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This page was published on 08/09/2006
Published: 08/09/2006

   Research policy

Published: 8 September 2006  
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Science in society  |  Research policy


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Women outnumber men in S&T labour force but deficit persists in science and engineering

More women than men work in the science and technology sectors in the majority of EU Member States. However, a minority of these women hold science and engineering posts, according to new figures issued by Eurostat, the EU's statistical office.

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The report, 'Measuring gender differences among Europe's knowledge workers', provides an overview of European human resources in science and technology (S&T) in the 25-64 age group for 2004. It finds that of 76 million people working in this sector, close to 30 million, are 'core' S&T workers, employed as professionals or technicians who have completed tertiary education.

On average, women account for more than 50 per cent of the science and technology labour force, compared to just 44 per cent in the total labour force. But for a number of Member States, the proportion of women professionals is above average. For example, in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the proportion of female science and technology workers stood at 69.2 per cent, 65.7 per cent and 65.6 per cent respectively.

Bulgaria comes in fourth place with women accounting for of 64.9 per cent of the workforce in these sectors. Portugal, Slovenia and three Polish regions also had more than 60 per cent of women working in S&T, although the majority of Poland's regions had a lower proportion, at more than 50 per cent female S&T workforce.

At the other end of the scale, Switzerland and Luxembourg score well below the EU average with less than 40 per cent of positions in S&T held by women.

However, while a small majority of science and technology professionals are women in Europe, significant gender disparities emerge when looking at the number of female scientists and engineers. In the EU, only 29 per cent of science and engineering posts were held by women in 2004.

Only in the three Baltic states did women account for more than half of the scientists and engineers. Lithuania had the highest number (55.5 per cent), followed by Latvia (51.4 per cent) and Estonia (51.0 per cent), matching the high percentages of women working in S&T in these countries.

Germany, France and the UK were below the EU average with women holding only 21.8 per cent, 21.6 per cent and 20.1 per cent of the total science and engineering jobs respectively. The lowest proportion in 2004 was measured in Luxembourg with women accounting for only 17.7 per cent of the country's scientists and engineers.

The report also provides a breakdown by gender of the rates of unemployment in S&T sectors. It finds that female S&T workers are more likely to be unemployed than men. In 2004, 1.4 million female S&T workers were unemployed, compared to 1.2 million men. However, the report notes that the difference between unemployment rates in men and women is smaller in 2004 than in 2000.

These latest Eurostat figures may come as no surprise to those following the debate about women in science. Earlier this year, the European Commission published its 'She Figures 2006' for Europe which suggests that while the number of female university graduates is increasing, female participation in research is generally low across the EU, representing just 18 per cent in the private sector and 35 per cent in the public sector.

The European Commission found the She Figures worrying, as Europe needs an extra half a million researchers to meet the EU's Lisbon goals of becoming the world's most competitive knowledge-based economy, and women are not filling these posts quickly enough.