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Fridays Academy: Gender and the Labor Market

Ignacio Hernandez's picture

Like every Friday, from  Raj Nallari and Breda Griffith's lecture notes.

One of the most visible ways in which gender inequality can be seen is in labor markets. Women face greater barriers in participating in the labor force and in finding decent and productive work. Although significant gains have been made in women’s labor force participation, this has not been true of all regions and issues relating to the quality of work and working conditions have not always matched improvements in participation. Furthermore, continuing and persistent gender inequalities in wages suggest that the labor market is not operating freely. 


Many women continue to have unequal access to labor markets and are therefore more likely to participate in unpaid and informal work and to be overrepresented in these occupations. Furthermore, women’s share of employment in the agricultural and service sectors is greater than that of men and they are more likely to earn less than men for the same type of work. These characteristics have very real consequences for women and work, especially in developing economies where women are more likely to be affected by working poverty, i.e. they work but do not earn enough to lift themselves beyond the US$1/day poverty line. Global Employment Trends for Women (2004) noted that women make up at least 60 percent of the world’s working poor.


The gender division of labor also remains strong in industrialized and urban societies. Worldwide, most women and men work in jobs that are done predominantly by one sex. It is reported that while women make up 41 percent of the non-agricultural labor force in OECD countries, they form 62 percent of service workers compared to only 15 percent of production workers (Anker, 1998; p.171). For specific professions, such as nursing, the proportion of female employees can rise to as high as 82 percent (ibid., p.264). This degree of job segregation by sex (and the related uneven distribution of the labor force across broad sectors) makes job comparison across the sexes difficult, and contributes to a clustering of women in low-paid occupations and sectors. It may also make it difficult for policy makers and workers to fully conceptualize what equal pay and working conditions should be.


During the upcoming weeks we will present data that highlight gender inequalities in the labor market and also show the progress that has been made in some areas and regions. The discussion extends beyond the data to include a commentary on why gender inequality in labor markets is an efficiency issue with which macroeconomic policy should be concerned. It highlights also the vulnerability of women in the world of work and includes a discussion on MDG 3 that focuses on redressing gender disparities and empowering women.

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