Statistics released by the EU to mark International Women's Day show European women do better in school than men, but get lower pay and fewer top jobs.
Eighty per cent of women complete secondary education compared to 75% of men, and more than half of university students are women.
But on average, women earn 15% less and hold only a third of managerial jobs.
Latvia has the highest proportion of women managers, 44%, while Cyprus has the lowest, with just 14%.
"Women achieve an overall better educational level than men, but paradoxically, this is not reflected on entry to the labour market," said European Commission spokesman Friso Roscam Abbing.
"This is partly due to the fact that women still undertake a high proportion of domestic tasks, and more women work part-time than men as well."
On average, about one third of women are in part-time jobs, the statistics show.
Last week, the European Commission adopted a roadmap of policies designed to end gender inequality.
It lists 21 activities to be carried out over the next five years.
The measures include:
- Setting up a European Institute for gender equality
- reviewing all existing EU gender equality law
- increasing awareness of gender inequality
- ensuring gender equality is considered in all policies
- pressing for better statistics
It also seeks to tackle the pay gap, support a better work/life balance, eliminate violence and trafficking.
The European institute for gender equality - described as a "centre of excellence for gender equality issues, providing expertise and improving knowledge" - should be operational by 1 January 2007.
It will have a budget of 52.5 million euros for the period until 2013.
The review of legislation is in line with the drive by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to legislate "less but better".