Can We Call It a Revolution? Women, the Labour Market, and European Policy

  • Francesca Bettio


In the USA the change in women's role in the economy over the last quarter-century has been likened to 'a quiet revolution'. Can we also talk of a quiet 'revolution' in Europe? The present article addresses this question by reviewing key developments in women's labour market position at EU level over the last 20 years. Full integration of women in the labour market was a focal point of European Employment Strategy, based on the understanding that it is an essential ingredient of gender equality; but it recently lost priority in favour of human rights and anti-discrimination goals. Policy responses to the financial crisis accelerated this change in priorities together with the perception that men are the real losers of the crisis. However, a stock-taking of women's integration into the labour market at EU level shows that two large obstacles stand in the way of full integration: regional imbalances and the secondary earner question. Female employment recently outperformed male employment, but fiscal consolidation policies currently hinder advancement in countries like the so-called GIPSI group, where progress is needed most. Meanwhile differences with respect to men in pension income or total earnings remain high at around forty percent. Reconciliation policy at EU level – leave design and care service provisioning in particular – had not consistently helped rebalance the gender division of labour within households. It needs recasting for a truly revolutionary change in women’s role in the economy to materialize.


Women Employment Secondary earners Gender gaps European policy Reconciliation Regional divides 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Dipartimento di Economia Politica e StatisticaUniversità di SienaSienaItaly

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