Employment and labour markets

2021 saw over 2 million additional women in employment in the EU

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The recovery in employment levels was faster for women than for men in the EU following the COVID-19 pandemic: in the last quarter of 2021 there were just over 2 million more women in employment and 1 million more men compared with the same period in 2020. Overall, there was a comprehensive recovery in employment in the EU in 2021, following an initial sharp fall caused by the onset of the pandemic in 2020. By the end of 2021, employment had almost recovered to pre-pandemic levels, with this upward trend continuing into 2022.

Eurofound’s new publication Recovery from COVID-19: The changing structure of employment in the EU shows that European labour markets recovered strongly from COVID-19, before the onset of the disruptions from Russia's invasion of the Ukraine and related cost-of-living increases. The report summarises labour market developments in 2020 and 2021 using quarterly data from the EU Labour Force Survey, presenting information from a structural perspective, with a focus on sector-level and occupation-level data, and key demographic variables: gender and age.

The report highlights that, although women overall benefited more from the recovery in employment compared to men, increased employment for women was not observed evenly across wage levels: increases in well-paid employment have been greater among women than men in the EU, while at the same time job loss has been most acute for women in low-paid jobs.

Overall, EU employment levels recovered to pre-crisis levels within two years, compared to nearly eight years after the global financial crisis, but behind this comparatively quick recovery is a significant change in the composition of employment. While employment in accommodation and food service activities, wholesale and retail trade, and transport registered a cumulative loss of 1.4 million workers between 2019 and 2021, the information and communications sector added 1 million jobs during the same period.

The pandemic has accelerated some pre-existing structural trends such as digitalisation, as well as leaving enduring employment scars on the in-person service sectors which have been acutely hit by social distancing restrictions. Increasingly, for the first time in a generation, it is labour shortages rather than unemployment – labour supply rather than demand – that is emerging as a greater concern for policymakers.

The rise in teleworking is likely to remain as the legacy of the COVID-19 crisis, with remote working continuing to grow in 2021 in nearly all EU Member States – even after the dramatic increase recorded at the start of the pandemic. The crisis has also favoured employment growth in sectors and occupations where telework is more feasible: between 2019 and 2021, information and communications technology (ICT) professional was the fastest growing occupation. It was also the occupation with the highest share of teleworking in 2021.

Speaking on the publishing of the report, Eurofound Senior Research Manager John Hurley emphasised the need to address labour market shortages in Europe:

The increase in labour market shortages in the aftermath of the pandemic highlights the need for effective social investment and active labour market policies that build skills and enhance access to employment. Ensuring good-quality jobs, either through regulatory instruments or collective bargaining, can contribute to alleviating these labour shortages.

— John Hurley, Senior Research Manager, Employment

Download the full report


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