to work longer hours.

Women still do the majority of the housework. In 2001–02, women in western Germany spent 1.6 times more hours doing housework than men. In eastern Germany, they spent 1.4 times more. This gender disparity is less marked in households where both partners work full time.

Gender pay gap

The gender pay gap is still marked in Germany. In 2004, women working full time earned, on average, 23% less than men. This wage gap is one of the largest in Europe. Only the United Kingdom, Germany, Slovakia and Estonia had a wage gap greater than 20%. According to the report, the gap can be partly explained by the different job and career opportunities open to women. A significant element of it, however, is the result of wage discrimination, particularly in western Germany.

Social security

Parental leave

The 2001 reform of the Federal Childcare and Parental Leave Act (Bundeserziehungsgeldgesetz, BErzGG) introduced new provisions on parental leave and childcare payments (DE0007271F). This reform was aimed at overcoming the traditional division of tasks between men and women regarding childcare. In reference to a report issued by the government (DE0408203N), the WSI report stressed that parental leave was almost exclusively taken up by women. However, since the 2001 reform, the percentage of men taking parental leave has increased from 2% to almost 5%.

Childcare facilities were expanded during the 1990s in western Germany; only in eastern Germany were they reduced, albeit from a high original level. In 2003 almost 80% of children over the age of three had a place in a nursery or crèche; in eastern Germany the figure was 90%. In western Germany, public childcare for children below the age of three is rare – only 6% of children are in public childcare, compared to 37% in eastern Germany.

Pensions and unemployment benefit

Statutory pensions are related to previous income and length of employment. Inequalities in pay and employment patterns for women therefore result in their receiving lower pensions. According to data based on calculations made by the German Federation of Pension Insurers (Verband Deutscher Rentenversicherer, VDR), the statutory pensions of women in western Germany in 2004 were, on average, only half of those of men (49%). In eastern Germany women’s average pensions reached 64% of the average for men.

The wage gap also influences the payment of unemployment benefit, which is related to a person’s income before they become unemployed. In 2004 the average unemployment benefit payment for women was 66.2% of that of men. In eastern Germany the difference was less marked, women receiving 82.2% of the male benefit level.


The WSI report, Economic and social situation of women 2005, shows that there are still many differences in employment patterns between men and women. Unequal career opportunities, few opportunities to work more hours and pay discrimination all lead to a gender wage gap which then has long-term effects on state benefits and pensions. The report emphasises the need for a further reduction in the standard working week, to enable men and women to have equal access to full-time employment and to allow, for example, both men and women to better balance work and childcare. In addition, the report shows that although improvements have been made in educational equality, equal opportunities in paid employment are still an issue to be tackled. (Heiner Dribbusch, Institute for Economic and Social Research, WSI)

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

Eurofound welcomes feedback and updates on this regulation

Add new comment