Different pay for Equal work – The reasons for gender-based wage discrimination

Closing the gender pay gap is still a challenge for EU. The gender wage gap is caused by a number of correlated factors and it still exists today due to wider gender inequalities across the society and the economy. In this article we will try to give you a general overview about the complex causes of this issue.



The principles “equal pay for equal work” and “equal pay for work of equal value” have been established in 1957 by the European Treaty of Rome and in 1975 by the Equal Pay Directive, but according to the latest data released by Eurostat (the statistical office of the European Union) the EU still shows an average gender pay gap of 16%. That means that women earned on average 84 cents for every euro a man makes per hour. Unfortunately, it seems that even the top economies in Europe are leaving women behind when it comes to equality in pay.

There are huge differences among the 28 member states: the gender pay gap ranged from just over 5% in Romania and Italy, to more than 25% in Estonia, followed by the Czech Republic and Germany (almost 22%).

The overall employment rate for women aged 20-64 in Europe is 63%, compared to 76% for men. Women are the majority of part-time workers in the EU, with almost 32% of women working part-time against only 8% of men. This has a negative impact on career progression, training opportunities, pension rights and unemployment benefits and all of these factors affect the gender pay gap.

Gender roles and traditions shape women’s and men’s roles in society. Gender roles may influence, for example, the choice of educational path taken. These decisions are affected by traditional values and assumptions about working patterns. Women and men carry out different jobs and are often active in different sectors. Sectors where women are in the majority have lower wages than those dominated by men. Women’s skills and competences are often undervalued, especially in occupations where they are in the majority because they are seen to reflect female characteristics, rather than acquired skills and competences.

In certain cases, women and men are not paid the same wages although they carry out the same work or work of equal value. This may be the result of so-called “direct discrimination” where women are simply treated less favourably than men. Or it may be due to a policy or practice that, although not designed to discriminate, results in unequal treatment between men and women. Moreover women and men are affected by different workplace practices, such as access to career development and training opportunities. Often this discrimination arises because of historical and cultural factors that impact on how wages are set and that prevents women from reaching the highest paid positions and leadership roles.

As women bear the burden of unpaid work and childcare they tend to work shorter hours. They also generally work in sectors and occupations where jobs are compatible with their family responsibilities. As a result, women are more likely to work part-time, be employed in low-paid jobs and reach management positions. Women work shorter hours and often part-time in order to combine their family responsibilities with paid work.

One might argue that pay discriminations result from different career and individual choices of women: If women were working in the same sectors as men and if they were working full-time and did not interrupt their careers, the pay differences would be lower. The argument that the gender pay gap results from women’s individual choices or preferences needs to be questioned.First, the “individual choices” are embedded in institutional structures such as the welfare system and its gender regimes. Additionally, wage composition is often based on gender stereotypes, historical developments and power relations that must be overcome. For these reasons it is necessary to contextualize wage differences against this institutional background.


Sisterality Italian Team

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