Statistics Explained

SDG 5 - Gender equality

Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls


Data extracted in May 2021.

Planned article update: June 2022.

Highlights


EU trend of SDG 5 on gender equality

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 on progress towards the SDGS in an EU context — 2021 edition’. This report is the fifth 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.

Full article

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. 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 (see Table 1).

Gender-based violence

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 against women affects their health and well-being. Moreover, it can hamper women’s access to employment and harm 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 [1]; 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 [2].

The prevalence of violence varies greatly across the EU. However, caution is needed when comparing rates, 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 [3]. 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 [4].

Figure 1: Physical and sexual violence to women experienced within 12 months prior to the interview, EU, 2012 (% of women)
Source: European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), Eurostat (sdg_05_10)


Education

Equal access to quality education and training 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. In education and training, it is important to eliminate gender stereotypes and promote gender balance in traditionally ‘male’ or ‘female’ fields.

Young women outperform men in terms of education

Women overall tend to perform better than men when it comes to participation in education in the EU. In 2020, 12.0 % of men and 8.1 % 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 following four years and remained substantial, at 3.9 percentage points in 2020.

A major expansion in higher education systems has taken place in the EU since the introduction of the Bologna process [5] The share of the population aged 25 to 34 who completed tertiary education increased steadily between 2002 and 2020. The increase was particularly strong for women, whose tertiary educational attainment rate rose from 25.3 % in 2002 to 45.6 % in 2020. For men, the increase was slower, from 21.0 % to 34.8 %. This caused the gender gap to surge from 4.3 percentage points to 10.8 percentage points between 2002 and 2020.

Employment

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 than men in most EU countries. Despite the higher educational attainment of women, they are still paid less, as evidenced by the persistent gender pay gap. Women in the EU are over-represented in low pay sectors with and under-represented in well-paid sectors. Because of the gender pay gap, and interrupted and shorter working lives, women earn less over their lifetimes than men. The correlation between women’s lower employment rate and caring responsibilities aggravates women’s risk of poverty and social exclusion, especially in old age.

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 [6]. Parenthood and caring responsibilities, limited access to quality childcare and monetary disincentives to participate in the labour market have a negative impact on the gender employment gap [7]. In the EU, the employment rate for women grew from 58.1 % in 2004 to 66.8 % in 2020. For men, the rate started from a higher value and increased more slowly, from 74.5 % in 2004 to 78.1 % in 2020 (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 5.1 percentage points between 2004 and 2020. The strongest reduction occurred during the economic crisis between 2008 and 2009, partly because jobs were lost in traditionally male-dominated fields, such as construction and the automotive industry [8]. The gap continued to shrink until 2014 and then stagnated at slightly below 12 percentage points until 2019. In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the labour market, the gap fell to 11.3 percentage points. Although this represents a new record low, it also means that the proportion of working-age men in employment still considerably exceeds that of women.

Figure 2: Gender employment gap, EU, 2001-2020 (percentage points)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_05_30)


The gender pay gap has decreased slightly in recent years but remains considerable

Between 2014 and 2019, the gender pay gap narrowed by 1.6 percentage points in the EU. However, in 2019, women’s gross hourly earnings in the EU were still on average 14.1 % below those of men. There are various reasons for the existence and size of the gender pay gap. The inequalities that women face in gaining access to work, career progression and rewards, along with the consequences of career breaks or part-time work due to caring responsibilities, labour market segregation, the parenthood penalty and stereotypes about the roles of men and women are inevitably linked to the persistent gender pay gap.

Figure 3: Gender pay gap in unadjusted form, EU, 2010-2019 (% of average gross hourly earnings of men)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_05_20)


Caring responsibilities are 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 [9], as well as long-term care services. Inactivity due to caring responsibilities was the main reason why women (aged 20 to 64) were not part of the labour force in 2020, with 27.3 % of inactive women reporting this as main reason. In contrast, only 3.9 % of inactive men reported being inactive due to caring responsibilities. The share of inactive people due to caring responsibilities has increased steadily between 2014 and 2019, by 1.1 percentage points for men and by 4.2 percentage points for women. As a result, the gender gap has increased by 3.0 percentage points since 2014, reaching 27.8 percentage points in 2019.

Figure 4: Inactive population due to caring responsibilities, by sex, EU, 2006-2019 (% of inactive population aged 20 to 64)
Source: Eurostat (sdg_05_40)


Leadership positions

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 this area is one of the priorities the EU has set for achieving gender equality.

The share of seats held by women in national parliaments has increased steadily since 2003

Women held 32.7 % of seats in national parliaments in the EU in 2020. 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 49.6 % seats held by women in Sweden to 12.6 % in Hungary. There was no single EU country in 2020 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 32.7 % in 2020, although this was an increase from 22.6 % in 2003. Also showing an increase was the number of female heads of government in EU countries. In 2020, there were on average four female heads of government compared with none in 2003. Over the whole period from 2003 to 2020, the highest share of female heads of government was 14.3 %, meaning that there were never more than four women in this executive position at the same time [10].

Figure 5: Seats held by women in national parliaments, EU, 2003-2020 (% of seats)
Source: European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), Eurostat (sdg_05_50)


In 2020, almost 30 % of board members of the largest listed companies were women Women held 29.5 % of board positions in the largest listed companies in 2020. This level of representation was achieved after a steady 21.3 percentage point increase since 2003. However, the numbers mean that the clear majority of 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 [11].

Figure 6: Positions held by women in senior management, EU, 2003-2020 (% of positions)
Source: European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), Eurostat (sdg_05_60)


Context

The balanced participation of women and men in formal education and training, the labour market and in leadership positions is crucial for gender equality in the EU. Equal access to quality education, especially tertiary education, is expected to improve chances in life for both men and women. Women continue to be over-represented in lower paid sectors and occupations, and experience constraints in their professional choices linked to care responsibilities and gender stereotypes. The persistent employment gap is mirrored in the significant gender pay gap. Closing gender gaps in employment and pay 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 objective is the elimination of gender-based violence and protecting and supporting victims.

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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 on progress towards the SDGS in an EU context — 2021 edition’.

Notes

  1. 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.
  2. European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (2014), Violence against women: an EU-wide survey, Main results, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 17.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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).
  6. International Labour Organisation (2015), Key Indicators of the Labour market: Full report, Ninth Edition, International Labour Office, Geneva, p. 17.
  7. 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.
  8. European Commission (2009), Economic Crisis in Europe: Causes, Consequences and Responses, Directorate-General for Economic and Financial Affairs, p. 36.
  9. 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.
  10. European Institute for Gender Equality, Gender Statistics Database (National governments: presidents and prime ministers).
  11. European Commission (2017), 2018 Report on equality between women and men in the EU, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg, p. 31.