Young women are more likely than young men to be NEET-Inactive and to hold part-time or temporary low-paid jobs when employed, even when they have a high educational level. This might be due to their having greater care responsibilities than young men, skill mismatches caused by gender segregation in education and training patterns, poor access to information channels and job search mechanisms, and labour market discrimination. The different positions of men and women (in the labour market and in the social security system) might also imply that there are differences in the effects of employment, education and work–life reconciliation policies which need to be addressed in order to design effective policy measures.
Family composition and child care
Being married and having children is an important influence on gender differences in the labour market starting from a young age. In all countries, being married and having children correlates with a much higher NEET rate (inactive component) for young women. Country differences in female NEET rates mainly concern married young women, and are related to the availability of care services and the prevalent social values. Similarly, the presence of children increases the gender gap in employment and in part-time employment and affects the duration of the school-to-work transition, with women without children showing markedly faster transitions than those with children (Mills et al., 2014).
Education and training
Educational level is one of the key factors in determining the employment status of young people, as well as the speed and quality of labour market transitions and job matches, with the transition period being shorter for highly educated individuals. Education is particularly important for women; women with a high level of education have a faster transition to their first job than women with low or medium levels of education. In addition, education seems to partly counterbalance the negative effect of having children on young women’s employment situation, because even when they have children, women with tertiary education have shorter out-of-work spells than other women.
Young women are on average more educated than young men. The proportion of 20–24 year-old women who had completed at least upper-secondary education in 2013 was 83.8%, as against 78.4% for men, and 41.2% of women in the 30–34 age group had tertiary education compared to 32.7% of men. Young women are also less likely to drop out of education and training. On average in the EU-28 in 2013 the early school leaving rate was 13.6% for young men (15–24) and 10.2% for young women, with wide differences among EU countries.
However young women choose fields of studies that may translate into lower wages. They tend to choose the Education, Health and Welfare, and Humanities and Arts (EHH) fields, while they are less likely to be enrolled in technical and scientific fields. In addition, young women are less likely than men to have completed VET-oriented education, which, according to recent studies (Cedefop 2012; Mills et al., 2014) leads to better labour market outcomes than general education, especially when it includes workplace training. Young women are also less likely to receive on-the-job training* and to be employed in apprenticeship contracts.
Gender stereotypes and discrimination
Gender differences in the labour market may also be due to gender discrimination. In the presence of equal pay legislation, employers might use gender differentiated criteria in the recruitment process. These criteria may penalize women, not valorising their professional skills or education level, due to women’s high probability of leaving employment for care (Azmat et al., 2006). Gender discrimination may be added to racial discrimination, thereby especially affecting women from specific ethnic groups. Furthermore, employers may find it easier to discriminate on a gender basis during a recession; when unemployment is high it is easier for discriminating employers to hire on a gender basis with no negative consequences in terms of profits (Azmat, et al., 2006).
Indeed a recent Eurobarometer survey “Women and gender inequalities in the context of the crisis” shows a very clear difference in the criteria adopted by employers in the recruiting process for women and men. While for men professional experience and qualifications score high among recruitment criteria, for women the criteria of having children, being able to work flexible hours, and appearance are reported as more important.
Labour market regulation and policies
Individual and family characteristics do not completely explain the wide country differences in gender gaps. Policy regimes and economic conditions are other important factors. Important factors are labour market regulation and policies, particularly when they reduce the incentive to hire or retain workers with lower levels of human capital and/or who are less attached to the labour market. According the economic literature, employment protection and working time regulations are likely to reduce incentives to hire young entrants in the labour market and women.
Rubery (2011) argues that employment protection and working time regulation can only promote gender equality in the labour market if other issues, such as labour market segregation, gender gaps in access to social security, taxation systems, gender pay gaps and the under-valuation of women’s work, are addressed as well. Higher levels of employment regulation restrictions (either on temporary or permanent contracts) also result in a significantly slower transition to first job. A stricter regulation of temporary contracts prevents youth from entering the labour market more rapidly (Mills et al., 2014). Other important employment policies are those affecting the work–life balance, such as incentives for part-time work, flexible working time arrangements, parental leave, and tax and benefits systems (Jaumotte, 2003).
*According to Eurobarometer results (2011), men are more likely than women to have participated in training over the last 12 months (by a margin of 24% to 21%); they are also more likely to receive funding from their current employer (60%, as opposed to 50% of women) and to have completed a traineeship (37% vs 32%), while young women more often than men take part in non-formal learning activities.