Germany's Female Labor Force Has Just Worked a Fifth of the Year for Free

Equal Pay Day symbolizes the gender wage gap

On March 19 German women will finally start making some money.

In other words, due to the 21 percent average pay gap in 2015 between women and men in Europe's largest economy, the female part of the workforce has worked every day this year to date for free. So, if salaries were equal on an hourly basis, women would only start earning from Saturday.

A grouping of activists, political and business leaders uses this symbolic date to celebrate Equal Pay Day and call attention to the gender pay gap in Germany.

While there have been some improvements in recent years, Europe's largest economy is still lagging behind most other European countries. The euro-area average stood at 16.5 percent in 2014.

What improvements there have been are in part a result of the introduction of the minimum wage in 2015, according to the Federal Statistics Office.

"Even if women today are well educated as well as ever, the wage gap between men and women has stagnated," said Elke Ferner, state secretary at Germany's family ministry. "The reasons for the gender pay gap are known -- but the fact that the wage gap can be explained doesn't make it right."

Some causes of this gap are structural -- a consequence for example of the choice to work fewer hours or to take time off for childcare.

"But irrespective of family commitments, many women find it difficult to climb the career ladder," the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development wrote in a report on the gender gap in 2012.

Eurostat data show that the sovereign debt crisis may have made things worse. In countries where the slowdown was harsher and longer, the wage difference has widened in past years. That could be as a consequence of women accepting less pay or shorter hours to keep their jobs.

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