Members' Research Service By / March 5, 2015

Women’s labour market participation in Europe

Written by Ulla Jurviste, Even though key employment indicators show the narrowing of gender gaps in the EU, the gap…

© Gianfranco Bella

Written by Ulla Jurviste,

Even though key employment indicators show the narrowing of gender gaps in the EU, the gap is still halfway towards gender equality on the labour market. According to the Gender Equality Index ─ which, in the Domain of Work, measures gender gaps in participation in the labour market, duration of working life, sectoral segregation patterns and quality of work (such as flexibility of working time, training at work and health and safety) ─ women participate less, work fewer hours, and spend fewer years overall in work than men.

Women's labour market participation in Europe
© Gianfranco Bella

Economic independence enables both women and men to exercise control over their lives and plan their families. Parents’ participation in the labour market differs for mothers and fathers as well – only 65.6% of women with children under 12 work, as opposed to 90.3% of men. This reflects unequal sharing of family responsibilities, but also indicates lack of childcare possibilities and lack of balance in work-life.

Women work in less valued jobs and sectors (health, education and welfare sectors), receive lower remuneration, and work more part-time than men (women account for over 75% of part-timers).

The Europe 2020 targets set a 75% employment rate for both women and men. Particular attention is given to the labour market participation of older women, single parents, women with a disability, migrant women and women from ethnic minorities. The studies below indicate how such a rate could be achieved.


Resource guide on Gender issues in employment and labour market policies: Working towards women’s economic empowerment and gender equality / Naoko Otobe; ILO 2014
This guide presents key challenges in advancing gender equality in the labour market; perspectives on gender equality, key concepts of gender, economy and the work field; gender aspects of key labour market indicators; it identifies key policy entry points and analyses how to integrate gender concerns in employment policy measures; the guide also monitors and evaluates National Employment Policies/Strategies and their ender dimensions.

Gender equality in the workforce: Reconciling work, private and family life in Europe / Melinda Mills et al; RAND Europe, April 2014;
This report examines the work, family and private life conflicts at different stages in a life course (from school-to-work transition to parenthood). The authors compare the challenges which men and women face differently, examine their labour force participation, working hours, contributions to household income and to domestic work. The authors observe improvements in gender equality over recent decades and conclude that women continue to lag behind on labour force participation and earnings, face slower transition to their first job, while contributing more to domestic tasks even if they are breadwinners. These challenges are particularly pronounced in the presence of children. Mothers have lower employment rates, shorter hours and interrupted their careers more due to childcare, compared to women without children and men (with or without children).

Labour Market Developments in Europe 2013 / European Economy 6/2013; European Commission, DG for Economic and Financial Affairs, 2013
See: 2.5. Labour Market Status of different groups 2.5.1. Gender; also browse text for gender or women;

Gender and the European Labour Market / Francesca Bettio et al, Routledge 2013
(Book available at EPRS library S44.16 EUR GEN 13)
This book gives a thorough overview of women’s and men’s current position in labour markets. It analyses the latest trends in occupational segregation, employment, working time, paid and unpaid work, social (especially care) provisions and the impact of the period of recession; it assesses the impact of such key policies as taxation and flexicurity. The research covers a large number of countries and topics, including care of vulnerable groups (children, the elderly). The issue of gender equality policy at the European level is analysed comprehensively (including the contribution of fathers to changes in family life).


Women and flexible working: Improving female employment outcomes in Europe / Amna Silim, Alfie Stirling; Institute for Public Policy Research, 26 December 2014
This report considers the role that flexible working options can play in raising female employment rates, and reducing the number of women working below their skill level or who are underemployed in terms of hours, throughout Europe. It also assesses the extent and nature of demand for, and the challenges and opportunities of, flexible working practices.

Economic Independence and the Position of Women on the Labour Market of the EU: In-depth analysis for the FEMM Committee / Marcella Corsi, DG IPOL, European Parliament, 2014
This study examines the position of women on the labour market, drawing particular attention to factors behind the gender pay gap and the gender gap in pensions.

A New Method to Understand Occupational Gender Segregation in European Labour Markets / Dr Brendan Burchell, Mr Vincent Hardy, Professor Jill Rubery and Dr Mark Smith, 2014
This report presents a new way of investigating gender segregation by occupation. The analyses show conclusively that the nature of the occupation itself is important, above and beyond whether an occupation is male-dominated, female-dominated or mixed, and above and beyond whether an occupation is blue-collar or white-collar. In other words, occupation matters! In this report the authors emonstrate how it is not only the gender of the worker but also the gender characteristics of the occupation – male-dominated, female dominated or mixed – that may lead to different working experiences.

