Project Information

Women in Low-Skill Work

Objectives and Tasks

Over recent decades European labour markets have been characterised by a growingparticipation of women, which is clearly linked to the increasing importanceof the service sector. Besides the mere growth in the number of jobs, the aimof raising the quality of female employment has become an increasing focus ofEuropean policy and research. And in fact this is an important objective sinceEuropean labour markets are highly gender segregated: female employment is concentratedin certain sectors and occupations (horizontal segregation) and within the respectivesectors and occupations women are under-represented in managerial or seniorpositions and over-represented in low-paid jobs with poor employment conditions(vertical segregation).
The objectives of the study commissioned by the European Parliament were threefold:

  • to provide a description as well as a preliminary quantified analysis ofthe occupational cluster of low-skill work from a gender perspective;
  • to present best practices in the various national contexts and sectors thathave helped to increase the positive perception of low-skill work, as wellas its social and economic recognition (i.e. job quality);
  • to develop guidelines and recommendations for improving the social recognitionand professional status of low-skill work and low-skill workers

Research Strategy

The study focuses on three countries: the Czech Republic, Germany and the UnitedKingdom. It focuses on selected occupations typically considered as low-skill.Sectors often referred to in this context include hotels and catering, cleaning,child and elderly care services, hospitals and retail. The key issue in thisstudy is the question whether there are differences between the sectors andthe countries and whether these can be attributed to the institutional settingsin the three countries.

Selected findings

Important differences between the countries exist mainly based on the leveland the structure of the social welfare state, the wage level and wage distribution,the share of service sector employment and last but not least the women employmentrate.
There are considerable differences between the three countries in the shareof part-time employment. Whereas the Czech Republic has an extremely low part-timerate by international standards, Germany and the UK are considerably above theEU average. The extent and structure of women's economic activity are particularlyinfluenced by the institutional environment in each country - i.e. the tax systemand the regulation of part-time work, the childcare facilities and the patternsof parental leave.

The analysis of employment trends based on the European Labour Force Surveyshows that regardless of different national levels of low-skill employment andof how strong employment growth (or decline) within a country is, employmentin occupations with lower skill levels (relative to other occupations withinthe country) is generally increasing less or decreasing more strongly than employmentin the other skill segments. We can state that women have increased their shareof employment in low-skill occupations but that these gains are frequently attributablelargely to the growth in part-time work and have benefited women with low levelsof formal qualifications to only a limited extent.

The study presents a total of 13 examples of good practice and gives an ideaof possibilities improving job quality in low skill work.
One general impression gained from our interviews is that, although there arepositive initiatives and measures in many areas, the chances of really achievinglasting improvements to job quality and social recognition for women in low-skillwork are generally assessed as being fairly low. The real value of the bestpractice examples is that they highlight possibilities for action at variouslevels that have also been tested in practice. Nevertheless, most of them representlimited attempts to remedy problems and/or shortcomings at one location or another.Most of the initiatives are intended primarily to facilitate and not to challengewomen's dual role, which would also require a change in men's behaviour.

All in all, our findings suggest that an increase in the volume of low-skillwork should not be the sole focus of policy in this area. Rather, attentionmust be paid to the entire skill spectrum and greater consideration given tojob quality. This applies also, and particularly, to the low-skill occupationsthat are the focus of attention here. The success of any attempts to raise women'semployment rates and to improve the quality of these jobs will depend on whetherthe general conditions for women's economic activity can be improved at thesame time.


Grimshaw, Damian / Hieming, Bettina / Jaehrling, Karen / Kalina, Thorsten / Rubery, Jill / Schimron, Nirit / Stupnytskyy, Oleksandr / Weinkopf, Claudia, 2007: Women in low-skill work: final report. Study requested by the European Parliament's committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality, PE 378.298. Brussels: European Parliament, Policy Department C – Citizens’ rights and Constitutional Affairs | Lesen

Grimshaw, Damian / Hieming, Bettina / Jaehrling, Karen / Kalina, Thorsten / Rubery, Jill / Schimron, Nirit / Stupnytskyy, Oleksandr / Weinkopf, Claudia, 2007: Frauen in "einfachen" Tätigkeiten: Abschlussbericht. Studie erstellt im Auftrag des Ausschusses für Rechte der Frau und Gleichstellung der Geschlechter des Europäischen Parlaments, Angebots-Nr. IP/C/FEMM/IC/2006-162. Brüssel: Europäisches Parlament, Generaldirektion Interne Politikbereiche der Union - Direktion C - Bürgerrechte und konstitutionelle Fragen


Dr. Claudia Weinkopf: Women in Low-Skill Work - Presentation of study results. Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality. Brüssel, Brüssel, Europäisches Parlament, 26.06.2007  Vortragsfolien

Project data

Term of the project:
03.10.2006 - 01.07.2007

Reseach department:
Flexibility and Security

Project management:
Dr. Karen Jaehrling

Project team:
Dr. Thorsten Kalina,Dr. Claudia Weinkopf, Bettina Hieming

Europäisches Parlament