The aim of this paper is to explore the relationship between female employment and gender equality, with a special focus on care and family policies shaping women’s potential labour market participation in ageing European societies. The paper maps how different care regimes, family policy constellations and gender equality policies directly and indirectly affect female employment in the European Union member states. It combines macro-level quantitative statistical analysis with a qualitative approach to the main mechanisms shaping gender equality in the field of care. The selected four EU member countries (Italy, Poland, Sweden and the United Kingdom) represent different European welfare and care regimes, and the comparison thus also sheds some light on broader socio-economic policy impacts on care-related female employment as well as on the gender equality impacts of care policy changes. Our findings indicate that the public provision of formal care services and the combination of dual-earner and dual-carer policy incentives favour female employment simultaneously with decreasing gender inequalities. The different forms of informal employment in the field of care services, however, may produce new forms of gender inequalities, especially when they rely on unregulated cheap immigrant female labour.
Keywords: female employment, formal and informal care, gender equality, welfare regimes, dual earner and dual carer households, immigrant care workers