Women Labor Market Participation in Europe: Novel Evidence on Trends and Shaping Factors / by Angela Cipollone; Eleonora Patacchini; Giovanna Vallanti; IZA Discussion Paper No. 7710, October 2013
This paper investigates changes in women’s participation patterns across 15 EU countries over the last 20 years using individual data from ECHP and EUSILC databases. Their findings reveal a role of social policies and institutional factors that is stronger than what has so far been assessed.

Women on the European Labour Market / NEUJOBS Policy Brief, June 2014
The paper looks at the major developments in women’s position on the European labour market over the past two decades, and identifies several pathways to increased female labour market activity and obstacles to overcome.

Gender dimension of the labour markets over the past two decades / NEUJOBS Working Paper, February 2013
This paper analyses position of females on the European labour market and changes in women’s employment across countries and age groups.

Gender Gap Index / EIGE, 2013
See the domain of Work – relates to the position of women and men in the European labour market. It measures gender gaps in participation in the labour market, duration of working life, sectoral segregation patterns and quality of work, such as flexibility of working time, training at work and health and safety.

Women, men and working conditions in Europe / Eurofound report, October 2013
This analysis offers a picture of women and men at work across 34 European countries. It explores relevant country differences, analysing the different occupational groups, and comparing the public and private sectors. (A summary).

Women’s Labour Force Participation: Gendered Patterns and Trends / ILO, International Labour Review, Special Issue; Volume 153, Issue 2 (June 2014)
The Special Issue includes contributions on gender gap in education; under-recording and under-reporting of women’s work in Malaysia; domestic services in Europe; gender equality, part-time work and segregation in Europe; women’s part-time jobs; occupational segregation by sex in Spain; and on female self-employment in Norway.

Drivers of Female Labour Force Participation in the OECD / OECD, 2013
This paper analyses the response of female labour force participation to the development of labour markets and policies. Using country-data for 18 OECD countries, the authors estimate the influence of labour market and institutional characteristics on female labour force participation, and full-time and part-time employment participation. The links between different policy measures is also analysed, as well as potential influence of policies in different Welfare regimes.

New skills and jobs in Europe:Pathways towards full employment / EC, 2012
This report documents what research says about jobs and skills in Europe. Skills ensure the right application of knowledge in jobs in order to complete tasks and solve problems. Old and new jobs will not be sustainable without the continuous evolution of skills. Unemployment is closely related to low skills and employment and labour market participation to high skills. But despite progress in recent years, ‘Europe is still not sufficiently skilled. Nearly one third of Europe’s population aged 25–64 — around 77 million people — have no, or low, formal qualifications and only one quarter have high-level qualifications.

Stakeholder views

EU Institutions:

Council of the EU

Council conclusions on Women and the economy: Economic independence from the perspective of part-time work and self-employment / Council meeting Luxembourg, 19 June 2014

European Commission

The European Commission publishes annually a summary on Women’s Participation in the Labour Market in the framework of the EU2020 strategy: see the Summary of 2013 and of 2012

European Parliament

European Parliament resolution of 12 March 2013 on the impact of the economic crisis on gender equality and women’s rights (2012/2301(INI))

NGO views

Gender Equality and Sustainable Development:World Survey on the Role of Women in Development 2014 / UN Women, 2014
The report focuses on gender equality and sustainable development, with chapters on the green economy and care work, food security, population dynamics, and investments for gender-responsive sustainable development.

The Global Economic Crisis and Gender Equality / UN Women, 2014
Among other issues the report focuses on the disproportionate share of unpaid care work performed by low-income women; and creating the basic foundations for social and economic recovery.

Migrant Women’s Access to Labour Market / European Network of Migrant Women and European Women’s Lobby (2012)
This comparative study presents migrant women’s integration into the labour market in six European cities: Athens, Dublin, Frankfurt, Helsinki, Madrid and Marseille. The research presents a debate on the specific gendered impact of integration policies, especially concerning women’s experiences of participation in the labour market. It does so by looking at the specific impact that local, regional and national integration policies have had on migrant women’s employment.

EU programmes and projects

PROGRESS – EU’s employment and social solidarity programme. It was established to support financially the implementation of the objectives of the European Union in employment, social affairs and equal opportunities, as set out in the Social Agenda. It also contributes to the achievement of the Europe 2020 Strategy. (PROGRESS covers both gender equality and tackling discrimination themes.)

PROGRESS projects on Gender Mainstreaming


OECD Employment Outlook 2014 presents statistical annex, including data on job quality and job quantity outcomes by socio-demographic group (page 119); on labour market security (page 138); on job strain (page 139); on employment/population ratios by selected age groups(page 174); Labour force participation rates by selected age groups (page 269).

OECD Labour Force Statistics 2013 (see p. 25, 31, 32)

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