The Domain of Work: Closing the inequality gap

08 Dec 22  –  Written by Sarah Hunter


  • Currently across Europe there are still gender disparities surrounding the domain of work, specifically in relation to participation, access and industry segregation between men and women.
  • This is due to a number of reasons such as stereotypical gender roles, work-family life balances and more, despite the rising number of women in higher education. These disparities seem to be more present in nations such as Italy and Slovakia. 
  • However, recent studies have concluded that if European Nation states were to work towards closing these inequality gaps, it would create greater European economic prosperity and GDP per capita across Europe would improve by over a trillion euros.

“Women are more likely than men to work in sectors characterised by lower pay, status and value, and have fewer options for career growth”

EIGE, 2017, as cited in the Gender Equality Index, 2022


The following article aims to explore gender disparities in the domain of work across Europe and conduct an analysis into how closing the gender gap in regards to work will create a more affluent Europe. The report is split into two sections, the first provides an analysis of gender disparities in the domain of work by expanding upon recent data provided within the gender equality index, conducted by the European Institute for Gender Equality. This section will examine the statistical information conducted by the institute and, using pre-existing literature, will further expand upon inequalities that women face in terms of participation in and segregation from the labour market. Italy specifically will be noted upon as it is the European nation state with the greatest inequality in terms of labour participation. Moreover, the article will then, in the second section, draw upon research provided into the prospective rise of European GDP per capita (the total market value of the goods and services a country produces per year divided by its population) if these inequality gaps were to begin to close or cease to exist, therefore creating room for a more economically prosperous Europe. 

The gender equality index and therefore this essay when using the term ‘gender’ is doing so in a more binary way, however it can be assumed also that if the analysis spanned to include non-binary and gender diverse European citizens, the issue of segregation and access to participation in the labour market would remain largely unequal and most likely even more so. ‘That trans individuals experience discrimination at the point of entry to the labour market indicates their significant under-representation, People identifying as non-binary probably experience discrimination even more often’ (Van den Brink & Dunne, 2018, p. 97). 


The Domain of Work

Gender disparities in the domain of work refer to the unequal levels of labour force participation carried out by women in contrast with men, and the segregation of genders in differing occupations, specifically in this essay across Europe. The 2022 European Gender Equality Index highlights the notable gender differences in the quantity of work that men and women both undertake, and the quality of types of work and contracts they find themselves in. Therefore stating that women today are still presented with less opportunities and access to work than their male counterparts. This may be for a number of reasons, some of which include gender discrimination, the rising costs of childcare and women being more likely to carry out part time roles than men. 

Segregation specifically in the domain of work is where women and men find themselves almost separated when looking into differing industries and sectors of the labour force. 

The European Institute for Gender Equality further describes the negative effects of this by noting that “in all EU Member States, men dominate specific fields such as engineering and technology but are not present in others, such as teaching and care work. Out of the 20 largest occupations in the EU, only five have a gender-balanced workforce (at least 40% of one gender)” (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2017, p. 1).  When analysing gender segregations across industries and occupations, it is clear that certain workforces are continuously either more male or female dominated. Men still seem to dominate in STEM areas of work and women in caregiving roles such as care workers, or within the childcare market. These typically more ‘female’ jobs are usually part-time and are compensated with lower pay, which in turn contributes to the ever present gender pay gap existing globally. Furthermore this segregation may remain persistent due to societal influences that are imposed upon both men and women regarding their ‘places in society’ and therefore within the workforce, pushing this segregational gap further. 

Additionally, as is stated in the Gender Equality Index, “inequalities in the labour market are often rooted in the unequal distribution of care and other responsibilities within the household” (Gender Equality Index, 2022, p. 24). Women are more likely to undertake unpaid domestic labour than men, either that be through childcare, house work or other forms of care. This therefore provides an additional insight into why less women are involved with paid labour in the workforce, as they are constrained by time and possibly other responsibilities, which may again in turn be related to societal or traditional gender expectations, despite the rising level of women in education and the feminist fights for the disbandment of these stereotypes. 

Looking at the data provided below, the current EU average for work participation sits at 81 out of 100, with Sweden scoring the highest in terms of equal access to participation, at almost 100, and Italy being the most unequal in this subdomain, at around 65.

The EU average for segregation in the domain of work is currently at 63.3 out of 100, still a while off meeting a number where each field would be equally split between genders and having more fair and diverse workplaces. Slovakia sits below the EU average at 50/100, and the Netherlands are in the top position and therefore the most equal nations in terms of gender segregation in the domain of work, sitting at around 75/100, over 10 above the European average. 

Figure 1: Scores of the domain of work and sub domains, and changes of time. (Gender Equality Index, 2022)

Profeta, when drawing upon gender gaps in the Italian economy, notes that “less than one woman out of two works in Italy…in spite of the massive prevalence of women at higher levels of education, the Italian labour market is still male dominated” (Profeta, 2019, p. 5). They highlight the fact that despite more women than ever being in higher education or degree level education, the gaps within the workforce are still largely prevalent. Profeta further notes that the most effective policies in Italy when looking at closing labour force gender gaps have been mandatory quotas imposed on industries (Profeta, 2019, p. 9), however recognises that Italy is still massively falling behind the rest of Europe regarding disparities in the domain of work. 

Inequalities in access to and participation within workforces therefore remains a constant issue faced by European nation states, with the quotas that are in place to try and close gender gaps in regards to work failing, or only alleviating the problem marginally. The following section of the article will analyse how, if these gender gaps were to become smaller, there is a large scope for Europe to become more economically prosperous, raising GDP per capita by large amounts. 


