Belgium makes progress in closing gender pay gap, rises to third place among 33 OECD countries

PwC’s 11th Women in Work Index

  • Belgium has risen from 12th place to 11th place in 2021 among the 33 OECD countries in the Women in Work Index
  • The gender pay gap in Belgium (4.8%) continues to decrease and is now the third smallest in the OECD. Only Greece (3.6%) and Luxembourg (0.5%) score better
  • Belgium's female labour force participation rate has gone from 64.5% to 65.7% (a 1.2 percentage point rise). Reaching the same participation rate as historically strong performer Sweden (80.8%) could boost Belgian GDP by 12%
  • Higher female labour force participation is accompanied by a 0.5 percentage point increase in the female unemployment rate in Belgium (from 5.4% to 5.9% in 2021)

Brussels, 8 March 2023 ​ – The year 2023 sees the 11th edition of PwC’s annual Women In Work Index, calculated for 33 countries in the OECD. The index reveals there are immense economic benefits in speeding up the progress towards gender equality in the workplace. Elevating Belgium's female employment rate to match that of Sweden - a consistent top performer - could raise Belgian Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by US$ 81.5 billion per annum or 12% of GDP. Furthermore, eliminating the gender pay gap could result in additional earnings of US$ 6.9 billion per annum, an increase of 5.3% for women in Belgium.

Belgium has made consistent progress in the index over the years, rising from 20th in the ranking in 2000 to 11th in 2021. Belgium rose by one place in 2021 (12th in 2020), thanks to slight improvements in the gender pay gap, female labour participation rate and the participation rate gap. However, all countries in the top 10 also increased their scores, so despite making marginal improvements from its 2020 result, Belgium was not able to reclaim its historical best ranking of 10th place in 2019.

Despite this setback, there are some positive indicators to be noted. While far from ideal, the female labour force participation rate has shown an improvement of 1.2 percentage points compared to 2020 and now stands at 65.7% - leaving Belgium in 28th place among 33 OECD countries. Though the female unemployment rate has increased by 0.5 percentage points, this can be attributed to more women joining the workforce, which is a welcome development. Moreover, Belgium has succeeded in further closing the gender pay gap, which decreased from 5.0% to 4.8%, making it the third smallest gender pay gap among the countries in the index (average pay gap: 13.8%) - a significant accomplishment and one that should be celebrated.

Economic advantages

There is a great deal to gain economically from making strides towards gender equality in the workplace. According to the findings of the Women in Work Index, if Belgium were to match the female employment rate of Sweden (a consistently high performer, 80.8% female labour participation rate vs. only 65.7% for Belgium) it could potentially increase its gross domestic product (GDP) by an impressive US$ 81.5 billion per annum, a staggering 12% of GDP. Similarly, if the gender pay gap were eliminated in Belgium, women could earn an additional US$ 6.9 billion per annum, an increase of 5.3% in their earnings. These numbers demonstrate the significant economic benefits that could be gained from reducing gender inequalities in the workplace.

While progress towards gender equality in the workplace has been steady over the past decade, it has also been slow. The impact of the pandemic on labour markets across the OECD caused a one-time fall in the index in 2020. The overall index has improved in 2021, mostly because of increased participation of women in the labour force, along with a slight fall in the unemployment rate for women. However, the rebound was not to the level needed to put the Index back on its pre-pandemic growth trajectory. This year's Women in Work Index highlights that it will take more than 50 years to close the gender pay gap in the OECD. One of the primary causes of this gap is the so-called "motherhood penalty," which affects women who take on unpaid childcare responsibilities, leading to underemployment, slower career progression, and lower lifetime earnings.

"The rebound from COVID-19 has shown us that we can’t rely on economic growth alone to produce gender equality,” states Griet Helsen, Partner and Diversity & Inclusion Leader at PwC Belgium. “Governments can help ensure more equal policies and solutions related to parental leave, pay transparency and access to affordable childcare. Companies also have an important part to play, by offering flexible working arrangements, providing mentoring to support talented women in leadership opportunities, and breaking down barriers to progression and promotion. Speeding up progress towards gender equality and closing pay gaps is vital for creating a fairer, more prosperous future for all.”



About PwC’s OECD Women in Work Index

The PwC Women in Work Index combines five key indicators of female economic empowerment in 2021 across 33 OECD countries. The five indicators that make up the PwC Women in Work Index are: the gender wage gap, the female labour force participation rate, the gap between male and female labour force participation, the female unemployment rate and female full-time employment rate. The annual Women in Work Index uses OECD data (actuals) for calendar year 2021.

Read PwC’s Women in Work Index for more insights.








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