Almost 84 million Europeans are at risk of poverty.
This can mean not having somewhere to live or food to eat. Poverty can also mean lacking the resources to meet the ordinary demands of life which can lead to exclusion as people are unable to join in the everyday activities that the rest of society often takes for granted.
In most EU Member States more women (17%), experience poverty than men (15%). Single parents, the majority of whom are women, are especially vulnerable with 35% experiencing poverty. The gender pay gap plays a key role in this difference as the inequalities between men and women’s salaries over a lifetime can have a significant impact on women’s earnings and pensions. This leads to older women having a higher risk of poverty (22%) compared to men (16%).
The gender pay gap has many causes. Women often do jobs which are less valued than similar roles traditionally done by men. This situation is reinforced by segregation in the labour market, which sees women working in sectors and occupations which are less well paid compared to those which are male-dominated. Segregation is frequently linked to traditions and stereotypes which may influence the choice of educational paths and, consequently, the careers that girls and women pursue. Once in work, women can experience barriers to career progression (the so-called ‘glass ceiling’) which results in them being under-represented in managerial and senior positions.
Achieving a work-life balance is also often a concern for women who are more likely to take career breaks or work part-time in order to take care of children and other dependants. Periods out of work or on lower pay can lead to gaps in pension entitlements or a lower pension which in turn can cause poverty in old age.
Activities to explore the link between gender equality and poverty are planned during the 2010 European Year for Combating Poverty and Social Exclusion which aims to raise public awareness of poverty and social exclusion.