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Procedure : 2011/2091(INI)
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PV 12/09/2011 - 28
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Tuesday, 13 September 2011 - Strasbourg
Situation of women approaching retirement age

European Parliament resolution of 13 September 2011 on the situation of women approaching retirement age (2011/2091(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Treaty on European Union, in particular Articles 2 and 3,

–  having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, in particular Article 19,

–  having regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights, in particular Articles 21, 23 and 25,

–  having regard to the Commission Communication of 21 September 2010 entitled ‘Strategy for equality between women and men 2010-2015’ (COM(2010)0491),

–  having regard to the Commission Communication of 29 April 2009 dealing with the impact of an ageing population in the EU (2009 Ageing Report) (COM(2009)0180),

–  having regard to the Commission Recommendation of 3 October 2008 on the active inclusion of people excluded from the labour market (2008/867/EC)(1),

–  having regard to the report commissioned by the Commission of 22 July 2010 entitled ‘Access to healthcare and long-term care - Equal for women and men?’,

–  having regard to the report commissioned by the Commission of 24 November 2009 entitled ‘Gender mainstreaming active inclusion policies’,

–  having regard to the Council Conclusions of 7 March 2011 on the European Pact for Gender Equality for the period 2011-2020,

–  having regard to the Council Conclusions of 6 December 2010 on the impact of an ageing workforce and population on employment policies,

–  having regard to the Council Conclusions of 7 June 2010 on active ageing,

–  having regard to the Council Conclusions of 30 November 2009 on healthy and dignified ageing,

–  having regard to the Council Conclusions of 8 June 2009 on equal opportunities for women and men: active and dignified ageing,

–  having regard to the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions report of 1 May 2008 entitled ‘Working conditions of an ageing workforce’,

–  having regard to the Madrid International Plan of Action on Ageing, adopted at the Second World Assembly on Ageing (A/CONF.197/9 8) on 12 April 2002,

–  having regard to the 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW),

–  having regard to its resolution of 7 September 2010 on the role of women in an ageing society(2),

–  having regard to Rule 48 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (A7-0291/2011),

A.  whereas gender equality and non-discrimination, inter alia on the basis of age, is a fundamental principle of the European Union enshrined in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and one of the objectives and tasks of the Community,

B.  whereas the Europe 2020 Strategy sets a headline employment rate target of 75% for both women and men and states the objective of decreasing the number of those living at risk of poverty by 20 million; whereas the group of women over 50, due to the high levels of poverty and unemployment particular to this group, is therefore a decisive age-cohort in meeting both of these targets,

C.  whereas the persistence of gender stereotypes, compounded by the age discrimination faced by older people in the labour market, particularly reduces employment, training and promotion opportunities for older women and is partly responsible for the increased risk of poverty in old age,

D.  whereas discrimination based on sex is a specific kind of discrimination to the extent that it is systematic and systemic and cuts across, and is added to, all other forms of discrimination,

E.  whereas the employment market is far more dynamic and fluid today than ever before, which means that employment in the same area is no longer guaranteed for life; whereas therefore the economic crisis has shown that women have an important role to play within the job market,

F.  whereas Europe's future economic competitiveness, prosperity and inclusiveness depend crucially on its ability to effectively improve the use of its labour resources, not only by extending the employment period of life but also by creating the working conditions and social security systems which both support an improvement in working and living conditions and benefit the economy, whereas this also includes appropriate policies to reconcile work, family and private life and to tackle direct and indirect discrimination and gender stereotypes which lead to gender gaps in the labour market,

G.  whereas between 1990 and 2010 the working-age population (20-64 years) in the EU-27 increased by 1,8 %, the older population (aged 65+) increased by 3,7%, and the proportion of younger people (0-19 years) decreased by 5,4%; whereas the proportion of the population aged 65+ is projected to increase from 17,4% in 2010 to 30% in 2060(3),

H.  whereas in 2008 the risk of poverty among elderly women stood at 22% as against 16% for elderly men(4),

I.  whereas women are often and increasingly over-represented among the isolated elderly, as a consequence of rising divorce rates and the shorter life expectancy of men; whereas widows and lone elderly women in general are at a higher risk of poverty, isolation and social exclusion,

J.  whereas the employment rate of women aged 55-64 years was 37,8% in 2009, as against 54,8% for men of the same age(5),

