Statistics and research results show that over the past decade, despite the economic and financial downturn, the EU’s labour market has witnessed an increase in women’s employment rates. Women’s employment seems to be more resilient to the economic crisis then men’s. This is partly due to long-term developments and institutional framework changes, as well as to women’s tendency to work in particular sectors and accept flexible working arrangements (e.g. part-time work, teleworking). Despite the general upward trend, however, women’s employment rates vary by Member State, age, social group, and educational level. Even though international and EU legislation takes account of women’s situation in the labour market, and the EU dedicates a substantial amount of analytical work to it, a number of challenges remain unresolved. Examples include the need to harmonise retirement schemes taking into account specific characteristics of women’s careers; to better reconcile work and family life through more flexible employment arrangements; but the improvement and recognition of women’s skills, the equal treatment of domestic work and migrant workers, and the further closing of the gender pay gap are likewise important.
According to recent Eurostat statistics, in 2014, the EU-28 employment rate for men was still higher (70.1%) than that for women (59.6%). A longer-term comparison shows, however, that while the employment rate for men in 2014 was lower than ten years earlier (70.3% in 2004), there was a noticeable increase in the rate of employment of women (a rise of 4.1% from 55.5% in 2004). Over time, various circumstances have contributed to the increase in women’s employment rates: long-term trends across developed countries,2 changes in institutional frameworks3 in specific countries, as well as the fact that women’s employment has been more resilient to the crisis than men’s. This has mainly been due to the ‘gender sectorial segregation’ (more men work in the crisis-hit construction and manufacturing sectors, while women are more represented in the services sector which has been less affected by the crisis). This phenomenon results in a shrinking gender employment gap, particularly in countries that have suffered the most from the crisis, such as Spain. The increasing participation of women in the labour market is in tune with the employment goals of the Lisbon strategy,4 launched in 2000 to address the challenges of globalisation and ageing ; as well as the more recent employment goals of the Europe 2020 strategy for smart, sustainable and inclusive growth (Europe 2020). full briefing follow the link EPRS_BRI(2015)569049_EN