Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union, has issued the latest results of a four-yearly Structure of Earnings Survey which figures out notable discrepancies in EU Member States in terms of gross hourly earnings, not only between the employees earning the least and the most, but also in relation to the economic activity, with Financial and Insurance activities being among the highest paying industries in every EU Member State and Accommodation and Food Service among the lowest paying.


According to the Eurostat's survey, the best-paid employees earned at least twice as much as the lowest-paid in Sweden, and nearly five times as much in Poland. After Poland, Romania, Cyprus, Portugal, Bulgaria and Ireland registered high disparities in gross hourly earnings. In contrast, the lowest ratios were recorded, after Sweden, in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France and Malta.

The highest disparity on the upper end of the gross hourly earnings distribution was registered in Portugal where the best paid employees earned almost three times as much the average. In contrast, Denmark and Sweden recorded the lowest.

At the lower end of the gross hourly earnings distribution, disparities were largest in Estonia where the least paid employees earned half of the median earnings. Estonia is followed by Germany, Ireland and Poland, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia. At the opposite end of the scale, the lowest disparities at the lower end of distribution were recorded in Sweden, Belgium and Finland, Denmark, France, Italy and Portugal.


"Finance & Insurance" and "Information & Communication" among the highest paying industries

On the basis of gross monthly earnings, "Financial and Insurance" activities ranked among the three highest paying economic activities in every EU Member State, except Ireland (where it ranked 4th).

The sector "Information and Communication" was also largely represented among the top three paying industries, with the exceptions of Belgium, Spain and the Netherlands (where it ranked 4th), Italy and Luxembourg (5th position) and Cyprus (6th place).

"Electricity, Gas, Steam and Air Conditioning supply" was the best paying industry in Belgium, Germany, Spain as well as Austria, and ranked second in Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovenia and Finland. "Mining and Quarrying" ranked first in Denmark, the Netherlands and the United-Kingdom and second in Poland and Romania. As for "Education", it was the best paying economic activity in Luxembourg and the second in Cyprus.

Finally, "Professional, Scientific and Technical" activities ranked among the two highest paying industries in only one Member Sate: Belgium.

"Accommodation & Food" and "Administrative and Support Service" among the lowest paying

At the opposite end of the ranking, "Accomodation and Food Service" activities were identified in 2014 as the lowest paying activities of the economy in all Member States, except Spain, Malta and Slovenia (where they were the penultimate).

"Administrative and Support Service" activities sector also ranked widely in the bottom three, with the exceptions of Hungary, Malta (last but three), Estonia and Cyprus (last but four) and Latvia.


The gender pay gap varies significantly across EU Member States

For the economy as a whole, women's gross hourly earnings were on average 16.1 % below those of men in the European Union. Across Member States, the gender pay gap varied by 25.4 percentage points, ranging from 2.9 percent in Slovenia to 28.3 percent in Estonia.

There are various reasons for the existence and size of a gender pay gap and they may differ strongly between Member States, e.g. kind of jobs held by women, consequences of breaks in career or part-time work due to childbearing, decisions in favour of family life, etc. Moreover, the proportion of women working and their characteristics differ significantly between countries, particularly because of institutions and attitudes governing the balance between private and work life which impact on the careers and thus the pay of women.


Divided labour markets, divided citizens, a divided Europe

The polarisation of the labour market experienced in most EU Member States is not merely a hobbyhorse for academics and economists. Research shows that there are winners and losers from the recent crisis, European integration and globalisation, and this may have a deep economic, social and political impact.

While there are many factors influencing the perceptions of those who are sceptical about the European integration process, who voted for Brexit in the UK or are supporting emerging populism, some evidence suggests that these movements are being also driven by those who feel that they have lost out from recent developments. Many have seen once secure mid-wage jobs disappear, for themselves or their children.

Dissatisfaction arising from a perceived limitation in social mobility due to, among other factors, labour market segmentation, and a resultant disenchantment with the political institutions that manage the drivers of change, may be one of the biggest challenges that Europe currently faces.

According to the Commission, the answers to these challenges may well be key to defining the future of the European Union.

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