Despite seeing huge overall changes in the economic and social position of European women over the past thirty years, change has not been geographically homogenous. Number crunching data from the CSO and various European social attitude surveys, Patrick Smyth (Irish Times, 11th October, 2010) found that significant spatial differences exist for women in terms of the percentage of them working outside the home, the wages that they earn, hours they work, and the amount of domestic work that they do. Smyth notes that the EU set a target for 60% of women to be in employment by 2010. While Ireland met this target in 2007/8, only 37% of Maltese women currently work outside of the home. Not surprisingly, Danish women are at the top of the league and well above the European average, with 74% of them employed.
Looking at wages, and after adjusting for the longer hours worked by men, Irish women earn 13% less per hour than men. This figure is slightly below the average EU gender gap of 17.4%, while Italy has the lowest (4.4%). Remarkably, Estonian women still earn 30.3% less than men. On average, European men spend 39.5 hours a week working, while the respective figure for women came to 30.8 hours. Smyth notes that this reflects the fact that women are still considerably more likely to work part-time – in Ireland, females are five times as likely as men to work between 10 and 30 hours per week (42% of them), yet only one-fifth are as likely to work over 45 hours (5.6%). Looking at the EU average, 29% of women are placed in the former group. The figure in the UK is placed at 46% and is as high as 53% in the Netherlands.
Looking at domestic responsibilities, 82% of Irish women claim to spend an hour or more cooking and cleaning per day (with an EU average of 79%), while the figure for men came to 40%. As low as this is, Irish men spend significantly more time on household chores than their counterparts in the EU, with only 29% of men spending an hour or more a day on domestic tasks. Women are also much more likely to care for children on a daily basis.
Therefore, despite the advances made by European women since the 1980s, they are still less likely to work outside of the home, still overwhelmingly more likely to work part-time, still earn less than men (even when adjusted) and still disproportionately shoulder the responsibilities of children and the household. Anyone who claims that we have achieved gender equality needs to look closely at the facts.