Domain of work

Gender inequalities in the domain of work remain entrenched (EIGE, 2020a). They are reflected in lower levels of employment and higher levels of underemployment for women, as well as in gender segregation in the job market and related pay challenges (see Chapter 3). Gender norms and stereotypes are key pillars of gender inequalities in the world of work, with unequal distribution of care, family and other household duties a major barrier to women’s equal participation in the workforce (EIGE, 2020e).

Most women still face cultural norms, including leaving jobs or substantially reducing paid work time to meet care needs. This has consequences for personal income, training and reskilling opportunities (EIGE, 2019e). For men, care and family duties are not a structural constraint to having jobs. However, they more often face challenges when reducing their work hours to take on more care responsibilities at home, such as resistance from employers or co-workers.

Focusing on 2019 for this analysis is important to better understand how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting job opportunities for women and men, particularly for those with multiple disadvantages in the labour market. The crisis is exposing, as never before, the crucial links between paid and unpaid work, and between the economic and health spheres.

Critical to people’s lives, work also impacts well-being and health through social, physical and psychosocial hazards, including the risk of injury or occupational disease and stress, to name just a few. This leads to diverse outcomes for women and men depending on how much they work, the type of job they have and in which sector they work (Leka and Jain, 2010).

Better quality of work is related to better individual health (Barnay, 2016; Henseke, 2018), and precarious employment is related to worse health outcomes (Benach et al., 2014; Siegrist et al., 2016). This implies that gender inequalities in the labour market are reflected in gender inequalities in health. Generally, policies promoting employment and better working conditions are linked to improved population health and fewer gender-based health inequalities (Naik et al., 2019).

Various recent EU policies tackle the important nexus between gender equality, work and work-related dimensions of our lives. Key objectives of the EU’s 2020–2025 gender equality strategy (European Commission, 2020b) include closing gender gaps and addressing the under-representation of marginalised women in the labour market, ensuring equal participation across different sectors of the economy.

The Commission’s recommendation on effective active support to employment calls for policy support,  backed by EU funding, to those most adversely effected by the COVID-19 crisis. This includes women, older workers and persons with disabilities (European Commission, 2021b).

The recommendation also promotes job creation and job-to-job transitions from sectors in decline to developing sectors and those lacking skilled workers, for example the information technology and care industries. The European Pillar of Social Rights Action Plan (European Commission, 2021d), which sets a headline target of at least 78 % of people aged 20–64 years in jobs by 2030, acknowledges that achieving this goal requires 2019 gender employment gaps to be halved at least. The plan notes that an increase is needed in the provision of formal early childhood education and care to better reconcile professional and private lives, and to support women’s participation in the labour force.