Women in the EU stand to earn 37% less in pension income due to pay gaps and shorter careers, according to a report from the European Commission.

The Pension Adequacy Report 2018 stated that 20.7% of women were at risk of “poverty or social exclusion” in retirement, compared to 15.1% of men.

Across both genders, more than 17m people aged 65 and over in the EU were at risk of poverty or social exclusion, the Commission’s report said – a figure that had remained “nearly unchanged since 2013”. The risk increases with age, the report said, as incomes fall and needs increase.

With 45.4%, the Netherlands recorded the second-largest difference of all EU countries in average pensions between men and women.

Out of 28 EU member states, the difference is only greater in Cyprus (48.7%), with Germany following after the Netherlands at 42%, the UK at 35%, France at 33% and Belgium at 27%.

Estonia recorded the smallest gap in average pension income between men and women (1.8%), followed by Denmark, with a gender difference of 7.8%. Other eastern European nations also fell below the 20% mark, including the Czech Republic and Hungary.

The Commission said that the relatively large pension gap in the Netherlands could be attributed to the lower total income from paid labour by women during their lifetime. This was reflected in their pension, due to the large share of work-related accrual in second-pillar pensions.

Other factors affecting the total income, according to the Commission, were the popularity of part-time work among Dutch women and their relatively late entry into the labour market compared to other EU member states.

The Netherlands’ female population also accrued an average of five years’ less employment history, in addition to 16% lower hourly wages on average in comparison to the male workforce. These Dutch figures are on a par with the European average.

The UK’s figures were broadly in line with the EU average. However, the report noted that pension coverage in the country was on the rise since the introduction of auto-enrolment in 2012.

Overall, the difference in income over a lifetime accounted for two-thirds of the pensions gap between men and women in Europe, the Commission wrote.

The link, however, cannot be made equally as strongly for all systems. Denmark and the Czech Republic, for example, had substantial differences in income between men and women, yet their pension gaps between men and women are relatively small, the report noted.

Elements in pension systems that contributed to a smaller difference in pension accrual between men and woman included risk-sharing with minimum and maximum levels and the provision of pension cover when women did not work due to care responsibilities.

In Estonia, income had virtually no influence on pensions, the Commission found, making the pension gap between men and women small. At the same time, however, the Estonian system had many pensioners living close to the poverty line.

The Commission reported that countries with lower absolute levels of pension income had smaller gaps between male and female income.

The pension difference between men and women has decreased somewhat in Europe: from 41% in 2009 to 37% in 2016, due to the arrival of new cohorts of women with a higher employment rate.

There was hardly any movement in the pension gap in the Netherlands (a decrease of 0.5 percentage points), while the figure in Denmark fell dramatically from 22% to 7.8%. An explanation for the latter was not given in the report.