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Brussels, 3 March 2009

EU campaign on the gender pay gap

Why is the European Commission launching a campaign on the pay gap?

The gender pay gap is 17.4% across Europe. There has been little progress in reducing it in recent years. In fact, in some Member States the gap is even widening.

The pay gap is linked to a number of complex causes which are frequently interrelated: the undervaluing of women’s work, segregation in the labour market, traditions and stereotypes, and problems in balancing work and private life. The gender pay gap is the consequence of all these factors and inequalities in the labour market. The campaign aims to raise public awareness of the gender pay gap and to explain how it can be tackled.

What kinds of tools are included in this campaign?

The campaign features a website with promotional material and figures on the gender pay gap in the EU. The campaign includes posters, a campaign toolbox to be distributed among employers and trade unions across the EU, a VNR (video news release) and a video clip showcasing how the pay gap affects women throughout the lifecycle. Other activities include advertising in European press. It will run until August 2009.

Why is it important to tackle the gender pay gap?

Equal pay for equal work is one of the European Union’s founding principles. Enshrined in the Treaty of Rome in 1957, it was the subject of a 1975 directive which prohibits all discrimination in all aspects of pay between women and men for the same work or for work of equal value. Although there has been considerable progress towards equality and there is now much less direct discrimination, there are still important differences between men's and women's earnings in the EU and closing the gender pay gap is a priority for achieving gender equality at the workplace.

Moreover, closing the gender pay gap can also benefit companies. Employers that build equality into their workplaces will create the best places to work for everyone. Paying women and men for their actual skills and valuing their contribution on an equal basis results in recruitment and retention of the best and most talented staff.

Closing the gender pay gap also benefits the economy as a whole. The under-utilisation of women’s skills is a lost resource for the economy and for society at large. A better use of women’s skills allows Europe to better face up to global competition.

Finally, closing the gender pay gap contributes to creating a more equal society and to financial and economic independence for women.

How big is the pay gap in different Member States?

Measured as the "relative difference in average gross hourly earnings between women and men", the gender pay gap is estimated to be 17.4% in the EU as a whole (see graph below).

[ Figures and graphics available in PDF and WORD PROCESSED ]

From the last Eurostat data (2007), it appears that there are still considerable differences between the Member States, with the pay gap ranging from less than 10% in Italy, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Belgium to more than 20% in Slovakia, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Germany, United Kingdom and Greece and more than 25% in Estonia and Austria.

Recently, Eurostat changed its method of calculating the gender pay gap in order to improve comparability between Member States: instead of a mix of various national sources, it now uses an EU harmonised source (Structure of Earnings Survey), with the support of comparable national sources for the yearly estimates. The apparent increase of the gender pay gap, from 15% in 2006 to 17.4% today should be attributed to methodological changes and is not a real increase.

The pay gap is not an indicator of the overall equality between women and men since it measures only the earnings differences between men and women that are in paid employment. It should be looked at in conjunction with other indicators linked to the labour market such as employment rate, indicators of gender segregation of the labour market and part-time work. In most of the countries in which the female employment rate is low (e.g. Malta, Italy, Poland), the pay gap is lower than average, which may reflect the small proportion of low-skilled or unskilled women in the workforce. Highly segregated labour markets (for example, Cyprus, Estonia, Slovakia or Finland) or markets where many women work part-time (for example, Germany, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden) tend to result in countries with higher pay gap statistics.

How did the gender pay gap evolve over the last few years?

Due to the change in the statistical methodology, for most Member States it is only possible to compare 2007 with 2006 data. For the EU as a whole, a small reduction of the gender pay gap, from 17.7% in 2006 to 17.4 % in 2007 was witnessed.

However, if we restrict the pay gap to the private sector, comparisons can be made with regard to 2002. The average gender pay gap in the private sector for EU-27 has evolved from 23% in 2002 to 22.2% in 2006 and 21.6% in 2007. There is therefore a small decrease in the pay gap. This change conceals differences among Member States. For instance, the gender pay gap is estimated to have fallen in Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Slovakia and the UK while it has risen in the Netherlands, Estonia and Lithuania.

What can we do to close the gap?

In July 2007 the Commission issued a policy report "Tackling the pay gap between women and men" which analysed the different causes of the gender pay gap and identified four fields of action at European level to fight it: legislation, the European strategy for growth and jobs, employers' responsibility and exchange of good practices. It highlighted that the pay gap can only be tackled by acting at all levels, involving all stakeholders and focusing on all the factors that cause it.

At legislative level, the European Commission is currently analysing the effectiveness of European law on equal pay. Depending on the results of the analysis, the Commission may present new legislative proposals on this issue. As part of this analysis, a technical seminar will take place in Brussels on 19 March.

In addition, tackling the gender pay gap is part of the broader European strategy for growth and jobs and the European Commission is monitoring progress made in that field through statistics and analysis of employment policies.

The European Commission has also taken action against the causes of the gender pay gap, such as the awareness raising campaign conducted in 2007 to fight gender stereotypes at the workplace, managed by the International Training Centre of the ILO in partnership with the European Network of Chambers of Commerce (EUROCHAMBRES).

For more information on this campaign, see


European gender pay gap campaign:

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