Career with unequal pay

On average, women still earn less than men in Germany. The wage gap arises not only from the interruption of employment biographies, for example by starting a family. Studies show that the pay gap also has its causes in the image we have of the careers of men and women in our minds.

According to data from the Federal Statistical Office, the gender pay gap was 19% in 2019. This unadjusted gender pay gap fell by 1% year-on-year. It not only puts gross earnings into perspective, but also takes into account structural differences. For example, the percentage reflects that women often work part-time, are employed in lower-paid industries, have fewer opportunities to access some occupations, and are less likely to hold positions in management positions. These structural differences account for as much as 71% of the value. On the other hand, the adjusted gender pay gap shows the pay gap between men and women with the same qualifications, career sands and careers. Structural factors are largely excluded here. The Federal Statistical Office collects the value every four years. In 2018, it was 6%, the same as in 2014.

The unadjusted gender pay gap varies widely across Germany. In West Germany it comes to 20%, in East Germany only 7%. It is therefore equivalent to the adjusted figure, which is also 7% for East Germany and 6% for West Germany. Within Europe, Germany is almost at the bottom of gender-appropriate pay. Only in Estonia is the wage gap even wider, while the European frontrunners are in Luxembourg. Romania and Italy. The EU-wide average is 15%.


Even the factory workers of the 19th century were paid significantly less than their male counterparts. Female labour was generally considered to be of less value and therefore did not have to be paid equally. In addition, women were often given the harder and lower jobs. Even then, the woman’s salary was regarded as a contribution to the family household. The man had to earn the main salary, even if his wages were often not enough to live on.

Interruptions of this earnings model brought the world wars. During this time, women took over the work of the men who had to go to war. After the Second World War, wives in the Federal Republic of Germany again needed permission from their husbands to work. In the GDR, on the other hand, women’s work was encouraged, which is still seen today in the lower unadjusted value of the gender pay gap for East Germany. However, women were paid less than men in both parts of Germany.

Causes and solution

Studies show that the causes of the wage gap are manifold. It has been proven that interrupting a woman’s career leads to a loss of income for the establishment of a family or for the care of relatives. Re-entry into the profession after parental leave is often only part-time and therefore with a lower salary. Easier transitions from part-time to full-time, political models such as parental allowance plus, which also supports fathers on part-time, and an open consultation of parents or carers on careers and care times can help close the pay gap.

The historical evaluation of careerstilles still plays a major role in today’s society. For example, women’s jobs are still less rewarded and considered to be less valuable. Nevertheless, many young women who are new to the profession opt for it. A study by the Bonn Research Institute on the future of work also shows that men generally have higher salary expectations and enforce them. The different evaluation of the work is therefore still in our minds. Wage transparency introduced by law is only a first step. Actions such as Equal Pay Day (2021 on 10 March), which shows every year the day of the year women work without pay compared to men, is important to raise social awareness of equal pay.

Another factor for the pay gap is the few female executives. This is often due to the interruption of the work biography, the lack of confidence in female skills and rarer promotions. The statutory quota of women enables female managers to demonstrate their skills and increase the chances of promotion for other women.


The gender pay gap is still very large in Germany. However, the development can be viewed cautiously positively. The statistical gap is slowly narrowing and there are other positive trends. Figures from ZEIT Campus Online show that women now make up half of all students and are increasingly represented in typical men’s courses, such as STEM subjects. However, continuous efforts are still needed to increase the appreciation of female work in the minds (including our own) and thus achieve equal pay.

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