K.  whereas the unemployment rate is higher for women than men in 21 Member States and, even though the long-term unemployment rate is higher for men than women in 12 countries, women's unemployment is more likely to be disguised as ‘inactivity’ if they are married or have children,

L.  whereas the average hourly earnings of women under 30 are 92% of those of men, and 67,5% in the 50-59 age group(6), and the average EU gender pay gap remains as high as 17,5%,

M.  whereas gender differences in socio-economic status are largely rooted in the traditional gender division of roles, where men are considered to bear the primary responsibility for breadwinning and women for unpaid housework and family care, including wider family care, which has a huge impact on women's ability, compared with men's, to accumulate social security entitlements, for example for retirement, and consequently their situation in old age, particularly in the event of divorce, separation or being widowed,

N.  whereas women are more likely to have slower, shorter and/or interrupted careers and lower average earnings than men, which is reflected in a higher gender pay gap and creates a gender differential in contributions to personal pension accounts, thus increasing women's risk of poverty in old age,

O.  whereas the gender gap is smaller before family formation and increases when individuals form a couple; whereas a fall in employment rate occurs for women at the birth of their first child and the labour market disadvantages accumulate in the earlier stages of their life cycle, connected to child-care, which at a later stage changes into care of elderly people, which often flows into in-work poverty,

P.  whereas, compared with men, older women often choose or are compelled to choose part-time work and more often leave the labour market by opting or being compelled to opt for early retirement,

Q.  whereas the importance of a gender-based approach to active labour market policies is widely acknowledged in almost all European countries but assessments of active labour market policies indicate that gender mainstreaming remains uneven and rather narrow in focus,

R.  whereas women over 50 often face twofold or multiple discrimination based on gender and age stereotypes, frequently exacerbated by their gender-specific work and life patterns (e.g. career breaks, part-time employment, re-employment after a period of unemployment, the fact that they may give up their jobs in order to look after their families or work in family businesses, especially in the distributive trades or in farming, without being paid a salary or belonging to a social security scheme, and the gender pay gap); whereas, therefore, women tend to face a greater accumulation of disadvantages than men from the same groups; whereas, in addition, in times of economic recession the women concerned are in even greater danger of being reduced to poverty,

S.  whereas in the labour market women are frequently regarded as ‘old’ at a much younger age than men; whereas 58% of Europeans regard age discrimination as widespread(7),

T.  whereas violence against older women is a severely underestimated issue due to older women's particular reticence in disclosing abuse, stereotyping by service providers who believe older women to be less at risk, and the reduced range of options available to older female victims of abuse,

U.  whereas education for equality from the earliest age, vocational guidance policies and policies to promote women's employment are effective ways to stop discrimination of this kind for good,

General provisions

1.  Welcomes the Commission's decision to designate 2012 as the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between the Generations and calls on the Commission and Member States to take appropriate and effective steps to combat discrimination, including by tackling the stereotypes associated with gender and age discrimination and promoting solidarity between generations;

2.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure that multiple discrimination against women over 50 is better reflected and effectively tackled in the open method of coordination regarding pensions, social inclusion, employment, changing gender stereotypes and inclusion of women on political and economic decision-making bodies;

3.  Calls on the Member States to implement gender mainstreaming in the preparation and implementation of pension reform – a point which should also be taken into account in the upcoming White Paper on pension systems and other reforms in social security policy –, to promote use of more equality-enhancing actuarial calculation of pensions for men and women, to promote steps to decrease the risk of poverty, to tackle the poverty currently experienced by older people, to improve the quality, accessibility and affordability of (health) care and to end the practice of mandatory retirement, while allowing older women to participate in the labour market by tackling discrimination;

4.  Calls on the Member States to make additional provision in their pensions legislation for widows' pensions so as to make older women less vulnerable to the risk of poverty;

5.  Points to the importance of taking measures to promote the inclusion of women in the most vulnerable categories, that is to say, immigrants, women belonging to minorities, women with disabilities, women with little education, women without work experience, women in prison, etc., in order to guarantee their right to a decent life;

6.  Calls on the Member States to take measures to ensure ageing with dignity without humiliation, discrimination or any form of violence against older women;

7.  Points out that older women constitute an economic resource and a fund of experience and provide vital support to the community and to families as carers of dependent persons and also as advisers in work matters, bearing in mind their extensive professional experience, and, moreover, that they are helping to preserve the rural world;

