DIAL EU stakeholder meeting: Tackling gender inequality in Europe

16 June 2020

DIAL organized a virtual EU stakeholder meeting with a topic of gender equality on June 16, 2020. Representatives from the European Commission’s gender equality unit (DG Justice and Consumers) and the social investment strategy unit (DG Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion), the Democracy and European values unit (DG Research & Innovation), and researchers from four DIAL projects (EQUALLIVES, HUCIAW, DAISIE and CILIA-LGBTQI+) discussed gender equality related to work-life balance, work trajectories, care and retirement.

The meeting began with introductory words from the DIAL scientific programme co-ordinator, Elina Kilpi-Jakonen. This was followed by a presentation by Greet Vermeylen (European Commission). Vermeylen emphasized the importance of gender equality in European policymaking, and presented some ongoing and forthcoming projects on the topic in the European Commission. For example, the EU has recently launched a Gender Equality Strategy 2020-2025 that consists of three pillars: freedom from gender-based violence and gender stereotypes, thriving in a gender-equal economy, and leading and participating equally throughout society. One of its deliverables is the Work-life Balance Initiative that aims to create a new approach to work-life balance in European level. However, Vermeylen noted that there is a need for high-quality research on these topics and that the research conducted in DIAL is in high demand.

The meeting continued with the presentations by the DIAL researchers. First, Susan Harkness from the EQUALLIVES project gave an overall view on three longitudinal studies conducted in the project. The first study compared life-course trajectories and outcomes at mid-life among women and men. It finds that economically successful life courses were similar across countries consisting mainly of highly educated people with stable high-earning jobs, who were married with children. Women were much less likely to have these economically successful trajectories than men. An interesting finding was also that poor economic trajectories go hand in hand with high fertility in Germany and in the UK, whereas in the Nordic countries, poor economic trajectories were more often characterized by low fertility. The next study examined how childbirth and partnership affect income and poverty risks. The results revealed that in the US, UK and Germany, motherhood leads to earnings and income penalty, leading to a reduction in economic independence. However, the mother’s economic status before childbirth or divorce was an important predictor of the economic status after these events. Especially single motherhood was detrimental in terms of income and poverty. Regardless of economic status preceding single motherhood, most single mothers end up in weak economic positions. Lastly, a third study compared the employment pathways and job characteristics after childbirth among parents. Mothers were more likely to withdraw from full-time employment and the majority of women working full-time stopped working or returned to a part-time job after childbirth. Those who leave the labour market rarely return to work in the 3–5 years after childbirth. Fathers, on the other hand, typically remain in or return to full-time work after childbirth.

Monica Costa-Dias from the HUCIAW project presented some results on the effect of childbirth, work experience and human capital on the gender pay gap in the UK. The results reveal that the gender wage gap has remained at around 20 per cent. Wage inequality between men and women increases faster across the life-course among the highly educated, mostly because among women wages stop increasing after the age of 25. These differences are partly driven by women’s lower participation in paid work and higher participation in part-time work. However, differences in employment levels explain only part of the wage gap, as participation in paid work decreases the least among the highly educated and part-time work increases especially among lower educated mothers. Work experience can also explain only part of the widening disparities. Highly educated women remain more often at full-time work, but working experience is much more valuable for highly educated women. One solution is to offer training, which has been shown to be effective in compensating for the loss of work experience. Women already participate more often than men in training, especially among the highly educated. Lastly, women still have the main responsibility for childcare and they are increasingly responsible also for the household income, especially single mothers. Policies that allow mothers of young children to continue working, such as free full-time childcare, should be implemented.

Aine Ni Léime and Alena Křížková presented some results from the DAISIE project. The studies conducted in five European countries focus on the accumulation of inequalities for seniors in employment, in particular from a gender and health point of view. Retirement policies have divergent effects on different groups of people, and they are very country-specific. For example, until 2019, the Czech Republic was the last country with a gender-specific retirement age. Today, all European countries have increased the retirement age and made it equal across population groups. The studies conducted in the DAISIE project reveal, however, that extending working life should be implemented with caution. For example, those working in physically heavy jobs or precarious jobs typically have poorer health, thus forcing them to extend their working life puts them in a disadvantaged position. Also in a disadvantaged position are women who carry a double burden of unpaid care work at home and often low paid jobs at the labour market. The gender and health impacts should be discussed when planning policies related to family, labour market and pension. In general, extending working life policies should be introduced together with other factors that can motivate continuing at work, and they should take into account different life courses.

The last presentation of the day was given by Ana-Cristina Santos from the CILIA-LGBTQI+ project. The project studies the life-course inequalities among LGBTQI+ Citizens, with a focus on different transitions between school, work and retirement. Despite progressive laws and policies, discrimination based on homo/bi/transphobia persists in school and employment. LGBTQI+ citizens report difficulties related to coming out at work, precariousness, absence of a sense of belonging and mental health issues. They also report an absence of networks of care and support in daily life and end of life plans. Many LGBTQI+ citizens feel a self-imposed pressure to excel in school and in their jobs as a form of protection against potential or actual backlash. To tackle these issues, societies should invest in diversity in education and training, social awareness campaigns, implementation of positive discrimination in the sphere of employment targeting non-binary employees.

The day ended with a lively discussion on the most topical issues on gender equality in Europe. Researchers together with representatives from the European Commission agreed that gender sensitivity in all policies is essential. In addition, a common agreement was found on the most crucial gender-related issues: in order to increase female labour market participation, men should also be encouraged to stay at home with children. Informal care in general, including caring for children, sick, disabled, and elderly, often falls on women’s shoulders. In addition to labour market participation, this has an impact on women’s health, and together these two factors affect gender equality at the time of retirement. Lastly, the causes and the consequences of gender inequality vary by country, which is why policies should to some extent be tailored to different contexts.