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Fridays Academy: Gender and the Labor Market

Ignacio Hernandez's picture

As usual on Fridays, from  Raj Nallari and Breda Griffith's lecture notes.

Gender Inequality and the Labor Market

Specialization in work is thought to account for why gender inequality exists in the labor market. Tradition and custom dictate different jobs and/or types of work for men and women. In the industrialized world, certain professions, such as the nursing profession, are dominated by one sex, e.g. women (Anker, 1998). According to "Global Employment Trends, 2007", the sex segregationof occupations is changing, but slowly. Females are still overrepresented in the caring profession and in home-based workers. Changing these trends will rely on further and increased investment in women’s education and training. Furthermore, even when women migrate, they tend to be overrepresented among these stereotypical female occupations. The UNFPA in its study of global population estimate that there are 95 million female migrants, accounting for half of all migrants and contributing hugely to remittances. Migration for women takes place across all age groups and income groups. As migrants and women, they oftentimes face significant challenges in their chosen host country, especially if race, class and religion factors come into play. Oftentimes they lack the opportunities to migrate legally and safely and oftentimes they are unaware of their rights. The figure below shows the trends in female migration for three sample years between 1995 and 2005.


Trends in Female Migration, 1995-2005

      Source: Global Employment Trends, 2007


Specialization has implications for the effectiveness of economic policy aimed at increasing output and economic growth.  As noted above, specialization may contribute to women being stuck in low-paid occupations and sectors that constrain development potential and economic growth. Collier (1994) showed that tea cultivation in Kenya was constrained by gender inequality in the labor market. Tibaijuka showed that improving gender equality in export production of bananas and coffee would increase village income by 10 percent with the productivity of labor and capital improving by 15 and 44 percent respectively. 

Women face greater barriers in participating in the labor force than men.  Time-use studies suggest that women have higher total work hours than men (Stotsky, 2006). This is especially true in a developing economy context where women are occupied in a large range of activities that encompass subsistence farming, childcare, domestic maintenance work, informal activities and voluntary activities.
Numerous studies point to women’s reproductive role as affecting labor force participation in general and work for pay in particular. World Bank (2007) notes that 24.8 percent of women in the Krgyz Republic reported that “housekeeping, taking care of children, sick persons, or the elderly” kept them from working outside the home, in comparison with just 1.5 percent of men who reported these same reasons (Morrison and Lamana, 2006). Women also face the time burden of domestic tasks, for example hauling potable water and collecting firewood. Barwell (1996) noted that locating a potable water source within 400 meters of all households in the rural areas of Burkina Faso, Uganda and Zambia would save between 125 hours to 664 hours per household per year. This time-saving could be used to work for pay.
The transition from low-paid own-account worker and unpaid work and its various synonyms, e.g. unpaid contributing family workers, unpaid contributing family members, contributing family workers and contributing family members, to paid work represents significant advancement for many women in terms of self-determination and independence. While progress has been made in the share of women in wage and salaried work – increasing from 42.9 percent in 1996 to 47.9 percent in 2006 (ILO, 2007) – the share remains smaller for women compared to men, especially in the world’s poorer regions.
Wage gaps between women and men continue to exist. Although issues with regard to data prevent firm conclusions across countries and regions, the limited data that do exist suggest continuing wage gaps, even in occupations dominated by females. An examination of data for six occupational groups suggest that in most economies women earn 90 percent or less of what their male counterparts earn (ILO, 2007). However, emerging evidence suggests that globalization may help to bridge the gap in some occupations. 
There has been some improvement in the female and male education levels. A greater number of young women are able to read and write compared with 10 years ago, but gaps still exist and as noted by the ILO (2007) “there is considerable doubt that women get the same chances as men to develop their skills throughout their working lives” (p. 2).





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