LONDON (Reuters) — The gender pay gap in the European Union narrowed during the financial crisis, possibly because the jobs of many women are more protected than those of men.
Data released by the EU's statistic agency Eurostat ahead of International Women's Day on Sunday also showed the pay gap between men and women tended to be wider in Europe's richest economies, although not definitively so.
Overall, women in the EU were paid 16.4 per cent less than men in 2013, a smaller gap than the 17.3 per cent in 2008 when the financial crisis hit.
The data is unadjusted, so looks only at totals rather than, say, equal pay for equal work. Eurostat gave no explanation for the improvement, saying only that the gender pay gap "is linked to a number of legal, social and economic factors which go far beyond the single issue of equal pay for equal work".
But Christian Schulz, senior economist at Berenberg bank, said the improvement may have to do with women's labour being heavily weighted toward areas such as education and government, which are hit less by a downturn.
"Women tend to have more crisis-proof jobs," he said. "Women are over-represented in the public sector (and) the public sector has had fewer cuts."
By contrast, areas where men are over-represented, such as construction and manufacturing, have been hit hard.
Eurostat data provided one pointer for this, noting that 67 per cent of clerical support workers in the EU were women. That compared with only 33 per cent of the managerial work force.
Within individual EU countries, the largest pay gap in 2013 was in Estonia at 29.9 per cent and the smallest in Slovenia at 3.2 per cent.
Many of the richest EU countries, meanwhile, were to be found at the wider end of the pay gap.
Women in economic powerhouse Germany, for example, were paid 21.6 per cent less than men, though that is an improvement from 22.8 per cent in 2008. The 2013 gap for fellow G7 economies Britain and France both narrowed and were at 19.7 per cent and 15.2 per cent, respectively.
Europe's other G7 economy, Italy, saw its pay gap widen sharply during the period, to a still relatively narrow 7.3 per cent from 4.9 per cent.