ITUC | Economic and Social Policy Brief: Gender Gaps in Social Protection

Worldwide, more than half of the global population is not covered under any type of social protection scheme, and less than 30 per cent enjoys comprehensive social protection. Women are disadvantaged in social protection systems, experiencing lower coverage rates and substantially lower benefit levels. Gender gaps in access to social protection however vary per region and country, as they are highly dependent on the characteristics of the labour market and the structure of the social security system.

The coverage of contributory social protection schemes for women is particularly low, and in the absence of social protection floors, women are often left without any support. This is especially in the case with regard to old-age pensions, unemployment benefits or maternity protection. Globally only 26.4% of working-age women are covered by contributory old-age protection, compared to 31.5% of the total working-age population. In North Africa, for example, 63.6% of elderly men receive an old-age pension, but only 8.0% of women do. In South East Asia, women are structurally less protected against unemployment and globally, a large majority of women does not enjoy maternity protection.

In addition to women’s lower social protection coverage, gender gaps in benefit levels are extremely high in some countries. Within the European Union, women’s pensions are on average 40.2% lower than those of men. Gender gaps in social protection tend to be especially acute after the retirement age. Nearly 65% of people above the retirement age living without a regular pension are women. This puts women at a substantially greater risk of poverty than men, also because women on average live longer than men do. In the European Union, 20.6% of women above the age of 65 are at risk of poverty, compared to 15.0% of men. In some countries, such as Bulgaria, the difference in risk of poverty between men and women is over 15 percentage points.

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