Equal Pay Day 2018: The date UK women start working for free

Startups has analysed the gender pay gap in 31 countries in Europe and calculated the date that women effectively stop being paid. Learn more here

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The gender pay gap is the difference between the average earnings of men and women, an injustice that in recent years businesses have come under pressure to improve.

In 2017, new legislation demanded that all UK companies with 250 or more employees had to publish their gender pay gap reporting, raising the profile of pay inequality between the genders and making it a prominent issue for UK businesses.

One of the most powerful examples of gender pay gap reporting was from the BBC, whose gender pay gap was so extreme that it prompted the resignation of BBC China editor Carrie Gracie.

Similarly, the staff walk-outs at Google offices around the world on 1 November included a demand to ensure pay equality.

Though businesses of 250+ people may seem like a considerable step up from new start-ups, it’s more important than ever that small businesses keep salaries gender neutral from the start.

Perhaps the most effective way to illustrate the gender pay gap is to use a calendar. If we assume that men and women are both working for a full year in the same role, but being paid differently, it effectively means that female employees will spend a portion of that year working for free.

While this is an important issue in the UK, the gender pay gap is also evident across the entirety of Europe.

So where did each country rank? Here’s our ranking of the countries in Europe from worst to best:

CountryWhat date do women stop getting paid in 2018?
Estonia28 September
Czech Republic11 October
Germany12 October
Austria18 October
Slovakia22 October
Portugal26 October
Finland29 October
Latvia30 October
Switzerland30 October
Iceland 1 November
Netherlands2 November
France5 November
Denmark6 November
Norway6 November
Bulgaria7 November
Lithuania7 November
Spain8 November
Hungary9 November
Ireland9 November
Cyprus9 November
UK10 November
Sweden12 November
Greece14 November
Malta20 November
Croatia28 November
Slovenia3 December
Poland4 December
Belgium7 December
Luxembourg11 December
Italy11 December
Romania11 December

Top three countries with the smallest gender pay gap (gender pay gap %)

  1. Romania – 5.2%
  2. Italy – 5.3%
  3. Luxembourg – 5.5%

Bottom three countries with the largest gender pay gap (gender pay gap %)

  1. Estonia – 25.3%
  2. Czech Republic – 21.8%
  3. Germany – 21.5%

The gender pay gap and the UK

The date women in the UK effectively start working for free this year will be 10 November.

Add to this the recent revelation that, on average, women work 26 hours per week doing unpaid housework – this equates to 56 days per year – and you might argue that UK women who conduct this level of housework have effectively been working for free since 15 September.

In comparison, the average figure for men was 16 hours of unpaid housework per week, which is 35 days per year.

The gender pay gap across Europe

Across the Channel, it’s slightly worse, as French women lose five more days of paid work annually, with women in France working for free from 5 November.

Meanwhile, women in Spain stop being paid on 8 November, meaning they start working for free sooner than women in the UK, but later than those in France.

Interestingly, women in Ireland have one less day of paid work than their counterparts in the UK, with the Irish gender pay gap meaning women stop working on 9 November.

While known for their liberal, progressive attitudes – including some of the best maternity and paternity rights in the world – the Nordic countries didn’t fare so well in the ranking.

Women in Denmark and Norway were found to be paid until 6 November, while women in Sweden get just six extra paid days of work a year, coming in at 12 November.

However, if we leave Scandinavia and travel across the border from Denmark into Germany, it’s a different story.

According to our research, women in Germany effectively start working for free from 12 October, putting Germany in the bottom three countries in Europe.

Why is that? One reason is often attributed to geography, with the gender pay gap in Germany having significant regional variations between the formerly divided eastern and western parts of the country. In addition, certain industries and specialisms will often be based in specific areas too.

For example, while the gap is smaller in some parts of Germany – such as Cottbus and Schwerin – due to more women being employed than men, other regions in the country – like Ingolstadt and Erlangen – have a larger one. This is thought to be due to the engineering focus of employment in these regions, which tend to be male-dominated sectors.

And what about the bottom two countries, Estonia and the Czech Republic?

It seems Estonian women are working for free for the longest in Europe partly because it’s not seen as a key issue in society, and actions to promote equal pay are fairly new.

Meanwhile, if we look south to the Czech Republic, the gender pay gap there seems to be attributed to maternity leave and child-caring responsibilities, which often fall to women in Czech society.

And the country that comes closest to equal pay in Europe? Well, perhaps we should say ‘felicitări’, ‘congratulazioni’ and ‘gratuléiert’ – that’s ‘congratulations’ in Romanian, Italian and Luxembourgish! Romania, Italy and Luxembourg all tied in the top spot, with women in these countries working for free from 11 December.

So why did these countries make the top three?

According to research published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), there are a high number of women in advanced education in Italy. This suggests that women and men have a greater chance of potentially being selected for the higher-paying jobs that advanced qualifications may offer.

While it seems age has a particular focus in Romania, the gender pay gap in the country may be part of a wider trend left over from the promotion of gender equality from communism across eastern Europe.

However, it’s worth noting that even the best performing countries in Europe are still recording a pay gap. This highlights how small businesses (with big ambitions) have the chance to make a positive impact to help us move towards a time when the gender pay gap no longer exists at all.

For more information on paying staff, read our article about how to pay employees in a small business.


Here’s how we created the ranking:

To calculate the date that women stop being paid across Europe, we used the most recent gender pay gap statistics from Eurostat. These figures showed us the percentage difference between men’s and women’s average hourly earnings in 31 countries across Europe.

To find out the exact date that women effectively start working for free, we first had to calculate how many working days there are in 2018. Based on the average working week of Monday to Friday, the number of working days is 261. We included public holidays and annual leave in this figure as these days are typically paid.

Using the base rate of 261 working days and the specific gender pay gap for each country, we could work out, in theory, how many working days women are actually being paid for.

For example, a gender pay gap of 20% meant that women would only be paid for 80% of the 261 days, while men would be paid for 100% – the full 261. Calculating 80% of 261 gave a specific date in the 261 working day calendar – the day that women start working for free.

For the UK, we used data from the Fawcett Society and the Office of National Statistics (ONS) to calculate the date women stop being paid, as well as the amount of unpaid housework women do and its impact on this date.


So what does this mean for small businesses, and what can you do if you run one? Some ways you can make sure there isn’t a gender pay gap in your business include:

  • Introducing targets
  • Having fair maternity and paternity leave
  • Offering flexible work hours/childcare arrangements

Those are some ideas to get you thinking about how to tackle the gender pay gap issue in your small business. However you decide to approach it, what’s clear is that paying women and men equally is a must.

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