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German gender pay gap decreasing very slowly

March 14, 2017

Women's salaries are slowly catching up with those for men in Germany but there is still a long way to go for equality. Germany's gender pay gap is larger than the EU average.

Deutschland Kundgebung zum Equal Pay Day "Recht auf mehr!"
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/W. Kumm

The average wage for women in Germany in 2016 was 21 percent below the average wage for men, the Federal Statistical Office (DeStatis) revealed on Tuesday.

The gap between women's and men's salaries has closed in the past few years. It was 22 percent in 2014 and 2015 and 23 percent ten years ago.

Ahead of the upcoming equal pay day on March 18, Manuela Schwesig, Germany's federal minister for family affairs, women and youth, told reporters that "there has been a bit of movement in the gender pay gap, but that's not enough."

Schwesig has proposed a "wage transparency law" to help close the gap. The legislation would require companies with 200 or more staff giving employees a raise if more than five people of the opposite gender in the same job earned more than they did. The German parliament is expected to vote on Schwesig's proposal soon.

Deutschland Familienministerin Manuela Schwesig
Manuela Schwesig is pushing for a "wage transparency law" to close the gender gapImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Zinken

Worse than EU average

According to DeStatis, women earned 16.26 euros ($17.29) an hour before taxes in the past year, while men earned 20.71 euros.

Germany still has one of the highest gender pay gaps in Europe. In 2015, the average gender pay gap in the European Union was 16.3 percent.

These numbers refer to the average salary for all working women and men – the so-called unadjusted gender pay gap.  

The adjusted gender pay gap which effectively reflects the wage difference between men and women working in the same job, is at roughly six percent in Germany according to the latest available data from 2014. This number accounts for the fact that men are more likely to work in jobs that pay well and women are more likely to work part time or to take time off work to take care of children or family members who are unwell.

Deutschland Frauen im Beruf - Kassiererin
A Frankfurt supermarketImage: picture-alliance/dpa/P. Pleul

'Women's jobs' less valued

"There are a lot of injustices in the wages of women compared to men but a large part of the difference is due to the industry and profession they tend to choose, how long they have been working in their job, and if they work full or part time," Helmut Uder, an expert from consulting firm Willis Towers Watson said.

Professions traditionally filled by women are often worse paid than work seen as traditionally male.

"The low pay [for women] is also due to how people value the work," Sarah Lillemeier, an expert on labor markets from the University of Duisburg-Essen, said. "There's an imbalance in how 'men's jobs' and 'women's jobs' are valued and paid." 

"Historically, women were long seen as less competent and capable than men," Corinna Kleinert from the Leibniz Institute Bamberg said. "That's why many refer to this as the ongoing devaluation of women's work."

Companies are also still far less likely to promote women to high-ranking and well-paid positions. Among the 160 biggest publicly listed German companies, only seven percent of all board members are women.

An example of the challenges facing women was represented in a recent EU parliamentary debate when conservative politician Janusz Korwin-Mikke called women "weaker and less intelligent" than men.

mb/jm (dpa, epd)