8.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to promote initiatives to foster understanding of the language and culture of new technologies so as to enable the older female population to bridge the digital divide and increase their interpersonal and communication skills and their ability to manage their independence and their interests;

9.  Calls on the Commission and Member States to conclude a study, in close cooperation with the European Institute for Gender Equality, on the situation of women over 50, in particular by focusing on their experiences in the labour market, care-giver experiences and how women and men use their time, and on health issues and other challenges they have to face;

Women on the labour market

10.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to create conditions enabling and helping older women to remain in and/or return to the labour market during the European Year of Active Ageing and Solidarity between Generations, so they can use their potential on the labour market and so their rights are respected; calls on the Commission and the Member States also to implement measures that encourage employers to improve their equal opportunities policies so that ageist attitudes towards older women are tackled and so that older female employees receive equal access to for instance training, promotion, and career development;

11.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to establish without delay a comprehensive, multi-dimensional, gender-sensitive and age-friendly approach to employment and social policies in order to guarantee employment and social inclusion of women; calls on the Commission and the Member States to also carry out an in-depth review of the situation of the generation of older women who are already living in poverty and to speedily take appropriate, effective measures to take these women out of poverty;

12.  Calls on the Member States to adequately address the multiple discrimination that older women are facing in seeking access to employment;

13.  Calls on the Commission to further develop and improve the collection and analysis of accurate, relevant, comparable European gender- and age-specific data, particularly on the employment and unemployment rate of older women, including migrant and disabled women, the (informal) involvement of older women in (unpaid) care for their families and relatives, and on the percentage of dependent elderly people and on elder abuse, which should be subject to all current Member State data protection legislation;

14.  Welcomes the fact that Member States have already acknowledged that patterns and causes of gender inequality in the labour market are strictly related to the life-cycle stage, and stresses that a life-cycle approach to work must therefore be promoted; urges the Member States, however, – in order to address life cycle challenges adequately – to tackle with focused measures the disadvantaged position of young and older women compared to men of the same age in their active labour market policies and not just address the latter to women and men in adulthood;

15.  Calls on the Member States to exchange best practices in improving the quality of working conditions of older women, in order to create a sustainable and healthy workplace for them;

16.  Encourages the Member States to include older women in life-long learning processes and to further develop and support flexible retraining programmes suitable for older women, by taking into consideration their specific needs and abilities in order to increase their employability and help to sustain an independent and active life, as well as share accumulated experience and knowledge with younger generations;

17.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to ensure that the disadvantages faced by women in the labour market, particularly those stemming from care responsibilities, should not penalise them in their pension or other social security entitlements;

18.  Urges the Commission and the Member States to make provision in welfare systems for aggregation arrangements enabling contributions from periods of salaried employment and self-employment, or accounted for by different jobs, to be added together, if this has not yet been done;

19.  Calls on the Commission and Member States to develop and promote gender-assessed pension systems as a means of support and a safeguard against older women's higher risk of poverty, taking into account career breaks due to caring obligations, in order to avoid creating new dependency traps;

20.  Calls on the Commission and Member States to take, without delay, effective measures to implement the principle of equal pay for equal work (e.g. by means of a mandatory job evaluation scheme and equality action plan at the workplace) in order to eliminate the gender pay gap, which can also help to close the pension gap, with a view to reducing and ultimately eliminating the higher risk of poverty faced by – mainly older – women;

21.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to implement appropriate policies to reconcile work, family and private life and to integrate the ageing dimension into all relevant policies, by means of age mainstreaming, taking account of the various periods of life; calls on the Vilnius-based European Institute for Gender Equality to draw up the necessary impact and research studies;

22.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to make full and efficient use of the existing EU instruments and programmes, including the European Social Fund and the European Regional Development Fund, to increase participation of older women in labour markets and to tackle discrimination against older women in all areas;

23.  Asks the Member States to encourage active participation by older women in the business sector by encouraging, and providing support for, women who start new businesses and facilitating women's access to financing, especially through microcredit, and equal representation of men and women in economic decision-making bodies, including in company boards;

24.  Calls on the Member States to encourage companies to integrate age management principles and tools into their policy, particularly their staff policy, to adopt an ‘age-friendly and gender-sensitive’ policy in workplaces, to give the accumulated knowledge and experience of their older female employees more recognition and respect, and to develop a reliable, transparent information policy that gives older employees the opportunity to prepare for retirement in full knowledge of the facts; further calls on the Commission and the Member States to improve the procedures for imposing penalties on employers who discriminate against older female employees; draws attention to the need to include these policies in the Small Business Act;

