SDG 5 - Gender equality
Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls
Data extracted in May 2020.
Planned article update: June 2021.
This article provides an overview of statistical data on SDG 5 ‘Gender equality’ in the European Union (EU). It is based on the set of EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in an EU context.
This article is a part of a set of statistical articles, which are based on the Eurostat publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report - 2020 edition’. This report is the fourth edition of Eurostat’s series of monitoring reports on sustainable development, which provide a quantitative assessment of progress of the EU towards the SDGs in an EU context.
SDG 5 aims to achieve gender equality by ending all forms of discrimination, violence and any harmful practices against women and girls in the public and private spheres. It also calls for the full participation of women and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of political and economic decision-making.
Gender equality in the EU: overview and key trends
Monitoring SDG 5 in an EU context focuses on the topics of gender-based violence, education, employment and leadership positions. As shown in Table 1, gender equality in the EU has improved in terms of leadership positions, while disparities between men and women have increased in the labour market (to the disadvantage of women) and in the area of education (to the disadvantage of men).
Gender-based violence is a brutal form of discrimination and a violation of fundamental human rights. It is both a cause and a consequence of inequalities between women and men. Physical and sexual violence women affects their health and well-being. Moreover, it can hamper women’s access to employment with negative effects on their financial independence and the economy overall.
One in three women in Europe has experienced physical and/or sexual violence since the age of 15
In 2012, 8 % of women in the EU had experienced physical and/or sexual violence by a partner or a non-partner in the 12 months prior to the interview. Younger women were more likely to report having been subject to violence ; 12 % of women aged 18 to 29 had experienced physical or sexual violence in the 12 months prior to the interview, whereas only 5 % of women aged 50 to 59 had been affected. Looking at a longer period of life, every third woman (33 %) in the EU reported having experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15 .
The prevalence of violence varies greatly across the EU. However, caution is needed when comparing rates between countries, because in some countries there is a stigma associated with disclosing cases of violence against women in certain settings and to certain people, including interviewers . In addition, Member States that rank highest in terms of gender equality also tend to report a greater prevalence of violence against women. This may indicate a greater awareness and willingness of women in these countries to report violence to the police or to an interviewer .
Equal access to a quality education is an important foundation for gender equality and an essential element of sustainable development. Equipping people with the right skills allows them to find quality jobs and improve their chances in life. Early leavers from education and training may face considerable difficulties in the labour market. For example, they may find it difficult to obtain a secure foothold because employers may be more reluctant to take them on with their limited education. Thus, having a tertiary education degree is becoming more important for both men and women. Tertiary education also plays an essential role in society by fostering innovation, increasing economic development and growth, and improving the general well-being of citizens. Although women are more likely to be highly educated, men still outperform them when it comes to the employment rate of young graduates.
Men are more likely to leave education and training early
Women overall tend to perform better than men when it comes to participation in education in the EU. In 2019, 11.9 % of men and 8.4 % of women aged 18 to 24 had left education and training with at most lower secondary education. Although this gap narrowed between 2002 and 2016, it widened again over the past three years and remained substantial, at 3.5 percentage points in 2019.
A major expansion in higher education systems has taken place in the EU since the introduction of the Bologna process . The share of the population aged 30 to 34 who completed tertiary education increased steadily between 2002 and 2019. The increase was particularly strong for women, whose tertiary educational attainment rate rose from 23.7 % in 2002 to 45.6 % in 2019. For men, the increase was slower, from 21.4 % to 35.1 %. This resulted in the gender gap surge, from 2.3 to 10.5 percentage points between 2002 and 2019.
Although more women than men have completed tertiary education, the employment rate of female graduates is lower
While women are more likely to be highly educated, the gender gap flips as soon as young graduates move into the labour market, where male graduates are more likely to have found employment. This reversed gender gap compared with the education figures is remarkable, considering the important role that education and training play in raising employability. In 2019, 83.2 % of men aged 20 to 34 who had at least an upper secondary qualification and had left education and training within the past three years were employed, compared with 78.6 % of women. The gender gap has been fluctuating over time, between 2.9 and 5.2 percentage points. In 2019 the gap amounted to 4.6 percentage points, which is 0.8 percentage points more than five years earlier.
Ensuring high employment rates for both men and women is one of the EU’s key targets. Reducing the gender employment gap — the difference between the employment rates of men and women aged 20 to 64 — is important for equality and a sustainable economy. Women tend to be more highly educated in most EU countries. Because a higher level of education is associated with higher average wages, this has a positive impact on reducing the overall gender pay gap. However, it does not prevent women in the EU from being over-represented in sectors with low pay levels and under-represented in well-paid sectors. Because of the gender pay gap, interrupted and shorter working lives, women earn less over their lifetimes than men. This results in lower pensions and a higher risk of poverty in old age.
The gender employment gap has stagnated over the past few years, and women are still less likely to be employed than men
Employment rates for women are an indication of a country’s social customs, attitudes towards women in the labour force and family structures in general . Parenthood and caring responsibilities, limited access to quality childcare, and monetary disincentives to participating in the labour market have a negative impact on the gender employment gap . In the EU, the employment rate for women grew from 58.1 % in 2004 to 67.3 % in 2019. For men, the rate grew more slowly from 74.5 % in 2004 to 79.0 % in 2019 (see the article on SDG 8 ‘Decent work and economic growth’ for more detailed analyses on employment rates). As a result, the gender employment gap narrowed by 4.7 percentage points between 2004 and 2019. The strongest reduction occurred during the economic crisis, partly because jobs were lost in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as construction and the automotive industry . The gap continued to shrink until 2014, but has since stagnated. In 2019, the proportion of men of working age in employment still exceeded that of women by 11.7 percentage points, which is 0.1 percentage points higher than five years earlier.
