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European Commission


Brussels, 3 June 2013

Q&A: Report on childcare provision in the Member States and study on the gender pension gap

1. Barcelona Targets

What are the so-called 'Barcelona targets'?

In March 2002 the European Council, meeting in Barcelona, agreed common targets to improve the provision of childcare in the Member States. EU leaders agreed to "remove disincentives to female labour force participation and strive, taking into account the demand for childcare facilities and in line with national patterns of provision, to provide childcare by 2010 to at least 90% of children between three years old and the mandatory school age and at least 33% of children under three years of age".

Since then, these goals have become known as the 'Barcelona targets' and their achievement has been at the heart of Europe's economic growth strategies (the Lisbon Strategy and the Europe 2020 strategy).

Are the Barcelona targets still valid today?

In March 2011, Member States re-affirmed their commitment to the Barcelona targets in the European Pact for Gender Equality (2011-2020). The European Council has made improving labour market access for second wage-earners a priority in the Annual Growth Survey which sets the main priorities for action to improve economic performance. This is to be achieved through suitable tax incentives and affordable, quality childcare services.

On 29 May 2013, under the European Semester, 11 Member States (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom) received country specific recommendations on female employment and on childcare availability/quality and/or full-day school places. In 2012, nine Member States (Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and the United Kingdom) received such recommendations. Back in 2011, seven of these countries had already received a recommendation (Malta and Slovakia were not part of the 2011 round).

Which countries have reached the targets?

Only 10 Member States (Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, France, Spain, Portugal, Slovenia, Belgium, Luxembourg and the United Kingdom) have reached the Barcelona targets for the first age group (0-3 years), according to the latest data, covering 2011. Italy and Finland have reached an intermediate level of coverage of over 25%. And 15 Member States have yet to make substantial efforts to achieve the objective: in particular Poland, the Czech Republic, Romania and Slovakia whose coverage rate is 5% or less.

In the category of children aged from 3 to mandatory school age, only 9 Member States (Belgium, Sweden, France, Estonia, Germany, Slovenia, Denmark, Italy and the United Kingdom) have reached the target of 90% coverage regardless of the number of hours attended. Five other member states (the Netherlands, Ireland, Austria, Spain and Portugal) are approaching the target with an intermediate level of over 80%. 13 Member States have yet to make substantial efforts to achieve the target. This is particularly the case in Poland and Romania where the coverage rate is less than 50%.

The following graphic maps the progress of different countries with respect to reaching both childcare targets. The countries on the right of the vertical line have met the target for the youngest children, while those above the horizontal line have met the target for older children. Those on the upper right have met both (based on the latest figures from 2011).

Why have the Barcelona targets still not been met?

Cost and lack of availability are the main barriers that prevent parents from using childcare services, according to the European Quality of life Survey from Eurofound – the European Foundation for Living and Working Conditions.

Cost is the main problem for 59% of people on average in Europe, followed by availability (58%), accessibility (childcare services located too far) and opening hours (41%) and the quality of childcare services (27%).

What is the state of play on affordability of childcare?

Formal childcare services can only help parents enter and stay in employment if they are affordable. However, the cost of these services is considered an obstacle: 53% of mothers do not work or work part-time because they consider childcare services too expensive.

This is particularly the case in Ireland, the Netherlands, Romania and the United Kingdom where more than 70% think price is an obstacle.

The net costs of childcare services represent more than 41% of the net income in households where both parents work in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

As a result, a relatively high percentage of the female work force is inactive or works part time because of family responsibilities: across the EU, an average 9.7% women work part time. The rate reaches 22.3% in the Netherlands.

The graph shows the costs incurred by parents as a percentage of the average wage in the country and the components of those costs. The net costs are highest in Ireland and the UK, due to high fees and low benefits and/or tax reductions. Slovenia, the Netherlands and Belgium have high fees, but these are to varying extents offset by high levels of benefits and/or tax reductions. In several countries, benefits and/or tax breaks are low, but so are childcare fees, meaning that costs as a proportion of wages remain reasonable (Greece, Hungary, Estonia, Sweden, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Finland).

Which income groups use childcare services most?

The costs of formal childcare services have different impacts on households depending on income. In many Member States, households with the highest incomes have the highest childcare usage, with the exception of Denmark, which ensures a high childcare usage among low-income households. Sweden, Slovenia and Germany ensure a fairly equal usage across income groups. The Barcelona targets will not be reached without providing (financial) access to childcare services for all social groups.

What is the state of play on quality of childcare?

The quality of services remains uneven and difficult to measure. Some indicators of the structural quality of formal childcare services show a strong variation from one country to another.

In terms of the competences of child carers, international standards recommend that early-childhood education and care professionals should be trained at bachelor level with at least 60% of the workforce holding a three-year post-secondary diploma. However, formal competence requirements vary widely from one country to another.