Women as care-providers

25.  Calls on the Member States to step up progress towards meeting the needs of families who have to take on responsibility for dependants and calls on the Commission to continue to support the development of care structures making use of the Structural Funds;

26.  Asks the Member States to enhance the provision of quality care services, including home care for the elderly, to guarantee the accessibility and affordability of such quality care, to improve recognition of the value of the work undertaken by professional care-givers, and to support families providing care to older dependent persons, for example by compensating them financially for what they contribute and by advising and training them so that they are able to offer high-quality informal care;

27.  Points to the need to make sufficient provision of an appropriately high standard for care services for children, older people and other dependent persons, which should be offered at affordable prices and compatible with full-time working so as to ensure that women will not be obliged to interrupt, abandon or cut short their careers in order to look after the needs of dependants in their care;

28.  Points out that these care services for children and dependants constitute a substantial source of jobs that could be filled by older women, whose employment rate is currently one of the lowest;

29.  Calls on the Member States to provide training and capacity-building in order to guarantee high-quality care services and counteract the staff shortages in the white sector (care and health) caused by demographic trends;

30.  Encourages the Member States to extend access to parental leave for grandparents and children taking care of their parents, to recognise caring for dependent persons, while considering the possibility of developing a carer's leave and to provide services, training and counselling for care-givers;

31.  Recognises that women approaching retirement age are often grandparents; recognises however that women approaching retirement should not be solely portrayed as care-givers; asks Member States therefore to consider child care facilities that can offer grandparents, should they wish, the freedom of choice to participate in other activities;

32.  Encourages the Member States to promote civil involvement and inter-generational projects for older people by funding initiatives and schemes;

33.  Calls on the Member States to take measures at all levels, including by supporting relevant NGOs, to address the specific needs of older persons, in particular older women living alone, in order to reduce their isolation and dependency and promote their equality, security and well-being;

34.  Asks the Member States to consider exploring a range of accommodation options and supporting community groups and organisations as a way of combating isolation among elderly women and creating a favourable environment for intergenerational solidarity;

35.  Acknowledges that elderly women should have a dignified choice to live however they may wish, whether this be alone or through communal living;

Health issues

36.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to recognise the gender dimension in health as an essential part of EU health policies and therefore asks the Commission and the Member States to further step up their efforts to adopt a dual strategy with gender and age mainstreaming and specific gender-related actions in EU and national health policies;

37.  Encourages the Commission and the Member States to recognise the importance of gender- and age-sensitive curative and palliative health care; calls on the Member States to expand research into gender-related diseases, including research into the causes, possible prevention and treatments of these diseases;

38.  Recognises the vital role of screening and preventive treatment in health care, and encourages the Commission to use the open method of coordination to ensure exchange of views, promote harmonisation of screening across the EU, identify best practices and establish guidelines;

39.  Welcomes the efforts of some Member States which provide free access to prevention of gender-related diseases, and encourages Member States which have not yet done so to strengthen preventive healthcare for older women by providing, for example, for accessible and regular mammograms and cervical smear tests, to erase age limits in access to health prevention such as breast cancer screening, and to raise awareness of the importance of screening;

40.  Encourages the Member States to further step up their efforts to adopt a gender mainstreaming strategy in health policies and to ensure equality of access to affordable health care and long-term care for both women and men, especially the older ones, and for those who face multiple disadvantages;

41.  Encourages the Commission and the Member States to develop measures that ensure better health and safety at work, thus maintaining the employability and capabilities of workers and making for better health in old age;

42.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to combat all forms of violence against older women, recognising the underestimation of this problem, tackling societal stereotypes and ensuring that service providers are able to take into account the specific needs of older victims of violence, in order to ensure full enjoyment of human rights and achieve gender equality, and making full use of the DAPHNE programme;

o   o

43.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

(1) OJ L 307, 18.11.2008, p. 11.
(2) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2010)0306.
(3) Staff working document: Demography report 2010, European Commission, page 62.
(4) List of 100 inequalities, European Institute for Gender Equality.
(5) Report on Progress on Equality between Women and Men in 2010, European Commission, page 31.
(6) The life of women and men in Europe - A statistical portrait, Eurostat, 2008, page 196.
(7) Special Eurobarometer 317, Discrimination in the EU in 2009, November 2009, page 71.

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