Commission issues Communication on tackling gender pay gap

In July 2007, the European Commission published a Communication on the pay gap between women and men in the EU. The Communication showed that a wage gap of 15% persists in the EU, and that considerable differences emerge among the 27 Member States. It also identifies four areas for future action to improve the situation and to approach the objectives set out in the Roadmap to Gender Equality 2006–2010, including possible new legislation.


On 18 July 2007, the European Commission published a Communication on gender-based pay disparities in the EU, entitled Tackling the pay gap between women and men (117Kb PDF). The Communication outlines analysis and policy on the matter, and includes an extensive annex including remarks on the legal framework, the methodology used in measuring the pay gap, and some statistics.

Gender equality in the working world has been one of the policy aims of the European Union since its inception, but efforts have increased considerably in recent years. Since 2004, the Commission reports annually on developments towards gender equality and, in 2006, the Commission adopted the Roadmap for equality between women and men 2006–2010 (212Kb PDF). Moreover, the Member States approved a European Pact for Gender Equality (254Kb PDF) at the 2006 meeting of the Council of the European Union, and a European Institute for Gender Equality was established, which will be operational in early 2008. In addition, 2007 has been made the European Year of Equal Opportunities for All.

Analysis of problem

Despite all of these (and more) efforts, little progress has been made in bridging the gender pay gap. As a 2006 study for the Commission on ‘The gender pay gap – Origins and policy responses (1Mb PDF)’ showed, women continue to earn on average 15% less than men – and even 25% less in the private sector. The clear persistence of this disparity was one of the main reasons why the Commission decided to address the pay gap in a special communication.

The analytical part of the Communication emphasises the complexity of the problem. Besides direct discrimination in the form of unequal pay for the same work, the wage gap may be the result of objective differences between female and male employees, for example concerning qualifications, work experience or age. The size of the company and/or the economic sector also influence pay levels. Furthermore, the pay gap may be affected by a range of legal, social and economic factors, such as wage systems which value physical strength, gender-based labour market segregation, or traditional and stereotypical behaviour when choosing a job or profession.

The different relevance of all of these factors leads to a wide variety of gender-based pay gaps among the 27 EU Member States (see Figure).

Gender pay gap in the EU, by country, 2005 (%)

Gender pay gap in the EU, by country, 2005 (%)

Source: European Commission, 2007

Policy agenda

The Communication identifies the following four areas of action which will inform future policies of the European Commission:

  • exploring ways to improve the legislative framework and its implementation. Although the Communication concedes that ‘the pay gap is not caused solely by the fact that the legislation in place does not go far enough or is not properly applied’, it emphasises that legal measures ‘nevertheless [have] an important role to play in improving the situation’;
  • exploiting fully the European strategy for growth and jobs. The Commission will urge the Member States ‘to set objectives and national deadlines for reducing the pay gap between women and men’ and ‘to exploit the full potential of the European Social Fund, in particular in order to tackle the direct and indirect causes of pay gaps between women and men’;
  • encouraging employers to respect equal pay. Besides promoting socially responsible behaviour, the Commission plans some practical administrative steps to ensure that companies applying for public contracts follow an equal pay policy;
  • supporting the exchange of good practice at Community level.

The Commission hopes that – with the support of all relevant stakeholders – it will be able to at least narrow the gender pay gap using these measures. However, the Communication does not set out specific aims in terms of a certain reduction of the wage gap within a particular time frame.

Rainer Trinczek, Technical University Munich

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