Women's employment rates

Currently, just over half of women (58.8%) are employed, well below the overall target for men and women of 70% set out in the Lisbon strategy. The employment rate for men is already around the target (69,4%),
so strategies to provide more people with jobs must necessarily focus on the particular problems facing women when entering or rejoining the workforce. The main reason for this lower female employment rate is that women spend considerably more time on family and household responsibilities, making it difficult for them to participate fully in the labour market.

                                   Women's employment rate and gender gap, by country, 2012, EU27 (%)
Adapting European jobs to become more family friendly is, therefore, not only good for workers and their families, but in fact necessary to ensure progress towards the ambitious objectives of making Europe ‘the most competitive economy in the world’.The research of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions in Dublin highlights the fact that the difference between the amount of unpaid work carried out by European men and women is huge. This is the case across all age groups, but it is particularly important for those aged 30 to 45, the years in which family responsibilities are most pressing (see Figure 1).

According to Foundation estimates, European middle-aged female workers spend on average 20 to 25 more hours per week on care or housework duties than their male colleagues. This obviously has an impact on the number of paid working hours of men and women: whereas middle-aged men tend to work slightly longer hours than younger or older generations, women work fewer paid hours on average during the ‘family-intensive’ years, (see also Figure 1).

The disproportionate amount of unpaid work carried out by women does not only impact on their paid working hours, but possibly more importantly, on their capacity or willingness to take on paid work at all.

        Employment rates

When comparing the employment rates of men and women, it becomes obvious that the family/household burden carried by women has a clear impact on their employment rates: it is during the years of family responsibilities (and disproportionate female unpaid working hours) where the gap between the employment rates of men and women is at its largest (see Figure 2).  

How to increase the employment rates of women in Europe?

Furthermore, not only are middle-aged women less likely to work for pay than men: when they do work, they are much more likely to work part-time. It is clear, therefore, that any effort to increase employment
rates in Europe involves tackling the so-called ‘double burden’ carried by women.

A first strategy would be to tackle the source of the problem – the unequal distribution of unpaid work. This means attacking gender inequality even in the private sphere.   Secondly, social policy can try to reduce the family/household burden by extending the social rights and basic public services that support families in their caring needs. Free or affordable provision of childcare and care for dependent adults can be a very effective way of reducing the burden of family responsibilities and thereby increasing the employment rates of women.   Finally, in the context of the work–life balance agenda, another approach would involve better adapting jobs to the demands outside the work place, so that workers (women, in particular) can mould their working time to their lives outside work. In terms of social policy, it means encouraging companies to offer jobs that are ‘family friendly’.
        Increasing employment rates