Small drop in disparities in gender equality across the European Union, but COVID-19 could change that

Although gender equality gains among Member States vary widely, progress, especially in some countries, has somewhat reduced disparities across the EU. Recent advances could be wiped out as consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic unfold. Understanding the evolution of disparities across Member States and their potential implications for upward economic and social convergence – a fundamental objective of the EU – is critical.

Upward convergence on gender equality – improving performance in Member States while simultaneously reducing gaps across the EU – would see inequalities between women and men dissipate. The first convergence analysis was introduced in the Gender Equality Index 2019 report (EIGE, 2019c). This edition provides an updated analysis of convergence patterns in the Index between 2010 and 2019, building on a policy brief jointly produced by Eurofound and EIGE (Eurofound/EIGE, 2021). Despite steady progress over the period, the evolution of Index scores shows that disparities between Member States widened between 2011 and 2014. This was mainly driven by countries’ different responses to gender inequalities in economic and political decision-making. While disparities subsequently narrowed, they widened again in 2019. Several countries had gained quickly on the EU average, while those below it in 2010 improved their performance at a slower pace and fell further behind. A few countries were still in the same position in 2019. Nevertheless, there is a general upward convergence trend in the EU.

Closer examination of the performance of individual Member States reveals four different trends relative to the EU average (Figure 3).

  • Flattening. The national Gender Equality Index score is higher than the EU average, but is rising more slowly than the EU average (BE, DK, NL, FI and SE).
  • Outperforming. The national Gender Equality Index score is above the EU average and is improving at a faster rate than the EU average. As a result, the gap between the two is increasing (DE, IE, ES, FR, LU, AT and SI).
  • Catching up. The national Gender Equality Index score was initially below the EU average, but is improving more quickly than the EU average, reducing the gap (EE, HR, IT, CY, LV, MT and PT).
  • Slower pace. The national Gender Equality Index score is both lower than the EU average and improving at a slower rate, increasing the gap over time (BG, CZ, EL, LT, HU, PL, RO and SK).

Progress trends between 2010 and 2019 show that the greatest strides in gender equality have been mainly in southern EU countries. In France, Italy, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Austria and Portugal, the Index score increased by more than 7.5 points. Among Baltic countries, Estonia saw an impressive rise of 7.3 points. Generally, countries with lower levels of gender equality are progressing faster, while top-performing countries are slowing down. When Member States are positioned against Sweden, first placed in the Index, it can be seen that a modest reduction in disparity was achieved from 2010 to 2019. This is indicative of long-term progress in upward convergence (Eurofound/EIGE, 2021).

While the 2021 Index score shows meagre progress on gender equality between 2010 and 2019, the socioeconomic consequences of COVID-19 and their disproportionate effects on women may shift upward convergence to divergence and a downward trend in gender equality. The 2022 edition of the Gender Equality Index will examine the pandemic and its socioeconomic toll on gender equality.

Figure 3. Gender Equality Index scores and convergence patterns (2010–2019) by EU Member State