Older women hardest hit by salary gap

The top salary shelf is out of reach for most Swiss women Keystone

Women in Switzerland earn between a quarter and a third less than men, with the salary gap widening among older workers, according to a new report.

This content was published on October 30, 2003 - 18:52

The report found that this disparity was more pronounced in Switzerland than anywhere else in Europe.

The study by the Employment Research Institute at Geneva University found that women over the age of 45 earn on average 35 per cent less than men of the same age.

Women in general are paid 28 per cent less than their male counterparts.

One of the main reasons for this is the shortage of older women in senior positions.

Yves Flueckiger, author of the report, say women still encounter difficulties in climbing the career ladder.

“When it comes to deciding which employees are promoted, women are still victims of prejudice,” he said. “This is often because of time they have taken off work in the past to have children.”

Maternity leave

Flueckiger adds that it is misguided to assume that women are more often absent from work. The time men take off work to go on military service, he says, is often much longer than the time women take off as maternity leave.

Working mothers get less support in Switzerland than elsewhere in Europe, Flueckiger says, citing the lack of state maternity benefit and the shortage of childcare places.

But there is also a practical reason why women over 45 are paid less than men, namely a lack of experience.

While maternity leave causes gaps in women’s professional experience, it is also the case that older women are less likely to have completed further education than their male counterparts.

But Flueckiger says this is likely to change in the future.

“In less than one generation, women aged between 20 and 30 years have almost caught up with men in terms of education.”


Another reason why fewer women are promoted in the workplace is that the majority of them work part time.

While more than half of all Swiss women work part time (compared with ten per cent of all men) this figure increases to 67 per cent in women over the age of 45.

But the report found that while it was usual for women to work part time, employers took a dim view of male employees working less than 100 per cent.

To be able to spend more time with their family, women tend to choose jobs that allow them to work part time, which limits their choice of profession, the report said.

It said women with smaller salaries also received smaller pensions, because their contributions were lower.

From 2009, women will no longer benefit from compensation if they retire early, as the retirement age for female workers will be raised from 62 to 65.

swissinfo, Anne Rubin (translation: Joanne Shields)

pay summary

The report focused on the private sector in canton Zurich, which represents a fifth of Switzerland’s working population.
The study found that women over the age of 45 earn on average 35% less than men of the same age. Women in general earn 28% less than men.
In addition, only 16% of women over the age of 45 complete higher education, compared with 37% of men the same age.
Over half of Swiss women work part-time, compared with ten per cent of men.

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