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How to assess gender data gaps in the economic domain

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Two women carry clothing, produce, and water jugs.
Two women carry clothing, produce, and water jugs. Bangladesh. Photo: Scott Wallace / World Bank

Why Sex-Disaggregated Economic Data?

The World Bank, UN, IMF, and numerous international agencies, donor organizations, and country governments agree: women’s economic empowerment and inclusion are good, not only for women and girl’s well-being but also for national development and economic growth. Yet while there is considerable support for greater involvement of women in financial and economic markets, many countries lack the data to track levels of women’s economic participation.

Insufficient data presents several challenges. First, it hampers countries’ ability to report on key commitments including the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—particularly Goal 5, gender equality, and Goal 8, full and productive employment and decent work for all. Second, it limits policymakers’ ability to understand the status quo and craft and adapt evidence-based policies to address gaps, or to build on successes.

In contrast, when policymakers have access to timely, high-quality individual-level data on economic indicators, it can lead to policy wins. For example, in Uruguay, results of a time use survey that measured the amount of time women and men spend on unpaid domestic and care work served as a direct input to the development of the country’s National Care System and led to the expansion of childcare and elder care services.

Assessing Data Gaps

The Strengthening Gender Statistics (SGS) project addresses the need for timely, reliable, and relevant sex-disaggregated economic data by building country capacity to generate these statistics in three areas: work and employment, asset ownership, and entrepreneurship. Working with 12 IDA countries, the SGS project is addressing gaps across the data production cycle.

Each country engagement begins with a Gender Data Gap Assessment (GDGA) to assess the national availability of 24 sex-disaggregated indicators[i] in the three project areas, drawn from the SDGs and the UN Minimum Set of Gender Indicators. Examples of our GDGA indicators include the unemployment and labor force participation rates by sex; percentage of women in managerial positions; and percentage of adults with a bank, financial account, or mobile money account by sex.

The GDGA results are used to pinpoint gaps in data collection, analysis, and dissemination, which in turn can inform targeted strategies to improve the production and use of sex-disaggregated economic data.

How Are Countries Collecting and Publishing Sex-Disaggregated Economic Data?

The SGS project has conducted a GDGA in each of its 12 partner countries and consolidated these results as part of the guidance document How to Assess Gender Data Gaps in the Economic Domain - Guidance and Baseline Results for the Strengthening Gender Statistics Project’s Partner Countries. These assessments yielded several key findings:

  • Countries vary widely in their current production and dissemination of economic indicators, but overall, performance is poor. On average, each SGS partner country publishes just 19% of assessed indicators.

  • Countries produce the most indicators on employment. Across partner countries, 23% of the employment indicators are available on average, compared to just 12% of asset ownership and 13% of entrepreneurship indicators. Indicators of land ownership and secure tenure rights are unavailable across most countries.
  • Data needs to be collected more regularly. The gap in data collection for many indicators is over three years, limiting the ability to analyze policies and programs in real-time.
  • Disaggregation of data needs to go beyond sex to other socio-demographic and economic characteristics. Many indicator definitions disaggregate data in several ways to capture potential disparities across different attributes, such as age, disability, or income level. Some surveys already collect this information, while others require additional questions.
  • Analysis of existing data can close many gaps in indicator availability. Roughly two-thirds of currently unavailable indicators in SGS partner countries could be estimated by further analyzing existing survey or census data.

Working Toward Gender (Data) Equity

Countries currently struggle to publish timely sex-disaggregated economic data. However, leveraging existing data through additional analysis can produce early gains and catalyze improvements.  To support these efforts, the SGS project is using the results of the GDGAs to implement concrete strategies to improve data collection, analysis, and dissemination in partner countries. Through technical assistance on surveys, workshops to build data analytic capacity, and support in developing gender factbooks and other dissemination tools, the SGS project is working to close reporting gaps. Moreover, resources developed through the SGS project are shared publicly as a global good to support others looking to conduct similar work.

Taken together, this work will generate the data necessary for sounder economic and development policies that center the realities of women and men.

This blog is an output of the Strengthening Gender Statistics project. Team members include Anna Bonfert, Sarah Bunker, Talip Kilic, Heather Moylan, Miriam Muller, and Kolobadia Nayihouba.

[i] The assessment draws on 22 indicators, two of which are split into parts (a) and (b) and counted separately, for a total of 24 indicators.


Anna Tabitha Bonfert

Data Scientist, Gender Group

Sarah Bunker

Data Fellow, Gender Group, World Bank

Kiran Correa

Consultant, Strengthening Gender Statistics (SGS) project, World Bank

Heather Moylan

Senior Economist, Living Standards Measurement Study (LSMS), World Bank

Kolobadia Nayihouba

Statistician economist, Strengthening Gender Statistics (SGS) project, World Bank

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