Starting fragile: gender differences in the youth labour market

A new report from the European network of Experts on Gender Equality (ENEGE) shows that early career patterns differ between genders with women falling more often into unsuccessful paths (inactivity, part-time, temporary contracts) than men. It also stresses the need for a greater attention to gender differences in youth policies.

Main conclusions of the report:

• Young people have been particularly hit by the current economic crisis, as shown by the high and increasing unemployment and inactivity rate, as well as by the changing labour market conditions, with flexible forms of employment gaining in importance in all Member States.

• The crisis has worsened the labour market conditions more for young men (particularly those aged 15-24) than for young women.

Young women still face worse labour market conditions relative to young men. In all Member States it is especially the inactive component of NEETs that is higher for females and gender gaps are particularly high for the 25-29 age group. Inactivity appears to be largely due to family responsibilities, even if young women are also more likely to be discouraged workers than young men, particularly in some southern (Italy and Malta) and eastern countries (Latvia, Poland and Romania).

When employed, young women more often hold part-time or temporary jobs and have lower monthly earnings than their male counterparts. There are however large country differences, with the labour market position of young women being particularly negative in southern and eastern European countries.

• Educational attainment is an important factor in employment opportunities, especially for young women. Gender gaps in employment are lower for young persons with a tertiary education. Education also plays an important role in being NEET, as the probability of being NEET declines for young women having a tertiary education.

• The econometric analysis on determinants of gender differences in youth labour market conditions confirms that, even among the young, gender gaps are heavily influenced by the presence of children and to a lesser extent by the level of education. Thus the fragility of early labour market conditions is particularly negative for young women, even if they are on average more educated than young men, and appears to be largely related to family conditions and care responsibilities.

• An analysis of ‘first jobs’ shows that the share of temporary jobs among those first jobs differs to a large extent between the European countries. Women more often have a temporary contract in their first job than men in almost all Member States; the difference is rather small though. Women do, however, start more often in a double fragile position, that is a temporary, part-time job. There is some evidence that the early careers have become more volatile in the last 10 years. The share of young persons who started working within one year is higher among recent graduates compared to those who have graduated earlier. In addition, more young persons have already left their first job again as well.

• Approximately half of the young people spent the time until the first (significant) job mainly unemployed and searching for a job; this share is higher among women than men. One fifth reports that they spent the period between graduation and the start of the first significant job mainly working in consecutive small, short-term jobs. More women (13%) than men (1.5%) are inactive due to family responsibilities.

• With respect to gender, it appears that young men do find a permanent job more often than young women. The number of transitions seems to have a negative impact. More detailed analysis shows that for women the negative impact of the number of transitions is stronger than for men.

• The difficulties young persons face in entering the labour market have a clear impact on the opportunities to start an independent life. Thresholds in social security limit the access of young people to unemployment benefits. In In addition, social assistance is rather limited. The available information suggests that there is no direct discrimination between (young) men and women with respect to access to/coverage of social security. There is, however, an indirect impact of type of contracts. As women work more often in temporary and/or part-time contracts, they are less likely to become eligible and their entitlements might be lower.

• Long periods of unemployment generally have a negative impact on pensions. For women, this adds to the negative impact of working part-time and interrupting one’s career due to care responsibilities.

• An important milestone in life is starting a family. The precarious position in the labour market has a different impact on young men and women in this respect. During unemployment, women - in particular the low skilled - may be more inclined to start a family, whereas men try to find a more stable job. Access to social services that support parenthood, such as maternity leave and parental leave, is often based on a (solid) employment status. As a result, it is more difficult for young persons to claim such services. In addition, affordable childcare services are often not available. The lack of facilities may increase the likelihood that young women become inactive, which can have a negative long-term career impact.

• Well-targeted labour market policies could be effective, but often lack gender-specific measures and young women are much less involved than young men in active labour market policies and are less supported by passive ones. Policies supporting the work-life balance and facilitating the school to work transitions appear to be particularly important in reducing youth gender gaps by improving the labour market conditions of young women. Measures to reduce gender stereotyping and segregation in education and training appear also important to increase the employability of young women and to improve their future earnings and socio-economics conditions.

A more in-depth analysis of measures recently adopted in Member States to support youth employment shows that most measures do not address gender differences and this reduces their effectiveness in tackling gender gaps in youth labour market conditions. Apprentice-ships schemes, support to youth entrepreneurship, job guarantee schemes, occupational orientation programmes and employment incentives might have very different effects for young men and women due to gender segregation in edu¬cation and employment and gender differences in access to social protection. Thus it is crucial to develop a gender perspective, to enrich the policy debate on youth and support the implementation of more effective policies.

The report can be found here.

Learn how unions can support and encourage young women and give them a voice in the workplace through the ITUC Decisions for Life campaign