Women in Germany earn significantly less than their male colleagues, a situation that has changed little over the years. The wage discrimination can lead to a "vicious circle of poverty."
German women working in full-time jobs earn roughly 22 percent less than men in comparable positions, according to a recent study from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
The wage inequality has especially hit women who are single parents working low-wage jobs. Even in these jobs, women earn less than men and - even with a full-time job – they are unable to earn their livelihood. Children, in particular, are hit hard by this inequality.
Christoph Butterwegge, a political scientist at the University of Cologne, calls it a "vicious circle of poverty." He says children that grow up in such unstable conditions experience disadvantages in many areas of life, especially when it comes to education. This makes it even harder for them to find work to be able to support their families in the future. "As a result, poverty is passed down to the next generation," said Butterwegge.
The working woman has been commonplace in Germany for some time now, but many employers still seem to think of family life in the traditional sense: the man provides for his family, and must therefore earn a higher wage than the woman. A woman with a job is thought of, at best, as providing a bonus income.
Butterwegge sees these traditional family roles as obsolete, and has called for a rethink to bring attitudes more in line with reality. "Because so many women are single parents, it's precisely the inverse that should be the standard," he said, adding that women must also be appropriately compensated for the job of raising children.
Equal Pay Day
The organization Business and Professional Women Germany (BPW) has been calling attention to the wage discrepancy for several years, promoting "Equal Pay Day," a statistical date calculated to mark exactly the day when women catch up to men in terms of wages.
"The day marks exactly how far into the current year women must work to earn what men earned in the previous year," said Christel Riedel, head of the initiative. For Germany this year, that date has been calculated as March 23.
As in previous years since 2008, many individual events will be taking place nationwide on that day to campaign for the abolition of the wage gap, with the central event being a mass rally in Berlin.
"Just bringing the issue to the attention of the political and business establishment doesn't amount to much," said Simone Denzler, the press spokeswoman for BPW. "Our events hope to bring about actual change." This year's events will focus on the topic of wage determination: how are wages calculated, and who is making the decision? How can equal wages be achieved, and what needs to be changed to achieve this?
A structural problem
The BPW sees the wage inequality as a structural problem. "This was clearly shown by the OECD study," said Denzler, adding that family-friendly work environments are "rare."
As a result, women with children, unable to find adequate care facilities, are less likely to be in management positions and on supervisory boards, and are much more likely to be working in part-time positions.
What is worrisome, however, is that the wage inequality is even more of an issue in the older working population. Denzler says the 22 percent less that a woman earns in her working life eventually translates to a pension gap of 59 percent.
The demand for equal pay is therefore"“not simply a concern of a feminist group, it is a larger problem" as it can lead to "half of the population being at risk of suffering from poverty in their old age."
Author: Beatrix Beuthner / cmk
Editor: Neil King