The gender pay gap in the EU – What policy responces?
The gender pay gap – the gap between male and female hourly earnings – captures enduring gendered inequalities that exist on the labour market and, in spite of more than thirty years of equal pay legislation, remains remarkably resilient across all Member States. Recent European advances in the methodology for measuring the gender pay gap only serves to underline the persistence of the disparity between women and men’s pay, with women in Europe, on average, earning approximately 18% less per hour than men. This disparity resonates across monthly and annual earnings, and subsequently into lifetime earnings and pension entitlements.
While equal pay legislation outlaws paying women and men differently for the same job or for work of equal value, the gender pay gap remains due to direct or indirect discrimination that may persists despite the law and because of the variety of ways in which women’s and men’s labour market participation differs. These differences in participation include the segregation of women and men into different parts of the labour market with different rewards, the vertical segregation of women and men into different positions in organizational hierarchies, the impact of the uneven division of domestic work, the impact of women’s concentration in non-standard jobs and the impact of innovations such as ‘new’ individualized pay systems that increase pay diversity among employees at similar levels while also reducing transparency.
Since the gender pay gap captures these multifaceted differences in gendered participation patterns it thus requires multifaceted approach to address these inequalities. A common legislative framework needs to be complemented with active enforcement and a range of policies on different fronts. The potential rewards of addressing these multiple inequalities may be self propelling and promote gender equality and value women’s contributions in European labour markets.
The European Commission has provided significant leadership over recent years creating an impetus to address the gender pay gap with the prominent position of pay inequalities in the European Employment Strategy and the Roadmap for equality between women and men. The European Commission's 2007 Communication on the Gender Pay Gap and progress on improving measurement mark a new phase of activities leading to a 2009-2010 information campaign on the gender pay gap in each Member State. However, the diversity at the national and sectoral level means that a multi-level approach is needed to fully address gender pay inequalities. In addition to active enforcement, Member State initiatives are needed to complement the existence of European- wide legislation and also build on European leadership and future EU-level initiatives.