Women now the breadwinners in 10% of European households

Sat, Oct 20, 2012, 01:00

FEMALE BREADWINNERS now account for 10 per cent of all households in Europe, a Tasc conference heard yesterday.

Speaking at the Crisis to Opportunity conference organised by the economic think tank, UCD lecturer Ursula Barry said the traditional view that women act as a reserve labour force had been challenged in the current economic crisis.

“The percentage of dual earner couples has been reduced during the crisis and displaced exclusively by female breadwinner couples, which have increased their share to 10 per cent,” Dr Barry said. “They account for 10 per cent of households across Europe.”

Giving a preview of a report on gender equality due in Europe next week, she said that while there had been a levelling down of gender gaps in employment, unemployment, wages and poverty, this “does not mean progress towards greater gender equality, as it is based on lower rates of employment and higher rates of unemployment”. Dr Barry said the rights of pregnant women had been curtailed since the downturn hit, with discrimination against pregnant women having been documented right across Europe, including in Ireland.

Giving the opening keynote address, Michael Förster, a senior analyst at the OECD, said rising income inequality was creating economic, social and political challenges.

“While there are several policy approaches to addressing inequality, there are three main pillars,” Dr Förster said. “First is to boost employment, creating more and better jobs.  Second is investment in human capital. The third pillar is to address the taxation and benefit system.”

Ann Pettifor, director of Policy Research in Macroeconomics (Prime), told the conference the real inequality in Ireland was between debtors who can still earn “rent” from assets and the debtors with no assets, or assets of falling value – the middle classes and the poor.

“Irish households have debts that are 219 per cent of their annual disposable income, reflecting the decline in household incomes. These debts have remained static – they are not being paid down, nor are they being paid off,” Ms Pettifor said.

“So the shock that lies ahead, for the Irish economy, euro zone commercial banks and the wider euro zone economy, is that Ireland’s massive private debtors have debts that are unpayable, and that will not be repaid.”