High time to look more broadly at inequality between men and women

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of attention for economic inequality between men and women in the Netherlands. For example, there was the publication of the Dutch Female Board Index 2021.

This again showed that the number of female directors of listed companies is still far behind the number of male directors. In addition, the growth in the number of female supervisory directors has leveled off in the past year.

It may have been the last push for some senators in the Senate to vote in favor of the bill for a ‘growth quota’ for listed companies.

The media also rightly paid a lot of attention to a study by Netspar that showed that the Netherlands has almost the largest gender pension gap in the EU: retired women in our country receive more than 40 percent less than men from state pension and conditional pension.

The findings were simultaneously shocking – because it is a highly undesirable outcome – and not surprising. The pension gap, the researchers showed, is mainly caused by the well-known fact that Dutch women work fewer hours and are more likely to work in sectors where pension accrual is relatively frugal.

We were surprised by the results of recent (own) RaboResearch research, namely that differences in wealth between men and women increased during the corona crisis. And this is not just about differences in terms of employment and career opportunities. No, since corona, women have mainly declined relatively in terms of health, personal development and social involvement.

In the same period, men improved in their work-life balance, but women hardly, if at all. Strikingly enough, these results cannot be explained by factors such as family composition or the sector in which one works.

We were also unable to demonstrate an intuitively appealing statement such as ‘women must have suffered disproportionately from home education’. The cause of these increasing differences between men and women is therefore still a bit of a puzzle.

Caroline Criado Perez speaks in her book Invisible Women about the ‘gender data gap’. Women work fewer hours a week than men, according to statistics, but these are measured statistics. In general, women still take on more caring responsibilities – such as childcare and household chores.

For example, it would be useful to know how the division of household and care tasks has developed during the special corona period. This may explain our finding that the work-life balance has improved for men and not for women.

And perhaps more data can also explain why women in particular felt their health, personal development and social involvement under pressure during the corona pandemic.

It’s worth trying to explain that. Because health, personal development and social involvement are important building blocks for a prosperous life, for men and women.

Moreover, there may be cross-connections between inequalities in different aspects of wealth. Take personal development. It also contributes to higher prosperity in other areas. Think of (mental) health, and yes, in the form of human capital also of the traditional welfare aspects such as more income and higher job opportunities.

It is therefore high time to broaden the discussion about inequality between men and women beyond just working conditions and career opportunities.

Ester Barendregt and Floris Jan Sander

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