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Fridays Academy: Gender and the Labor Market

Ignacio Hernandez's picture

From  Raj Nallari and Breda Griffith's lecture notes.

Labor Force Participation Rates

The labor force participation rate (LFPR) is the share of employed plus unemployed people as a proportion of the working-age population. It indicates how many people of working age are actively participating in the labor market.  The female LFPR indicates how many women of working age are active in the labor market. This proportion has been increasing in recent times and represents a way in which women can use their potential in the labor market to achieve economic independence (ILO, 2004).

The total female labor force was 1.2 billion in 2006, up from 1.1 billion a decade earlier, see the table below. Moreover, the gap between the male and female labor force participation rates also narrowed over the period.  In 1996 there were 66 active women per 100 active men; by 2006 this number had increased to 67 (ILO, 2007). Over the 10-year period, the female LFPR declined to 52.4 in 2006 from 53 percent in 1996. The ILO attributes this to two facts - first, the increasing numbers of young women in education and second, the increasing representation of older women in the labor force.


Global Labor Market Indicators, 1996 and 2006


 Source: ILO (2007)

From the figure below, we note that female LFPR increased in four of the regions over the ten year period from 1996 to 2006 - Developed Economies and European Union, South East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean and Middle East and North Africa.  Therefore the gap between male and female LFPR has decreased in these regions.  During the same period, male LFPR declined except in Middle East and North Africa where it remained the same.  The female LFPR in the remaining regions fared less well over the 10-year period. In fact, the gap between male and female LFPR was 0.3 percentage points larger in Sub-Saharan Africa between 1996 and 2006 and increased by 1 percentage point in East Asia over the same period (ILO, 2007).


Labor Force Participation Rates, by sex and region, 1996 and 2006


Source: ILO (2007)


Despite the improvement in female LFPR in some of the regions over the 10 year period. The gap between male and female LFRP remains wide. An examination of the gender gap, i.e. the proportion of economically active females per 100 males indicates the magnitude of gender inequality. First, just 67 women per 100 men are active globally in 2006. Across the regions, 81 females per 100 males are active in the developed economies and transition economies. Similar numbers characterize East Asia, with 79 females per 100 males active in 2006. More worryingly are the numbers that suggest just 37 females per 100 males are active in Middle East North Africa and 42 females per 100 males in South Asia. 



Male and Female Labor Force Participation Rates (%) and the Gender Gap in Economically Active Females per 100 males, 2006.



Source: ILO (2007)


It is important to explore what the numbers really mean.  The ILO (2007) notes that “taken on their own, rising or high labour force participation rates do not necessarily mean that labour markets are developing positively for women” (p. 3).  Is the gender gap really closing when it comes to gender inequality in the labor market?  Are wages gaps and discrimination lowering labor force participation? Are women finding the type of work they really want?  Are more women in education and is this accounting for lower female LFPR? And what are the characteristics of female work compared with male work?  In the following weeks we will examine further facets of the world of work for women that shed some light on these questions.