Foreign Policy Blogs

The price of inequality

The price of inequalityJust as the demands for increased female leadership in the EU become more vociferous, a new study reveals that enormous income gaps in some of the Union's largest countries are hurting women's chances and having a harmful effect on the economy as a whole. Speaking to German daily, Die Welt, the EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, Vladimir Spidla, revealed the findings of a recent EU study on wage discrimination, which highlights that women in the Union's most populous economy, Germany, earn 22% less than their male counterparts in average hourly wage. This makes Germany one of the states with “the highest inequality in the payment of men and women,” Spidla said. Estonia, Cyprus and Slovakia offer a similar bleak picture, with averages the same or slightly higher than the German figure (the EU average is 15%).

Spidla points to the fact that too many German women still choose to work part-time, in jobs that are underpaid, because of the lack of opportunities for child and elderly care. Germany still largely operates as a male-driven society, where the man is the breadwinner and the woman – irrespective of her level of education or opportunities in the work force – stays home. Over the past two administrations, important changes have been made, with the introduction of increased flexibility in childcare, new forms of parental financial support, and greater emphasis on the role of employers, who are losing out on valuable labor. The prospects of demographic decline has hastened the government response to these pressing issues, but at the study proves, results are yet to be felt.

The Financial Times Deutschland (quoted in the English language version of Der Spiegel), also points out the detrimental consequences of a lack of women in the labor force in times when qualified workers are scarce and offers a European comparison:

“Regardless of the discrimination issue, it's a problem for the economy, which is crying out for skilled employees, if women are thwarted in their careers. That's what happens if they’re made to choose between having children and having a career. Belgium has excellent child-care provisions — and is among the countries with the lowest wage differentials between men and women in the European Union. Germany is at the other end of the scale. Silent reserves of qualified women could be used here.”

Naturally, a real solution to Germany's skilled labor problem is a combination of utilizing existing labor resources (i.e. motivating women to return to work after childbirth by offering feasible solutions to combine both work and family) and creating a feasible, flexible labor migration system as proposed through the EU Blue Card. However, changing policies is one thing – changing mentalities is another!



Cathryn Cluver

Cathryn Cluver is a journalist and EU analyst. Now based in Hamburg, Germany, she previously worked at the European Policy Centre in Brussels, Belgium, where she was Deputy Editor of the EU policy journal, Challenge Europe. Prior to that, she was a producer with CNN-International in Atlanta and London. Cathryn graduated from the London School of Economics with a Master's Degree in European Studies and holds a BA with honors from Brown University in International Relations.

Areas of Focus:
Refugees; Immigration; Europe


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