Steadily rising share of women in highest-paying jobs

The share of women among the highest-paid employees of large enterprises and other organisations has seen a steady rise in recent years. In 2017, women constituted over 20 percent of the top payroll positions within organisations with at least 500 employee jobs. In 2010, this share was still 15.0 percent. This is evident from research on top earners carried out by Statistics Netherlands (CBS) in response to media inquiries.

There is no generally accepted definition of the term top earner. As part of this research, CBS studied the 0.2 percent best-paying positions within private and public sector organisations, based on annual salary. It was established whether these positions were occupied by men or by women. Only the largest organisations with at least 500 employee jobs were studied. The idea of the study was to focus on the leading professionals within the largest organisations.

These calculations produced a selection of close to 6,600 top earners working in the Netherlands in 2017. In seven years’ time, the share of women within this group had increased slightly at the expense of men.

Share of women in highest-paid employee jobs 1 at large organisations
JaarShare of women among top earners (%)
1 0.2 percent of the highest-paid employee jobs at organisations with at least 500 employees.

Over half of all jobs at 500-plus organisations occupied by women

In 2017, the number of employed women was roughly equal to the number of employed men. Of the 8.1 million employee jobs in 2017, over 47 percent were occupied by women. This share is somewhat higher than in 2010. At the largest organisations (500+ employees) in 2017, women even occupied slightly more than half of all employee jobs. This was the case as well in 2010. Although the share of women in the workforce remained virtually unchanged, their share among the highest-paid employees did increase substantially: from 15.0 to 20.4 percent.

Male to female ratio among employees
 Women (%)Men (%)
large organisations (500+)
Large organisations (500+)
All organisations

More female top earners in industries employing many women

The rise of top-earning women keeps pace with the rising number of female employees at the largest organisations. The care sector therefore has one of the highest shares of female top earners. In 2017, women occupied 84 percent of all employee jobs in this sector, and 30 percent of the highest-paid jobs.

The share of female top earners within the largest organisations in other branches of the service sector was even slightly higher at 34 percent. Women only take up 57 percent of the workforce in these organisations. Other services include activities of interest groups, repair of computers and personal and household goods and other personal services which are not classified elsewhere. With a one-quarter share of female top earners, organisations in the sectors education, renting and other business services had relatively many women in top positions as well.

The sector with the lowest share of women in employee jobs is construction. This is also the sector with the smallest share of female top earners. In proportion to the number of women in the workplace, the share of female top earners is smallest in the sectors accommodation and food services and financial services. In both sectors, no more than 12 percent of the highest-paying jobs were taken up by women, whereas financial services had a 46-percent share of female employees and accommodation and food services even 57 percent.

More women among young top earners

In 2017, 64 percent of the highest-paid employees at the largest organisations were aged 50 years or older. Nearly 29 percent of the top earners were aged between 40 and 50 years. Less than 7 percent were between 30 and 40 years of age. A tiny share (0.5 percent) were younger than 30 years.

In the group of highest-paid over-50s at large organisations, slightly less than half (48 percent) were women. This was slightly over half in the younger age groups. The younger workforce not only includes relatively more women but also relatively more top earners. In the group of highest-paid 30 to 39-year-olds, the share of women stood at 26.3 percent. Women occupied a share of 25.7 percent in the age group 40 to 49 years and 17.2 percent in the group of over-50s.

Male to female ratio among employees by age, 2017
 Women (%)Men (%)
30 to 39 yrs
Highest-earning, large organisations (500+)26.373.7
Large organisations (500+)51.548.5
All organisations47.552.5
40 to 49 yrs
Highest-earning employees at large companies (+500)25.774.3
Large organisations (500+)51.848.2
All organisations48.151.9
50 yrs and over
Highest-earning, all organisations (500+)17.282.8
Large organisations (500+)47.752.3
All organisations44.455.6

Less than one-quarter of women work full-time

In 2017, almost every top earner at the largest organisations worked more than 35 hours per week on average (98 percent). CBS defines a working week of 35 hours or more as full-time. It should be noted here that the top earners were selected based on annual salary and not on the basis of hourly wages. It is therefore safe to say that full-time employees comprise the overwhelming majority of top earners.

Employee working hours, 2017
 35 hours per week or more (%)30 to 34 hours per week (%)Fewer than 30 hours per week (%)
Top earners at large organisations (500+)
Employees at large organisations (500+)
Employees at all organisations

Considering the size of the workforce at the largest organisations combined, the share of full-time employees is much smaller, particularly among women. In 2017, 23 percent of the female employees at such organisations held a full-time position, versus 68 percent of male employees. Women take up a share of 26 percent among the full-time employees in the largest organisations. Female full-timers hold a share of 23 percent across all organisations (regardless of size).

Other factors that could potentially contribute to reaching the echelon of highest-paying positions within an organisation have not been taken into account here. Nor did the research include the question as to how men and women end up working either full-time or part-time. CBS is preparing more publications on the various gender gaps in the area of paid work, among other areas. A new edition of the biannual 'Pay-gap Monitor' is scheduled to be released at the end of this month for 2016 (formerly entitled: 'Equal pay for equal work?). On 14 December 2018, CBS and SCP are jointly publishing a new edition of the biannual Emancipation monitor.