The gender wage gap is a frequent topic in the context of gender equality.
There are many reasons why women and men may earn differently. Differences in traditional gender roles, discrimination, and professions strongly dominated by women or men are just a few examples from the long list of causes. But what are the trends in Central and Eastern Europe? How big is the gender wage gap in the countries of the region?
The gender wage gap is the difference between the average gross hourly earnings of female and male employees in a country, expressed as a percentage. So, it does not reveal the differences regarding educational attainment, the field of study, or age; it just shows the average difference between the salaries of male and female workers in a state. To be clear, this figure always shows the advantage of men; the difference between the countries lies only in the extent of inequality. But why has it never happened in any country that women earned more than men on average?
Although the Treaty of Rome (signed in 1957) already included the principle that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work, in reality, this was never achieved. Most of the root causes behind this phenomenon are quite universal; still, there are significant differences between the countries. The average gender wage gap in the EU in 2020 was 13%, which means a significant difference, but at least the figure is smaller than in previous years. The differences between the Member States are also considerable, ranging from 0.7% in Luxembourg to 22.3% in Latvia.
One of the root causes is that many more women choose underpaid careers than men; examples are the education, social, and healthcare sectors. These are the feminized professions. There is an inverse relationship between importance and salaries regarding the jobs associated with caring for people. Primarily women work in these fields; in some underpaid professions, more than 80% of the workers are women.
It is also not negligible that giving birth and raising children is mostly on women’s shoulders. This makes it much more difficult for women to build uninterrupted and successful careers. The traditional family model and gender roles also contribute significantly to inequalities. Women who are responsible for the bulk of child-rearing and chores in their families would basically need a superpower to maintain a fruitful career. Therefore, for instance, much more women have part-time jobs, so they can have time for all those tasks that are not getting paid.
Another important root cause is that women still face many disadvantages in the labor market, especially in Central and Eastern Europe. A survey revealed that women’s situation is much worse in the V4 countries and Romania than in most other parts of the EU. The glass ceiling often holds women back; invisible barriers hinder their career progression. There are various causes why glass ceilings still exist, and sometimes they do not even stem from conscious discrimination. The employers’ prejudice that men should be in high positions as they do not give birth is also a contributing factor.
Central and Eastern European countries are similar in many respects, but not regarding the gender wage gap. Romania is the top-ranked country in the region, with a 2.4% average gender wage gap; they are second in the EU, just behind Luxembourg. Poland is not far behind Romania, with a gap of 4.5%. Their figure is well below not just the EU average but also Denmark and Sweden, two Nordic countries where gender equality is traditionally a priority. On the other hand, Czechia, Hungary, and Slovakia cannot be proud of themselves as they lag behind the EU average. Slovak women earn, on average, 15.8 % less than Slovak men, while the figure is even worse for Czechs (16.4%) and Hungarian (17.8%).
We might even raise an eyebrow at the Polish and Romanian statistics. How is it possible that, at least according to the statistics, Bucharest and Warsaw could create greater gender equality than the Germans or the Scandinavians? The answer is actually quite logical; the cause can be found in the countries’ past. Romania is a post-communist country where the state traditionally supports the reduction of inequalities. Women have been encouraged to choose traditionally male-dominated careers, such as engineering, IT, or mathematics. As a result, many Romanian women study professions or work in sectors dominated by men in most other EU countries that offer very high salaries.
But one might ask why the other countries in the region could not follow Poland and Romania. The answers are complex. Different norms, as well as the fact that some sectors are still labeled as „masculine” or „feminine,” contribute to the large discrepancies across the region. Women are under-represented in some careers with high salaries, while they are highly represented in other professions where wages are much lower. Social attitudes depressingly reinforce inequalities. According to a 2018 Czech Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs survey, 49% of Czechs take it for granted that women in the country simply do not earn as much as men in the same position with the same responsibility. In addition, governments tend to promote an ideology that encourages women to become mothers rather than build their careers.
Closing the gender wage gap is essential; it can make everyone in a society better off. The reason for our commitment to tackling the issue should not be to rank in a good position in statistics or to simply appear equal. Well-paid citizens boost the economy, and the growing presence of women in many sectors would increase diversity and open up new perspectives.
Graphics: Roland Molnár