Women in unfavourable position in labour market

A 2006 study examines the labour market position of women in Hungary between 2000 and 2004. The study shows that, compared with the EU average, the female employment level in Hungary remains static and the unemployment rate is on the increase. Despite legal regulations to combat discrimination on any grounds, women were more disadvantaged than men when entering or re-entering the labour market with respect to pay and career prospects.

Drawing on the European Commission’s Employment in Europe 2005 report and data from the Hungarian Statistical Office (Központi Statisztikai hivatal, KSH), a study published in July 2006 examines the labour market position of women in Hungary between 2000 and 2004. The study ‘A felzárkózás elmaradása: a magyar nôk munkaerô-piaci helyzete’ (274Kb PDF) [Out of step: Hungarian female employment] identifies notable differences between the labour market situation for women and men in Hungary and also between Hungarian women and those in other EU countries.

Participation rate of women in workforce

Between 2000 and 2004, the employment rate of women aged 15–64 years steadily increased in the EU, with a growth rate of 2.1 percentage points (see Figure). Over the same period, the female employment rate in Hungary remained significantly below the EU average and its growth rate stood at only one percentage point. The employment level of Roma women, in particular, has not increased since 1993, staying at a remarkably low rate of 15%.

The employment level of people with disabilities was also far below the EU average, as it stood at just 9% in 2001, and no comparable data exist on the employment rate of women with disabilities.

Figure 1: Female employment in Hungary and EU, by age groups, 2000–2004 (%)


Source: European Commission, 2005

Female employment in Hungary and EU, 2000–2004 (%)

Minor differences were found between Hungary and the EU with regard to the employment rates of women in the 25–54 age group, which constitutes the prime period of working life. However, considerable differences are evident in the two marginal age groups, such as the case of the youngest group in 2004, as well as that of the oldest group in 2000 (see Figure). Female employment in the youngest age group declined from 29.7% to 20.8% as a result of more women staying longer in education and also due to a worsening of the group’s employment prospects.

At the same time, the employment rate of older women aged 55–64 years grew substantially from 13.3% to 25% between 2000 and 2004 because of the increase in the official retirement age. Nonetheless, employment of the 55–64 year age group still remained below the EU average, partly due to a large proportion of women availing of various retirement schemes in order to avoid redundancy.

Increase in female unemployment

At the beginning of the 2000–2004 period, female unemployment in Hungary, at 5.6%, was lower than the EU average of 10.2%. Reasons behind this apparently better position included the lower retirement age of 63 years in Hungary compared with that in the EU, widespread early retirement and the impact of paid maternity leave.

By the end of the 2000–2004 period, however, female unemployment in Hungary had worsened compared with the EU average, increasing from 5.6% to 6%, and affecting all age groups except women aged 25–29 years. The situation of women also deteriorated in comparison with men: the unemployment rate of Hungarian women was lower by 1.2 percentage points than that of men in 2000 but had reached a level of 0.2 percentage points higher than the proportion for men by 2004.

Gender differences in labour market

The labour market position of women was worse than that of men between 2000 and 2004. In general, women already enter the labour market in a disadvantaged situation, which continues over their entire career. This manifests itself in the following ways:

  • difficulties in entering and re-entering the labour market, encountered, for instance, in job interviews when women are frequently asked about their plans for a family, or in the difficulties experienced by women with young children when attempting to re-enter the labour market;
  • gender segregation of the labour market, with women pushed into lower hierarchical positions than their male counterparts. Moreover, in 2000, 48.3% of women worked in female-dominated sectors, which are often lower paid, and this proportion had increased further to 49.9% in 2004;
  • unequal opportunities for promotion, which is apparent in the difference between the proportion of upper and middle-level managers among men (4.2%) and women (2.4%) in 2001;
  • gender differences in wages. In extreme cases, men earned 30–40% more (article in Hungarian) in the same position than women did, but more recent data (in Hungarian) show that the average difference of wages between men and women was approximately 10% in 2006.


Between 2000 and 2004, Hungarian women were in a worse position than women in the EU, although they seemed to have less chance of being registered as unemployed. The unfavourable conditions of women in the labour market could be changed by implementing an employment policy which takes into consideration the requirements of gender mainstreaming. However, at present, Hungarian employment policy does not address sufficiently the gender aspect, as emphasised in the European Employment Strategy. The improvement of female employment and its conditions do not appear to be a priority in Hungary at the moment, which is currently experiencing a difficult economic and political climate (HU0607059I, HU0610039I).


Koncz, K., ‘A felzárkózás elmaradása: a magyar nôk munkaerô-piaci helyzete’ (in Hungarian, 274Kb PDF) [Out of step: Hungarian female employment], in Statisztikai Szemle [Statistical Review], July 2006, pp. 651–674.

Zsuzsanna Kiss and Katalin Balogh, Institute for Political Science, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

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