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Gender Pension Gap - Frequently Asked Questions

Why this gap?

Women earn less during their working lives. Despite anti-discrimination laws the majority of women still earn substantially less than men and, as a direct result of this, their pension contributions and benefits are also substantially lower. In some Member States those people earning below a certain level do not make contributions to the state pension scheme and therefore also do not earn the benefits.

• Women have a greater burden of work: as a rule women, in addition possibly to paid work, also do unpaid work in the family. In order to do this, many women work part-time which decreases their pension levels.

• In many countries, the current generation of older women did not have the same access to education and professional training as the men of their generation, and for that reason they have had less access to qualified and well-paid positions

• Women have a greater risk of earlier exclusion from the labour market: in fact women in the course of their working lives still run an above-average risk of becoming unemployed, and in most European countries are under greater threat of being affected by early retirement.

• Women had to interrupt their working lives more often. A large number of women give up paid employment to care for older members of their families or children. Once again, their pension contributions and benefits are reduced as a result. This also affects male careers and may be one reason why men are less likely to take on this role.

• Divorces sometimes leaves women with an insufficient pension.

• The fact that women live longer than men on average is sometimes used as an actuarial argument for pension schemes to pay out lower benefits to women, discriminating against individual women.

Why are equal pension rights important?


  • Women are human beings too – not second class citizens!
    1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights : “discrimination against women violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity.” The governments of the world reaffirmed their commitment in 1995 to “the equal rights and inherent human dignity of all women and men’’ in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.
  • The male breadwinner model is still dominant
    Pension schemes are still constructed upon a traditional nuclear family with a male breadwinner and a non-employed wife, which leaves many women without individual pension rights.
  • Women are workers too – the patterns of women’s work impact on their rights throughout their lives
    Pension schemes are socially determined by men to suit male patterns of employment that have not been applicable to the majority of older women today. Changing family patterns, and the increase in divorce rates, must be taken into account in the reform of pension systems. The issues of sharing pension entitlement and derived rights become very important.
  • Women continue to carry out the majority of care and unpaid work
    Women still have (and have had) different life patterns than those of men. In particular, women have been responsible - and still are in older age - for the provision of care to their families, partners, friends and neighbours, a task that does not give any pension rights.
  • "Care doesn’t count!"
    As Albert Einstein already remarked “Not everything that counts can be counted; Not everything that can be counted counts.”
  • Feminisation of poverty as women age
    Older women rely more on state pensions, and are consequently more vulnerable to governments’ tendency to expenditure cut back in public pensions, replacing them with some kind of private provision. Only recently, austerity measures, which have been introduced throughout Europe as result of the financial crisis, disproportionally affect women, undermine years of progress towards women’s integration in the labour market and stall gender equality.

What do we demand?

# 1. Individualise pension rights, while phasing out old systems. The individualisation of pension rights is necessary from a gender equality perspective, but the security of many older women currently relying on widows’ pensions and other derived rights must also be ensured.

# 2. Adapt pension schemes to accommodate society’s need for the care of children and other dependant persons:

  • Full pension entitlements to persons caring for a limited period. Public pensions must be designed to ensure that those who have made a career break or reduced their working time for a limited period in order to care for children and other dependant persons can acquire independent pension rights comparable to those she/he would have had without this career-break or reduction of working time.
  • Part-time workers (the majority of whom are women) must be entitled to increased individual pension levels.

# 3. Establish a universal adequate basic old age pension, which is not means tested.

# 4. Develop a European employment strategy that encourages more women to participate in the labour market and that combats inequality in employment that has a gendered impact on the level of pension contributions and entitlements.

# 5. Raise salaries in sectors of the labour market that are dominated by women.

# 6. Ensure that partners have the possibility to share their pension entitlements

# 7. Construct pension systems according to the principle that contributions should be less for low paid workers

# 8. Prohibit direct discrimination in private and public pension schemes, including the practice of basing the level of payments and contributions on life-expectancy, i.e private, public and occupational pension schemes, which are based on defined contributions, should apply unisex actuarial criteria.

# 9. Increase research into gender and ageing to inform policy development. The majority of women experience a range of disadvantages in old age, such as low income, inadequate housing, poor health and care, lack of access to educational opportunities, information and communication technology. These disadvantages are the consequence of lifelong inequality and have a major impact on the quality of life of older women and contribute to the social exclusion of older women.

# 10. Research the degree of women’s access to occupational pension (second pillar) and private pension (third pillar) schemes, and ensure that the increasing emphasis on the third and second pillar pension schemes in Europe does not undermine women’s economic security in old age.

What can you do?

Join the EWL campaign Equal Pension Rights Now! #equalpensions
Share the video and let us know your thoughts, discuss the issue with your friends and family, meet with your trade union and ask your government to close the pension gap. Together we can make it happen!

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