The Care Gap in Europe - How Does Ireland compare?

Posted on Wednesday, 9 March 2022
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Work not equal to Job
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Yesterday, 8th March 2022, was International Women's Day. To mark the occasion, FEPS produced an interactive map of gender gaps in Europe - the EU Care Atlas. This interactive map shows the deficits in care across EU Member States and their impact on the gender earnings and employment gaps, and allows us to compare how Ireland is doing in an EU context.



The Gender Earnings Gap is of course related to the Employment Gap, the Hours Gap, and the Gender Pay Gap, as all have a bearing on how the difference in earnings of men and women.

The Employment Gap

The Employment Gap refers to the difference in the employment rates of men and women across the EU. In Ireland in 2020, 79.5 per cent of men and 67.4 per cent of women were in employment. A gap of 12.1 percentage points. This compares to a EU average of 78.1 per cent for men and 66.8 per cent for women, a gap of 11.3 percentage points. 

The gap is narrowest in Sweden and Germany, at 4.9 percentage points and 6.2 percentage points respectively. It's widest in Italy (19.9 pps), Romania (19.3 pps), and Greece (18.9 pps). Greece has the lowest rate of employment among women, at just 51.8 per cent, followed by Italy at 52.7 per cent, Spain at 60 per cent and Romania at 61 per cent.

The Hours Gap

The Hours Gap refers to the difference in the amount rates of part-time employment of men and women across the EU. As women are more likely to take reduced hours to take on caring responsibilities than men, it is indicative of where care really impacts employment. In Ireland, 30.7 per cent of women and just 9 per cent of men are engaged in part-time employment, a gap of 21.7 percentage points. The EU average is 24 per cent of women and 7.46 per cent of men, a gap of 16.54 percentage points.

The gap is largest in the Netherlands, with 56.8 per cent of women working part-time, compared to 19.4 per cent of women (a gap of 37.4 percentage points), followed by Germany, with 36.3 per cent of women and 9.5 per cent of men (26.8 pps). The gap is narrowest in Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia and Hungary where part-time employment rates are very low - ranging from 2.1 per cent of women and 1.1 per cent of men in Bulgaria, to 6.4 per cent of women and 2.7 per cent of men in Hungary.

The Gender Pay Gap

In Ireland, the gender pay gap is 11.3 per cent, meaning that for every €1 that a man earns in Ireland, women earn just 88.7c. The EU Average is 13.0 per cent. The highest gap is in Latvia, Estonia and Austria, at 22.3 per cent, 21.1 per cent and 18.9 per cent respectively. The gap is narrowest in Luxembourg, Romania, and Slovenia at 0.7 per cent, 2.4 per cent and 3.1 per cent respectively.  


Working Hours and Time Use

A particularly interesting aspect of the Care Gap is the difference in time use in 2021 - the number of hours engaged in work overall, and broken down by paid and unpaid work, by gender.

In Ireland, women spend 488 minutes per day working - 195 minutes in paid work and 293 minutes in unpaid work. This compares to men who spend 468 minutes per day working, but considerably more of this is in paid employment - 341 minutes per day doing paid work and just 127 minutes in unpaid work. Essentially, women in Ireland are spending an additional over 3 and three-quarter hours every day in unpaid work compared to men.

When it comes to unpaid work, the distribution is most equal in Sweden, Denmark, and Finland, with gaps of 49 minutes, 57 minutes, and 79 minutes respectively. 

Recognising the Work of Carers

The work of Ireland’s carers receives minimal recognition despite the essential role their work plays in society. Results from the 2016 Census offered an insight into the scale of these commitments, which save the state large costs that it would otherwise have to bear.

Census 2016 found that 4.1 per cent of the population provided some care for sick or disabled family members or friends on an unpaid basis. This figure equates to 195,263 people. The dominant caring role played by women was highlighted by the fact that 118,151 (60.5 per cent) of these care providers were female[1]. When assessed by length of time, the census found that a total of 6,608,515 hours of care were provided by carers each week, representing an average of 38.3 hours of unpaid help and assistance each. Two thirds of this volume of care was provided by female carers. Using the minimum wage as a simple (if unrealistically low) benchmark to establish the benefit which carers provide each year suggests that Ireland’s carers provide care valued at more than €3.4bn per annum[2].

Social Justice Ireland welcomed the long overdue publication of a National Carers Strategy in July 2012. The document included a ‘roadmap for implementation’ involving a suite of actions and associated timelines, and identified the Government Department responsible for their implementation. However, these actions were confined to those that could be achieved on a cost neutral basis. Various progress reports of the strategy have been published to date and point towards some progress on the actions set out. However, these are, as a group, limited given the unwillingness of Government to allocate sufficient resources to supporting those in this sector.

Social Justice Ireland believes that further policy reforms should be introduced to reduce the financial and emotional pressures on carers. In particular, these should focus on addressing the poverty experienced by many carers and their families alongside increasing the provision of respite care for carers and for those for whom they care. In this context, the 24 hour responsibilities of carers contrast with the improvements over recent years in employment legislation setting limits on working-hours of people in paid employment.

Work is more than Employment

A major question raised by the current labour-market situation concerns assumptions underpinning culture and policymaking in this area. The priority given to paid employment over other forms of work is one such assumption. Most people recognise that a person can be working very hard outside a conventionally accepted “job”. Much of the work carried out in the community and in the voluntary sector comes under this heading. So too does much of the work done in the home. Social Justice Ireland’s support for the introduction of a basic income system comes, in part, because it believes that all work should be recognised and supported.

The need to recognise voluntary work has been acknowledged in the Government White Paper, Supporting Voluntary Activity published by the Department of Social, Community and Family Affairs in 2000. The report was prepared to mark the UN International Year of the Volunteer 2001 by Government and representatives of numerous voluntary organisations in Ireland. The report made a series of recommendations to assist in the future development and recognition of voluntary activity throughout Ireland. A 2005 report presented to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs also provided an insight into this issue. It established that the cost to the state of replacing the 475,000 volunteers working for charitable organisations would be at least €205 million and could be as high as €485 million per year. In August 2019, the Department of Rural and Community Development published Sustainable, Inclusive and Empowered Communities: A Five-Year Strategy to Support the Community and Voluntary Sector in Ireland 2019-2024 published by the Department of Rural and Community Development in 2019.  This Strategy sets out the vision for community and voluntary sector development over the next five years.  It contains a series of 11 policy objectives across all stakeholders, from Public Participation Networks to civil society organisations to local and national Governments.

Social Justice Ireland believes that government should recognise, in a more formal way, all forms of work. We believe that everyone has a right to work, to contribute to his or her own development and that of the community and wider society. We also believe that policymaking in this area should not be exclusively focused on job creation. Policy should recognise that work and a job are not always the same thing.

[1] A CSO QNHS special module on carers (CSO, 2010) and a 2008 ESRI study entitled ‘Gender Inequalities in Time Use’ found similar trends (McGinnity and Russell, 2008:36, 70).

[2] Calculation based on 2016 minimum wage of €9.15 per hour.