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Even allowing for structural gap, it’s still around 15%

The average EU woman has a long way to go before achieving equal pay with the average man. This emerges from an EU-wide survey¹ by Eurostat, Statistical Office of the European Communities in Luxembourg. The data – latest available on a harmonized basis² – suggest that on average women earn at least a quarter less than men. Calculations are based on full-time employees in all economic activities except agriculture, education, health, personal services and administration. These averages reflect structural differences in the characteristics of working women and men – mostly age, education and occupation. Fewer women than men occupy management positions, which are amongst the best paid jobs. The imbalance in the representation of women or men in certain economic sectors and occupations is one of the determining elements of the gender pay gap. Even when trying to apply male structures to women's average earnings, the gap is reduced but remains around 15%.

Key structural differences

Eurostat says the overall average wage data should be carefully looked at to take into account the different position of women and men in the EU labour market, especially due to concentration of women in certain types of jobs.

Firstly, 'women and men don’t have the same jobs. In the survey group, a third of women working full-time are office clerks compared to only 10% of men. And 47% of men are manual workers or plant operators, which is the case for only 18% of women. On average, manual workers are better paid than clerks.

Secondly, on average working women are younger: 44% are under 30 compared to 32% of men. This is because less of the older generation of women work and many women stop work to raise children. The consequence, says Eurostat, is that women tend to have less seniority and fewer opportunities to be in management positions, which in turn has an impact on salaries.

Thirdly, there is a difference in education: 51% of working women have no more than primary or general secondary level education – 43% of men. And 36% of men have a technical secondary education – 29% of women.

But even when looking at pay differences for groups of people that in statistical terms have the same characteristics, women are systematically paid less. For example, in the category characterised as ‘managers’ the report says inequality is especially great in 10 of the 15 Member States. This is because “there are very few women at the top level where salaries can be extremely high”.

Another difference highlighted is that overtime is paid mainly to manual workers – predominately men – while most sales staff in low-pay retailing are women.

Following their mothers? Even in the 25-29 age group women’s earnings are only 86% of men’s. In principle, says Eurostat, these women have had equal access to education and work. “This shows that even for the younger generation there is unequal access to well-paid jobs. Furthermore, when these young women get older, some will make long career breaks and so it is very probable that the pay differences will increase and resemble the ones their mothers are currently experiencing.”

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© Teilnehmer des Projektes Allied Schools Graz zuletzt bearbeitet am: 6. Mai 2006