Knowledge Center

Women in the Workforce: Europe


The European Union’s Rate of Population Growth Is Slowing Down1

The estimated total population of the European Union (EU-28) is 510,284,430.2

  • Women make up 51.1% of the EU-28 population, compared with men’s 48.9%. These percentages have changed very little over the past 10 years (in 2007, women were 51.2% of the EU-28 population, compared to men’s 48.8%).3 
Migration Is the Leading Cause of Population Growth in Europe4

In 2012, net migration (plus statistical adjustment) accounted for about 80% of the EU-28’s population growth.5 

For the first time, the EU-28 has recorded a negative natural population change, meaning that more people died than were born in 2015.6

Europe Is Facing Demographic Shifts Including an Aging Population and Falling Birth Rates7
  • Almost one in five people were aged 65 and older (18.9% of the European Union’s total population) in 2015, up from one in six (16.6%) in 2005.8
  • The median age of the EU-28 in 2013 was 41.9 years,9 increasing more than one year since 2009 (40.6 years).10

The percentage of working-age people is expected to drop, decreasing from 65.9% of the total population in 2014 to 56.2% by 2080.11

Labor Force

The Gender Employment Gap Is Decreasing12

Men’s employment rates remain higher than women’s, but the difference in employment rates between men and women has been decreasing for all age groups.13

Women’s Employment Rates Vary Across EU-28 Countries14

While women make up 46.1% of employed persons across the EU-28,15 women’s employment rates varies widely by country. 

Percentage of Employed Persons Who Are Women16

Percentage of Women
in the Workforce (2016)
European Union (28) 46.1%
Austria 47.2%
Belgium 46.8%
Denmark 47.4%
Finland 48.4%
France 48.2%
Germany 46.8%
Greece 42.0%
Hungary 45.8%
Ireland 46.2%
Italy 42.3%
Netherlands 46.7%
Norway  47.9%
Spain 45.6%
Sweden 48.0%
Switzerland 46.9%
United Kingdom 47.2%



Women Hold a Quarter of Board Seats on the STOXX 60017

The percentage of women on boards varies significantly between countries, ranging from a high in Norway (38.7%) and Sweden (34.6%) to a low in Spain (18.8%) and Switzerland (16.1%).18

Quotas Are Contributing to Increased Board Diversity in Some Countries19

Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, and Norway all have mandatory quotas and from 2011–2015, Italy, Belgium, and France boasted the largest increases in percentage points in female board membership.20

  • Italy: 20.4%
  • Belgium: 16.2%
  • France: 16.2%


Women Make Up Over One Third of the European Parliament21

​As of the 2014 election, women hold 37% of the seats in the European Parliament, up only 2% from 2009.22 

Top Level Representation in Government Varies Widely by Country23

At the level of junior or senior minister, women make up 28.1% of all positions in the EU-28, but percentages vary by country:24

  • United Kingdom: 24.2%
  • Germany: 40.8%
  • France: 47.4%
  • Sweden: 50.0%


Across Europe, Women Are a Higher Share of Tertiary Education Graduates than Men25

Women made up 54.3% of all tertiary education26 students in the EU-28 in 2013.27

In the same year, more than two-fifths (41.2%) of women aged 30–34 in the EU-28 had completed tertiary education, compared to only 32.7% of men.28

Women Are a Minority Among STEM Graduates in Higher Education Across Europe29

In 2012, there were an estimated 442,095 graduates in science, mathematics, and computing in the EU-28, but only an estimated 178,462 of these were women (40.4%).30 

  • Women graduates in engineering, manufacturing, and construction were estimated to account for 26.9% of graduates (or 175,522 out of a total of 652,111 graduates).31


Europe’s Changing Demographics Make Diverse Recruitment Crucial for Gaining a Competitive Economic Advantage32
  • Reducing gender segregation across industries could help overcome some labor shortages in the European Union.33 

The employment rate of non-EU citizens working in the European Union was 56.7% in 2015, compared to 73.4% for mobile EU citizens (working in another EU country) and 70.6% for nationals.34

  • All of these population groups still have a notable gender gap in employment rates.35
Employment Rates of Population Aged 20–64 in the EU-2836
  Nationals Mobile EU Citizens Non-EU Citizens
Women 65.1% 66.5% 46.7%
Men 76.1% 80.6% 67.4%
Migrant Populations Could Help With Europe’s Labor Shortages37
  • Migration of high-skilled workers may be one way to counteract aging populations.38

  • There will be 2 million projected job vacancies in healthcare and 825,000 in information and communications technology (ICT) in Europe by 2020.39

Additional Resources 

BoardEx, Gender Analysis Across Top Indices (December 2015).

Arthur C. Brooks, “An Aging Europe in Decline,” The New York Times, January 6, 2015.

Catalyst, Quick Take: Statistical Overview of Women in the Workforce.

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

Catalyst, Different Cultures, Similar Perceptions: Stereotyping Of Western European Business Leaders (2006).

Cynthia Emrich and Aarti Shyamsunder, Infographic: High-Potential Women in Europe (Catalyst, 2014).

Mercer, When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive (2016).


NOTE: All figures, except where specified, are based on the 28 countries that make up the EU as of 2017, including the United Kingdom.

How to cite this product: Catalyst. Catalyst Quick Take: Women in Europe. New York: Catalyst, May 22, 2017.