EU Science Hub

Women from a migrant background face double challenges on the labour market

The research highlights the need for policies that support the labour market participation of all women.
The research highlights the need for policies that support the labour market participation of all women.
Nov 09 2020

Being born outside the EU and being a woman reduces a person's probability to be active on the European labour market, regardless of their level of education.

In the EU, the conditions for women’s participation in the labour market have improved in recent years, but gender gaps still remain.

A new JRC study finds that these improvements have been less impactful for women coming from a migrant background (i.e. those born outside the EU), and that their level of participation in the labour market has remained lower.

The migration gender gap

Over the past decade, women born in the EU have benefitted from measures promoting greater participation by women in the labour market. Their likelihood of being active on the job market has been increasing.

One could expect that better education would lead to better labour market outcomes. In the case of women born in the EU, education has been key for reducing the gender gap. EU-born women with tertiary (university level) education have a labour market participation rate similar to EU-born men.

The situation of women from a migrant background is very different. The labour market participation rate of migrantwomen with tertiary education is still lower than all other groups, including EU-born women with a lower level of education.

Moreover, the 'migration gap' – the difference in labour market participation between EU-born women and women from a migrant background – is wider at the tertiary education level than among women with lower levels of education.

The study suggests that this could be linked to non-transferability of higher education qualifications. It calls for additional efforts to facilitate the recognition of skills and diplomas.

Why a gender gap persists for all women

The study points to persistent gender-based barriers as the root of the lower representation of women on the labour market, whether born in the EU or not.

The analysis shows that men still assume the traditional breadwinning role more often than women, and women are often carers of the family.

It also confirms that the job status of men improves when they are married: married men are more likely to be active on the labour market and have higher salaries, compared to non-married men.

While men enjoy this "male marriage premium", women suffer a "marriage penalty". In fact, the likelihood of women being active on the labour market drops if they are married.

Women also experience a so-called "motherhood penalty", as having children has a clear negative impact on their labour market participation. 

The researchers highlight the need for policies that support the labour market participation of all women, whether they are EU-born or from a migrant background.