The gender pay gap has decreased slightly in recent years but remains considerable
The gender pay gap has narrowed in the short term by 1.2 percentage points, but women’s gross hourly earnings were still on average 14.8 % below those of men in the EU in 2018. There are various reasons for the existence and size of the gender pay gap, such as the kind of jobs held by women in terms of sectors or occupations, consequences of career breaks or part-time work due to childbearing and caring responsibilities, and decisions in favour of family life. Thus, the pay gap is linked to a number of legal, social and economic factors which go beyond the single issue of equal pay for equal work.
Caring responsibilities were by far the main reason for inactivity among women
The gender gap is particularly pronounced regarding inactivity due to caring responsibilities, caused by the lack of available, accessible and quality formal care services, especially for children . Inactivity due to caring responsibilities was the main reason why women (aged 20 to 64) were not part of the labour force in 2019, with about one in three inactive women (32.2 %) reporting this reason. In contrast, only 4.5 % of inactive men reported being inactive due to caring responsibilities. For them, the main reasons for being inactive were illness or disability, retirement or being in education or training. The share of men who were out of the labour force due to caring responsibilities steadily increased between 2006 and 2019. However, over the same period the share of inactive women due to caring responsibilities increased as well. As a result, the gender gap has increased by 3.0 percentage points since 2014, reaching 27.7 percentage points in 2019.
Traditional gender roles, a lack of support to allow women and men to balance care responsibilities with work, and political and corporate cultures are some of the reasons why women are underrepresented in decision-making processes. Promoting equality between women and men in decision-making is one of the areas the EU has set as a priority for achieving gender equality.
The share of seats held by women in national parliaments has increased steadily since 2003
Women held 32.1 % of seats in national parliaments in the EU in 2019. This share has increased since 2003, when women accounted for about one-fifth of members in national parliaments. However, differences between Member States vary greatly, from 47.6 % seats held by women in Sweden to 12.2 % in Hungary. There was no single EU country in early 2019 where women held the most seats.
Contributing to this under-representation is the fact that women seldom become leaders of major political parties, which are instrumental in forming future political leaders. Another factor is that gender norms and expectations reduce the pool of female candidates for selection as electoral representatives. The share of female members of government (senior and junior ministers) in the EU was still lower than for men at 31.2 % in 2019, although this was an increase from 22.6 % in 2003. Also showing an increase was the number of female presidents and prime ministers in EU countries. In 2019, there were four female heads of government (14.3 %) in comparison to none in 2003. However, during this period, the share of female heads of government did not rise above 14.3 %, meaning there were never more than four women in this executive position at the same time .
In 2019, a quarter of board members of the largest listed companies were women
The share of women on boards of the largest listed was 28.4 % in 2019. Between 2003 and 2019, there was an almost steady increase of 20.2 percentage points. However, the numbers mean that three out of four board members of the largest listed companies are still men. The data nevertheless provide evidence of the positive impact of legislative action on the issue of female representation in boards .
The balanced participation of women and men in formal education, the labour market and in leadership positions is crucial for gender equality in the EU. Equal access to quality education, especially tertiary education, helps to improve chances in life for both men and women. Moreover, closing the gender employment gap is an urgent economic and social objective, for the individual and for society as a whole. In addition, promoting equality between women and men in decision-making has been a key objective of European policy for many years. Another important aspect is the elimination of gender-based violence while protecting and supporting victims.
More detailed information on EU SDG indicators for monitoring of progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), such as indicator relevance, definitions, methodological notes, background and potential linkages, can be found in the introduction of the publication ’Sustainable development in the European Union — Monitoring report - 2020 edition’.
Further reading on gender equality
- European Commission (2018), Gender pay gap in EU countries based on SES (2014), Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- European Commission (2019), New visions for Gender Equality 2019, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- European Commission (2019), Joint Employment Report 2019, Directorate-General for Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion, Brussels.
- European Commission (2019), Report on equality between women and men in the EU, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- European Institute for Gender Equality (2018), Study and work in the EU: set apart by gender, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- European Institute for Gender Equality (2019), Gender Equality Index 2019. Work-life balance.
- UN Women (2019, Progress on the Sustainable Development Goals: The gender snapshot 2019.
- UN Women (2018), Turning Promises into Action: Gender equality in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
- World Economic Forum (2020), The Global Gender Gap Report 2020.
- European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014), Violence against women: an EU-wide survey, Main results, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 25.
- Id., p. 17.
- European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014), Violence against women: an EU-wide survey, Main results, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, pp. 25–26, 32.
- The Bologna process put in motion a series of reforms to make European higher education more compatible, comparable, competitive and attractive for students. Its main objectives were: the introduction of a three-cycle degree system (bachelor, master and doctorate); quality assurance; and recognition of qualifications and periods of study (source: Eurostat, Education and training statistics introduced).
- International Labour Organisation (2015), Key Indicators of the Labour market: Full report, Ninth Edition, International Labour Office, Geneva, p. 17.
- European Commission (2019), Proposal for a Joint Employment Report from the Commission and the Council accompanying the Communication from the Commission on the Annual Sustainable Growth Survey 2020, COM(2019) 653 final, Brussels.
- European Commission (2009), Economic Crisis in Europe: Causes, Consequences and Responses, Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs, p. 36.
- European Commission (2017), Draft Joint Employment Report from the Commission and the Council accompanying the Communication from the Commission on the Annual Growth Survey 2018, COM(2017) 674 final, Brussels, p. 57.
- European Institute for Gender Equality, Gender Statistics Database (National governments: presidents and prime ministers).
- European Commission (2017), 2018 Report on equality between women and men in the EU, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 31.