When will European women start earning the same as men?

Spoiler alert: that day hasn’t arrived yet

20/02/2023

Awareness-raising days have one element in common: they offer occasions to remind ourselves about societal challenges and various forms of persisting inequalities. Like most other international days, the equal pay day certainly serves that purpose. Unlike other cases, however, the equal pay day is different mainly in two regards: the date can vary from year to year and from country to country. But what is it? How is it calculated? Why would we still care?

Equal Pay Day: A tool to make the invisible visible

Besides the legislative and policy tools on gender equality and anti-discrimination, awareness raising campaigns constitute an essential measure contributing to reducing the gender pay gap. This is not only the occasion to initiate specific awareness raising activities such as actions by sectoral trade unions (e.g. Austria) but also to foster a real cultural shift necessary to make binding tools efficient and implementable in practice.

Most EU countries mark a so-called Equal Pay Day (e.g. Austria, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Sweden). The exact moment it takes place can either fall:

  • on the day of the year on which women have to catch up with what men earned the year before (around the 20th of February at EU level, in April in Estonia);
  • or on the day on which women meet the pay rate of men and thus start working for free the rest of the year (as in Portugal but also in France with the #4November9h10 hashtag, or around 15th November for the EU average);
  • or on the hour of the day where women start working for free every day (after 16h02 each day in Sweden).

The date for each country or the EU average is based on the following formula: 

Gender pay gap in percent x 365 days of the year = number of days women work for free

Therefore, if the gender pay gap changes, the date varies accordingly. 

In Belgium for instance, the socialist women’s branch Zij-kant is known for having launched one of the very first Equal Pay Day campaigns in 2005. Ever since, the ranks and scope have grown with PES Women joining in to contribute to innovative and though-provoking campaigns featuring posters, postcards and videoclips to draw public attention to equal pay.

Equal pay: a distant reality

As underlined by Agnes Hubert in the FEPS Primer on Gender Equality, the idea of equal pay for work of equal value has been a central issue since the very beginning of the EU integration project, although mainly due to economic – rather than egalitarian – concerns. 

Despite being enshrined in the EU Treaties since 1957, requiring member states to ensure that the principle of equal pay for women and men is applied, it still remains more of a principle than a reality in Europe. The average gender pay gap in Europe is 13%, which corresponds to the average gross hourly wage between women and men across the economy. This equals to almost two months’ salary. Moreover, as can be observed in the FEPS-FES Care Atlas, there are important differences across countries (ranging from 22.3% in Latvia to 0.7% in Luxemburg). This, in turn, directly impacts the average gender gap in pensions in the EU, standing at a staggering 30% for the EU average.

Therefore, raising awareness is not a luxury but a necessity. The EU has recently witnessed several major advancements for gender equality – not least with the recent political agreement on the Pay Transparency Directive setting binding pay transparency rules reached by the European Council and the European Parliament in December 2022. In June 2022, two equally significant steps forward for fair pay were made with the adoption of a directive on adequate minimum wages (considering that women make up 60% of minimum wage earners) and the Women on Boards Directive, ensuring that from 2026 women must make up at lest 40% of non-executive boards and 33% of all directors of listed companies. As Vice-President and MEP Evelyn Regner stated, this is a “first foot in the door for women” but efforts need to be kept up to change workplace culture and for the gender gaps to close for good. As we are nearing almost 25 years of marking the Equal Pay Day across Europe, women need it more than ever as they are also the ones bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis.

Laeticia Thissen, FEPS Policy Analyst on Gender Equality 

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