The gap between men and women who were active in the labour force in 2011 was more than 34 percentage points in Malta – that’s five percentage points higher than in the EU27 but almost five times as much as it was in the Nordic and Baltic countries. And don’t even dare compare it with Lithuania’s because we would then be seven times worse off.
This is one of the results presented a few days ago by Eurostat in a review of labour market participation by sex and age. In general, Eurostat established that there were fewer people outside the labour force in the EU in 2011, coupled with increased female participation. Over 11 years, the share of the inactive population in the total population of working age (15-64 years) has fallen by 2.6 percentage points, which means that there were 6.3m less inactive persons.
Amongst prime-aged people (25-54 years), the inactivity gap in Malta was a whopping 42 percentage points against women, compared to just 12 percentage points in the EU. The main reasons for not looking for a job amongst inactive women in Malta were personal or family responsibilities (34 percent) and various other reasons (7.5 percent), whilst illness was a minor factor.
The huge impact of child-rearing on activity rates in Malta versus those in the EU is evident from an analysis of inactivity rates according to whether the persons concerned aged 25-54 years had young children aged up to 6 years. The inactivity rate of male parents with a young child was 10 percent in the EU and 6 percent in Malta, versus five percent for those who were not parents in the EU and two percent in Malta, whilst the inactivity rate of female parents with a young child was 20 percent in the EU and 45 percent in Malta, versus 32 percent for those who were not persons.24.5 percent in Malta.
The gender gap in inactivity rates amongst older persons aged 55-64 years was 16.8 percentage points in the EU in 2011, but in Malta it was as high as 38 percent. Again, it was the women who bloated the rate. Whilst in the EU only 57.4 percent of all women in this age bracket were inactive, in Malta the rate was 85.8 percent – that was four times as much as the proportion of women in Iceland.
The gender gap in inactivity rate is quite low amongst young persons aged 15-24 in Malta. The main reasons for the gap were family responsibility (6 percentage points), education (five percentage points), and other various reasons (2.5 percentage points). There were thus 13.5 percent more inactive women than there were men in Malta, compared to just 3.5 percentage points in the EU.
Labour market analysts say that, whilst child-rearing cannot be dismissed as a justifiable social reason for women not working, it is not that straightforward when it comes to women who are past this stage. Of course, older women still play a significant role in family life because they tend to take care of their grandchildren. But it is not equally clear why women do not participate in the labour force in the years between the end of child-rearing and the beginning of taking care of grandchildren. The unutilised potential in this category is huge, and Malta needs to rise up to the challenge if it wants to avoid the problems that low female labour participation will inevitably generate for the sustainability of health care and pensions.