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Where You Work: How Does Gender Matter?

Mary Hallward-Driemeier's picture

Are businesses run by women less productive than businesses run by men? If we perform a very simple comparison of the average productivity of female and male-owned enterprises, we might answer “yes”. But if we look a bit more closely at the data, a large part of this gap is explained by the fact that women and men are doing different things. If you compare women and men in the same sectors and in similar types of enterprises, the gap shrinks dramatically. Where you work is more important than gender in accounting for the observed productivity gap.

Using data on over 9000 registered enterprises from 32 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, we see a productivity gap of 6 percent. However, controlling for sector, size and capital intensity, the gap disappears (see chart 1). If we include unregistered firms in the analysis, the unconditional productivity gap widens, as women are disproportionately in the informal sector where productivity is even lower. Nevertheless, the same pattern holds: there is little gender performance gap between similar enterprises.

Where Do Women Work?

Mary Hallward-Driemeier's picture

The economic empowerment of women is gaining prominence in the development agenda. It is reflected in Millennium Development Goal 3 and will be the focus of the World Bank’s World Development Report 2012. Expanding women’s access to income generating opportunities is a key part of this objective. An important starting point is to understand where women work.

Two figures based on data from household and labor force surveys in 137 low- and middle-income countries help answer this question. Figure 1, focused only on women, reports the shares active in different types of employment. Figure 2, focused on the nonagricultural labor force (male and female), reports the share of workers in each employment category who are women. Thus the first shows the distribution of women across types of work, and the second the differences in the rates at which men and women are active in the same type of employment.

Ladies First? Understanding Whose Job is Vulnerable in a Crisis

Mary Hallward-Driemeier's picture

In an economic crisis, whose job do employers put on the chopping block first? Many gender equality advocates and policymakers are concerned that “women are at risk of being hired last and dismissed first” during crises. This concern is fuelled by evidence showing that employers often discriminate against women even during less volatile times, that women often bear the brunt of coping with economic shocks, and that, in many countries, gender norms prioritize men’s employment over women’s. Despite a lot of rhetoric, existing studies of the labor market consequences of macroeconomic crises have yielded ambiguous conclusions about the differential impact across genders. Might claims about women’s vulnerability be exaggerated?

Most studies that look at the distributional impact of crises rely on household and labor force data. However, these data cannot distinguish between two mechanisms that could account for gender differences in employment adjustment. First, differences in vulnerability could be the result of sorting by gender into firms and occupations that differ in their vulnerability to crises. In this case, the effect of gender is indirect; women may take jobs that are relatively more or less vulnerable. Second, there could be differential treatment of men and women workers within the same firm. Faced with the need to adjust, do employers treat women differently, either by firing them first or cutting their wages more? It is this second mechanism that underpins concerns about discrimination. To distinguish between these mechanisms, we need to compare the employment prospects and wage trajectories of men and women both across and within firms—which means we need firm-level data.