In addition, the ratio of staff to children varies across EU countries. While the ratio is 1:15 in most Member States it ranges from 1:6 in Estonia, to 1:21.5 in France for pre-school education.

How does the Commission monitor implementation of the Barcelona targets?

Under the EU's economic policy coordination process (the European Semester) the Commission, on 29 May 2013, made country-specific recommendation to 11 Member States1 emphasising the need to expand the provision of available and affordable childcare services (and full-day pre-schools/schools) in order to enable women to work on a full time basis. The Commission will continue using this possibility to issue recommendations.

How does the Commission support the implementation of the Barcelona targets?

The Commission encourages Member states to make full use of financing opportunities offered by the Structural Funds and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development for measures to facilitate work-life balance, and in particular to create better childcare facilities.

In the 2007–13 financing period, it is estimated that EUR 2.6 billion from the Structural Funds was allocated to actions to promote the employment participation of women in the labour market and a better work-life balance (including measures to improve access to care services for dependants). In addition, around EUR 616 million from the European Regional Development Fund was made available to Member States between 2007 and 2013 to finance childcare infrastructure.

Is the development of childcare enough to reconcile work and private life?

Childcare provision alone is not enough to enable women and men to have a proper choice in how to balance work, family and private life. The Commission promotes a work-life balance policy mix including flexible work arrangements and the provision of affordable and quality childcare (for pre-school children but also for pre-teen children in school and outside school hours and for other dependants). In addition family leave systems should including strong incentives for fathers to take on more family responsibilities. Statistics show that employment rate discrepancies between women and man grow with the number of children.

How is progress towards the Barcelona targets measured?

The European Commission measures progress towards the Barcelona targets on the basis of harmonised data from the Member States. The indicators were agreed in 2004 by the EU’s Employment Committee and the EU Survey on Income and Living conditions (EU-SILC) was chosen to be the European statistical source for measuring them. They are defined as:

Children cared for (by formal arrangements other than by the family) up to 30 hours a usual week / 30 hours or more a usual week as a proportion of all children in the same age group. Breakdown by:

  1. Children aged under 3 (0-2 years);

  2. Children aged between 3 years and the mandatory school age.

What do the Eurostat indicators measure?

The indicators are coverage rates and are calculated as the number of children cared for by formal arrangements as a proportion of all children of the same age group. They measure the actual use of existing childcare provision in the EU for the two age groups and not directly the provision by Member States, for instance in terms of number of childcare places.

2. Expert study on the gender pension gap

What is the study about?

The study sheds new light on the phenomenon of the ‘gender pension gap’. It proposes a methodology to measure the gap and estimates gender differences in pensions for all EU Member States. It is the first such study of its kind. It was carried out by independent experts of the European Network of Experts on Gender Equality (ENEGE), financed by the European Commission.

What are the main results?

The gender pension gap is the difference in average pensions between men and women over 65, calculated in terms of pensions gross of tax (that is: before tax is deducted) for all EU Member States, using 2010 data from the EU statistics on income and living conditions (EU-SILC).

The main results show the gender pension gap is much wider than the gender pay gap. On average across the EU, the gender pension pay gap is 39%, whereas the average pay gap is 16.2%. The pay gap is explained by the fact that women receive less on a per hour basis. A given pay gap is magnified into a wider annual earnings gap, as women work fewer hours per year. In addition, women also work fewer years, due to career breaks and because they tend to retire earlier. This leads to a wider career earnings gap which, when filtered by the pension system, ultimately results in the pensions gap.

The study also reveals wide gender pension gaps in a large number of Member States: 17 EU countries have pension gaps greater or equal to 30%. Taking the EU as a whole (weighted by population), men on average receive pensions that are 39% higher than women. Gender gaps in pension appear to be widening over time for the EU as a whole as a 5 percentage points increase took place over the period 2005 to 2010. While gender gaps in pension have widened in some Member States, others have seen improvements or little change.

Why has the Commission published this study?

The study provides a valuable contribution to the debate on the adequacy and sustainability of pensions. The Council of the European Union in its Council Conclusions on ‘Adequate, safe and sustainable pensions for all European citizens’ of 6 December 2010 invited the Commission and the Member States “to take into consideration the gender dimension when dealing with the adequacy and sustainability of pensions”.

In 2012, the European Commission adopted a White Paper – An Agenda on Adequate, Safe and Sustainable pensions – which recognises that gender issues in pensions are key, notably because:

  1. women are more likely to be poor in retirement than men

  2. women live longer than men on average but, typically, they retire earlier and have more career breaks and

  3. women are less likely to be covered by supplementary pensions than men.

For more information

European Commission – Gender equality:

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship:

Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU

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Austria, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Italy, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, Spain and the United Kingdom

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