From the TUC

Europe’s gender employment rate gaps: why the UK should be worried

18 Nov 2016, by in Labour market

In this post I take a broader approach to an issue I looked at in my blog on Wednesday: employment rate gaps.

One aspect of women’s economic dependency has been less involvement in the labour market, so the employment rate gap is a handy indicator. To work it out, you simply subtract women’s employment rate from men’s.

But remember this is only one aspect of inequality. It doesn’t, for instance, take account of women’s greater likelihood of working part-time with low hourly rates and fewer opportunities for development or promotion (an issue we’ll be writing about next week).

The gap fell gradually from 14 percentage points in 1992, to 12 in 2008 and then rapidly to 10 during the recession. Since 2009 it has hovered around the 10 point mark. I’m worried there is no sign that it’s going to come down again soon.

Comparing our performance with Western Europe gives us more reason for concern. The European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions’ The Gender Employment Gap  report showed that, although the UK’s gender employment gap is a little lower than the EU average, it is higher than most of the Western European nations with whom we would normally compare ourselves. Plus, the standstill we’ve experienced since 2008 is not an international trend. The Netherlands, Spain, Austria and Belgium, which all had larger gaps in 2008 now out-perform the UK; Germany, which had the same gap in 2008, now has a gap more than a percentage point smaller.


Although performance on the gap is mediocre, the UK does have a fairly high women’s employment rate in absolute terms: 67.1 per cent in 2014, compared with an EU average of 59.6 per cent. But this figure and the somewhat lower than average gap owe a lot to our having a very high level of female part-time employment.

Only three EU member states have a higher proportion of women workers in part-time employment:


In the UK women’s part-time employment rate was 30.1 points higher than men’s in 2014. This gap was significantly higher than the EU average of 23.4:


You need to be careful reading these figures – some of the countries where a lower proportion of women workers are in part-time jobs may achieve this by not creating many part-time jobs, which isn’t a good thing if that is what workers want.

Nonetheless, these figures do suggest that, yes, the recent stagnation in the employment rate gap really is something we should worry about.

This the latest of our short series of posts on gender and employment. Yesterday we looked at the growing army of women who are self-employed. Next week we’ll be investigating the gender pay gap in the public sector, and the issue of  low-paid part-time work.