Most of the measures recently adopted in Member States to support youth employment do not address gender differences, and this reduces their effectiveness in tackling gender gaps. To enrich the policy debate on youth and support the implementation of more effective policies it is crucial to develop a gender perspective.
For example, preventive measures currently mainly address early school leaving, a predominantly male phenomena, while little attention is paid to gender stereotyping and segregation in education and training. Reform of curricula, particularly regarding gender stereotypes, setting targets for gender balance in courses, career guidance measures, and media campaigns to tackle gender stereotyping at a young age and encourage girls and boys to consider a wider choice of educational paths and occupations are needed to reduce gender gaps in employment opportunities and reduce educational mismatch. Attention to these issues has increased in recent years, however the economic crisis and budget constraints are rapidly reducing public funding for these programmes.
Labour market policies often lack gender-specific measures. Young women are much less involved than young men in active labour market policies and are less supported by passive ones. In 2010 the average coverage rate in ALMP was 32.3% for young women and 42.3% for young males. The gender gap in coverage rates is particularly high in training measures (17.1% for young women compared to 26.8% for young men). Only 18% of young unemployed women are supported by unemployment benefits, compared to 28.4% of young men.
In order to increase the involvement of young women, gender differences need to be considered in the design and implementation of labour policies, for example by providing care services during training, or ensuring that employment services’ opening hours facilitate the work-life balance. As for reintegration measures targeting NEETs and early school leavers, the validation of informal learning acquired outside the classroom could be important in a gender perspective, as girls may have a number of opportunities to get practical experience outside of school.
Measures to facilitate the school-to-work transition with school-work alternation and apprenticeship schemes can be very effective in supporting youth employability, as shown by the experiences of Austria and Germany. In order to reduce gender gaps, they have to be complemented with measures to reduce gender stereotyping in career choices and to increase the involvement of young women in on-the-job training and good quality apprenticeship and internship programmes.
Policies addressing the recruitment and retention mechanisms in companies as well as working time patterns can also be effective in reducing gender stereotypes and gender gaps in employment.
Measures to support entrepreneurship should address the specific constraints young women face in starting their own businesses, as compared to young men, for example in access to financial support and to business networks and training.
Work–life balance policies are particularly important for reducing youth gender gaps and at the same time improving the labour market conditions of young women. Nordic countries, with their well-developed and affordable support for balancing work and private life, have much lower gender gaps in youth labour conditions than other countries, as well as higher employment rates and lower unemployment and NEET inactivity rates for both young women and young men. Affordable child care services are especially important, as they not only improve the employment opportunities of (young) mothers but also reduce the risk of poverty for their children. Childcare costs are a critical factor in parents’ employment decisions (OECD, 2011), as the costs of childcare can consume a third or more of family budgets and become unaffordable, especially for young low-income families and single parents.
On a more general level employment protection legislation and the working time regime need to be revised in order to create more diverse employment and working-time patterns that can be adapted to the changing needs in the life cycle.
A final challenge is to bring the system of social security in line with the new reality of flexible and insecure jobs and with life cycle needs. Current trends in social protection reforms, with increasing emphasis on costs containment and fiscal consolidation, seem instead to be reducing support to young persons and particularly to young women (Bettio et al., 2012).