Knowledge Center

Women in the Workforce: Europe


Europe’s Major Demographic Shifts Include an Aging Population, Falling Birth Rates, and Increased Migration1

In 2015, almost one in five people were aged 65 and older (18.9% of the European Union’s total population).   2

  • At the same time as Europe’s population is aging, its fertility rate is falling (1.58 children per woman, which is below replacement level).3
  •  The working-age population in the EU-28 continues to shrink while the percentage of retirees grows, placing an increased burden of social expenditure on those who are working.4
Migration Is the Leading Cause of Population Growth in Europe5
  • In 2017, the 1.1 million population increase in the EU was due to net migration.6 
  • As of January 2018, migrants made up 16.2% of the EU’s overall population (82.9 million residents). 7
Europe’s Aging Demographics Make Diverse Recruitment Crucial for Gaining a Competitive Economic Advantage 8
  • Reducing gender segregation across industries could help overcome some labor shortages in the European Union.9
Migrant Populations Could Help With Europe’s Looming Labor Shortages10
  • EU countries are expected to experience labor shortages in high-, medium-, and low-skilled jobs, and see migrants as an important way to fill those shortages.11
  • One way to counteract the EU’s aging populations is the migration of high-skilled workers.12
  • The employment rate of non-EU citizens working in the European Union was 72.6%% in 2017, compared to 81.5% for native-born nationals.13


Across Europe, More Women Than Men Are Tertiary Education Graduates 14
  • Women made up 54.1% of all tertiary education students in the EU-28 in 2015. 15
  • In 2015, women earned 57.1% of master’s degrees or equivalent and 53.3% of bachelor’s degrees or equivalent.16

Labor Force

The Gender Employment Gap Is No Longer Shrinking 17
  • Mothers and women with caregiving responsibilities experience the highest employment gap (in 2016, more than 19% of women not working had left the workforce due to caregiving responsibilities). 18
  • Although women’s employment is increasing (66.6% in 2017, compared to 78.1% for men), there are still fewer women employed than men, and they are employed in jobs that pay less. Additionally, women work on average six additional hours per week on paid and unpaid labor such as childcare and housework.19
  • The number of women leaving the digital sector (most due to bias) causes an annual productivity loss for the European economy of EUR 16.1 billion.20
Women’s Employment Rates Vary Across EU-28 Countries21


Percentage of Employed Persons Who Are Women22

Percentage of Women
in the Workforce (2016)
European Union (28) 46.2%
Denmark 47.8%
France 48.4%
Germany 46.7%
Italy 42.6%
Netherlands 47.1%
Sweden 48.1%
Switzerland 46.5%
United Kingdom 47.3%


In 2018, nearly three-quarters (73%) of businesses in the EU had at least one woman in a management role, with 27% of senior business roles across the EU held by women.23

  • The UK hit its historic high of 75% of businesses with at least one woman in a senior management role.24
  • France has hit a three-year high: 79% of businesses have at least one woman in a senior management role.25   
  • 87% of businesses in Eastern Europe have at least one woman in a senior management role. 26 


Women Make Up Over One-Third of the European Parliament27
  • In 2018 women held 36.1% of the seats in the European Parliament, down from a high of 37.3% in 2016.28 
  • The world average for women’s representation in national Parliament is 23.6%.29 
Top Level Representation in Government Varies Widely by Country30


Percentage of Women in the Upper House or Senate31   
France 29.3%
Germany 39.1%
Italy 35.3%
Switzerland 15.2%
United Kingdom 26.3%

Additional Resources 

Catalyst, High-Potential Women in Europe (June 10, 2014).

Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce: Global.

Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce: UK.

NOTE: All figures, except where specified, are based on the 28 countries that make up the EU as of 2018, including the United Kingdom.

How to cite this product: Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in Europe (January 9, 2019).