The Wage Gap German Women Earn a Fifth Less than Men

The disparity in wages between men and women in Germany is one of the highest in the European Union. The main reason, says the EU's equal opportunities commissioner, is the high percentage who can't work full-time because of child-raising responsibilities.

A nurse walking though an operating theater: In Germany women earn far less than men.

A nurse walking though an operating theater: In Germany women earn far less than men.

When it comes to equal pay, German women get a rough deal: Women in Germany on average earn 22 percent less than men, placing the country near the bottom of a European Union equal pay league table. Out of the 27 EU member states, only Estonia, Cyprus and Slovakia have a bigger or just as high gender pay gap, EU Commissioner for Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities Vladimir Spidla told German newspaper Die Welt.

"In Germany the average hourly wage of women lies 22 percent lower than that of men," Spidla is quoted saying in the newspaper's Monday edition. "Germany, therefore, belongs to the states with the highest inequality in the payment of men and women." In the EU the average gender wage gap is 15 percent.

According to Spidla, the large wage gap is attributable in large part to the fact that more women in Germany tend to be part-time workers than in other countries -- and not because they earn less than their male colleagues for doing the same job. "However, the difference is also so high because the share of women in the labor market is much higher than, for example, in Malta," he said. "The smaller the share of women in the job market, the lower, on average, the gap in wages is."

The EU commissioner called on employers to do more to prevent unfair differences in wages, saying employers played a "key role." According to Spidla, this was not only an ethical question, but fair payment would also improve the motivation of employees and lead to productivity increases.

In the last few years the number of women working in the EU has steadily increased: Between 2000 and 2006 7.5 million women joined the labor market, compared to 4.5 million men. Yet, every third women works part-time, while only 8 percent of men do so.

The reason for the difference, Spidla said, could not simply be explained by different preferences among the genders. "The real reason for many women working part-time is that they have less time than men, because they have to look after children or other relatives," he said.

In the EU only 62 percent of women with children work, compared to 91 percent of men. "Parenthood permanently reduces the employment rate of women, but not at all that of men -- that is no longer acceptable," Spidla said.

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