Future European Prosperity

Recent studies have concluded that a further introduction of women into the workforce would lead to significant increases in overall European GDP and therefore work towards creating a more economically prosperous Europe. Specifically the European Institute for Gender Equality (2019) has noted that “By 2050, improving gender equality would lead to an increase in EU (GDP) per capita by 6.1 to 9.6%, which amounts to €1.95 to €3.15 trillion’”

The graph provided below conveys the effect of equal participation in the labour market on overall European GDP per capita. As is detailed on the statistic, even following a slow progress trajectory, GDP per capita would increase by 6%, and if progress is rapid then a dramatic change of a 10% increase can be achieved in the next 30 years. 

Figure 2: Effect of gender equality on GDP per capita. (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019)

Moreover, the European Institute for Gender Equality has also noted that closing the gender disparity gaps in the world of work would lead to lower unemployment levels. They state that working to eradicate these gender disparities in the workforce would create “an additional 10.5 million jobs in 2050…About 70% of these jobs would be taken by women, however female and male employment rates meet in the long run, reaching an 80% employment rate by 2050” (European Institute for Gender Equality, 2019). 

The introduction of more women, not only into the labour market but also into more ‘male dominated’ industries, would create great growth in the European economy as a whole, marketising on untapped talents and creating more opportunities in each field. Furthermore, with more members of the population in the workforce, real GDP as well as GDP per capita would rise each year as these workers would collectively produce more, efficiently creating and working to innovate more goods and services in each European nation state. The drop in unemployment moreover would also provide millions more households with further disposable income per annum, and this leads to more money flowing into the economy through greater levels of overall consumption. 

As mentioned previously, women across Europe have reached record levels of educational participation, and this is another reason as to why more women in the workforce would be an asset in a wide variety of industries. Profeta (2019, p. 8) notes “gender gaps in education have rapidly closed and reversed in favour of women in the last decades: more than 60% of graduates today are girls.. and the global economy would benefit from boosting women’s participation in the labour force.” 

Taking this information into account, if women represent over 60% of graduates and education now favours women, why are there still less women involved in paid labour participation? The International Labour Organisation has highlighted a few reasons as to why, these mainly being, traditional gender roles, work-family balance, access to transportation and the lack of affordable care (International Labour Organization, 2017). Each of these areas continue to put barriers in the way of equal workforce participation, and have left women who are willing to participate unable to enter into the workforce. The issue of access to universal childcare for instance is of high importance when looking at enabling women to enter or re-enter the workforce after having children. Nations such as Sweden have childcare subsidies in place to allow women to freely re-enter the workforce, as opposed to having to undertake unpaid labour at home due to soaring childcare costs. 

Since the height of the pandemic, Europe saw a widespread fall in GDP and a rise in unemployment rates. The IMF notes “64 million women lost their jobs during the pandemic (twice as many as men), because women are more likely to work in informal, temporary, and part-time jobs…with lower pay and less social protection” (Gopinath, 2022). As has been highlighted previously, despite closing the gaps in educational opportunity, women are still studying and therefore working in more stereotypical ‘female’ roles, these positions such as the childcare or care work industries present women with lower pay. Women were less present in the labour force before the pandemic, and the after-effects of the global crisis have only accelerated the number of women faced with unemployment, now finding themselves out of work in what was already a male dominated sphere. 



In conclusion, the further introduction of women into the workforce as discussed previously, will only create a more economically prosperous Europe, utilising the skill set of a well-educated untapped section of the population, enabling economic expansion and further productivity. 

Nations such as Sweden and the Netherlands are managing to keep women’s participation in the labour force high, whilst keeping segregation levels in the domain of work low, however Italy and Slovakia are falling behind in comparison. 

Gopinath (2022) states, ’gender equality goes hand-in-hand with macroeconomic and financial stability, can stimulate economic growth, boost private and public sector performance, and reduce income inequality’, therefore again allowing the space for a more economically stable Europe. Relating this quote to the data provided within the report, the European Union would see a significant increase in GDP and lower unemployment rates leading to further economic growth if each country were to aim towards a gender equal workforce. 

Moreover, European policy needs to focus its attention on breaking down barriers that hinder women from entering the workforce such as redefining stereotypical gender roles, the balance between work and family life, and access to necessary transportation and affordable care. 



European Institute for Gender Equality. (2019) Economic benefits of gender equality in the EU. Available at: [Accessed 07/12/22].

European Institute for Gender Equality. (2019) Work in the EU: Women and men at opposite ends. Available at: [Accessed 07/12/22].

European Institute for Gender Equality. (2022) Gender Equality Index: 2022. Available at: [Accessed 07/12/22].

Gopianth, G. (2022) Gender equality boosts economic growth and stability, International Monetary Fund, 27 September. Available at: [Accessed 07/12/22].

International Labour Organisation. (2017) The gender gap in employment: What’s holding women back? Available at: [Accessed 07/12/22].

Profeta, P. (2019) Gender Gaps in Italy and the Role of Public Policy. In: Fondata da Mario Arcelli. (2019) Economia italiana, 3, pp. 5-10.

Van den Brink, M., Dunne, P. (2018) Trans and intersex rights in Europe – a comparative analysis. Brussels: European Commission.

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Recommended citation:

Hunter, S. (2022) The Domain of Work: Closing the inequality gap, IDRN, 08 Dec. Available at: [Accessed dd/mm/yyyy].