A new International Monetary Fund (IMF) report finds that progress toward levelling the playing field for women in the workforce has stalled. Christine Lagarde, Managing Director of the IMF, outlines some of the many benefits of allowing women to develop their full labour market potential.

In many countries, public debate about gender equality focuses mainly on women’s access to top positions and high-powered career opportunities. But the ‘glass ceiling’ is only a small part of the issue. The broader question is whether women have the same opportunities as men to participate in labour markets in the first place. In other words, are women empowered to contribute fully to global economic growth and prosperity?

Unfortunately, the International Monetary Fund’s latest study by its staff, Women, Work, and the Economy: Macroeconomic Gains from Gender Equity, shows that, despite some improvements, progress toward levelling the playing field for women has stalled. This is bad news for everyone, because it translates into lower economic growth – amounting to as much as 27% of per capita GDP in some countries.

Around the world, the number of women in the workforce remains far below that of men; only about half of working-age women are employed. Women account for most unpaid work, and when they
are paid, they are overrepresented in the informal sector and among the poor. They continue to be paid less than men for the same jobs, even in OECD countries, where the average gender wage gap is about 16%. And in many countries, distortions and discrimination in the labour market restrict women’s chances of equal pay and rising to senior positions.

The potential gains from a larger female workforce are striking. In Egypt, for example, if the number of female workers were raised to the same level as that of men, the country’s GDP could grow by 34%. In the United Arab Emirates, GDP would expand by 12%, in Japan by 9%, and in the US by 5%. According to a recent study based on data from the International Labour Organisation (Empowering the Third Billion: Women and the World of Work in 2012, by Booz & Company, available at: www.booz.com), of the 865 million women worldwide who could contribute more fully to their economies, 812 million live in emerging and developing countries.

Raising women’s labour-market participation rate boosts economic performance in a number of ways. For example, higher incomes for women lead to higher household spending on educating girls – a key prerequisite for faster long-term growth. Employment of women on an equal basis with men provides companies with a larger talent pool, potentially increasing creativity, innovation, and productivity. And, in advanced countries, a larger female labour force can help to counteract the impact of a shrinking workforce and mitigate the costs of an aging population.

So what underlies the persistence of gaping inequality and stalled progress? Legal, regulatory, and social discrimination against women in many countries still prevents them from seeking paid work
in the formal sector. As a result, women dominate the informal economy, where jobs are often transient and earnings are low. In addition, tax systems and social- welfare programmes in many countries are designed in ways that discourage women from working.

Against this background, government tax and spending policies, as well as labour- market regulation, should be reformed to help boost female employment. For example, taxing individual rather than family income – which in many economies imposes a higher marginal tax on the second earner in households – would encourage women to seek employment. Linking social-welfare benefits to participation in the workforce, training, or active labour-market programmes also can help, as can affordable, high-quality childcare and greater opportunities for paternity and maternity leave. In Brazil, for example, the share of women in the workforce has risen sharply over the past 20 years, from about 45% to almost 60%, owing in part to family-friendly policies.

These are just a few examples; far more can be done. Women benefit when flexible work arrangements are introduced and the barriers between part-time and full-time work contracts are lowered, as the Netherlands has successfully done. In developing countries, accessible water and better transportation systems in rural areas can help women manage their time better. Establishing and upholding equal property and inheritance rights can increase women’s access to credit and other productive resources, and creating greater awareness of legal rights in general will help reduce discrimination.

Some of these steps have been taken in recent years, but is time to jumpstart the process. We urge policymakers to take action and implement policies aimed at removing the obstacles that block women’s participation in the workforce. We at the IMF will do our part by enhancing our analysis of the economic effects of gender inequality and working with our member countries to enable women to contribute fully to global economic growth and prosperity.

Especially now, with the growth outlook uncertain in much of the world, policies that encourage more women to enter the workforce certainly can help. Women are ready, willing, and able. Take my word for it.

Christine Lagarde

Managing Director, International Monetary Fund

‘Women, Work, and the Economy: Macroeconomic Gains from Gender Equity’ was published in September 2013 and is available on the IMF website: www.imf.org.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013. www.project-syndicate.org


國際貨幣基金 (IMF) 的一份新報告指出,為女性締造公平環境的進程陷入了停滯。讓女 性充分參與勞動市場的好處甚多,IMF總裁拉加德概述其中要點。

在许多国家,性别平等的公共争论 主要集中在女性获得顶级职位和 权重职业机会的问题上。但“玻璃天 花板”只是这一问题的一小部分。更 大的问题是女性一开始是否和男性拥 有一样的机会参与劳动力市场。换句 话说:女性是否有充分機會贡献全球 经济增长和繁荣?

不幸的是,IMF的最新研究《女性、 工作和经济》(Women, Work, and the Economy) 表明,尽管有所进步,但為 女性締造公平環境的進程陷入了停滞。 这对于所有人来说都是坏消息,因为这 意味着经济增长更低 — 在一些国家, 人均GDP受拖累程度高达27%。

放眼全球,职业女性的数量仍然远低于 职业男性;只有大约一半的工作适龄女 性得到了雇用。女性从事了大部分无薪 工作,即使拿得到薪水,也大多是在非 正式部门工作,薪水低的可怜。她们与 男性仍然同工不同酬,即使在经合组织 国家也是如此(性别收入差距为16%左 右)。在许多国家,劳动力市场的扭曲和歧视限制了女性获得平等薪酬和擢升 高级职位的机会。

让更多女性工作的潜在好处是巨大 的。比如,在埃及,如果女性员工的 数量提高到与男性一样多,那么GDP将 能增加34%。在阿联酋,GDP可以扩大 12%,日本可以增加9%,美国可以增 加5%。一份基于国际劳工组织数据的 最新研究表明,全世界有8.65亿女性可 以为经济做出更充分的贡献,其中8.12 亿在新兴和发展中国家。

提高女性的劳动力市场参与率能从多 方面提高经济表现。比如,女性收 入的提高能增加家庭对女孩教育的支 出 — 这是提高长期增长率的关键 先决条件。女性获得和男性一样的平 等就业机会能扩大公司的人才库,有 助增加创造力、创新力和生产率。此 外,在发达国家,更多女性劳动力能 够有助于抵消劳动力人数下降的影 响,减轻人口老化的负担。

那么,是什么造成了不平等性的持续 和进步的停滞?许多国家不利于女性 的法律、規則和社会歧视仍在阻止她 们在正式部门寻找带薪工作。结果, 女性主要集中在地下经济中,工作不 稳定,收入很低。此外,许多国家的 税收制度和社会福利计划的设计也不 利于女性参加工作。

针对这一背景,政府税收和支出政策 以及劳动力市场监管应该进行改革以 提升女性就业。比如,向个人而不是 家庭课税 — 在许多经济体,向家庭課 稅導致家庭第二份收入的边际税率更 高 — 能鼓励女性寻找工作。将社会福利和劳动力参与掛鈎、提供培训、 积极推行劳动力市场计划、提供廉价 而高质量的儿童照顧服務以及更多的 侍產假和产假,也有助鼓勵女性就 業。比如,在巴西,女性工作者比例 在过去20年中显著上升,从约45%增 加到近60%,部分原因就在于家庭友好 型政策。

这些只是一些例子;可以做的事還有 很多。引入弹性工作安排、降低兼职 和全职工作合同的壁垒(荷兰在这方 面取得了成功),可使女性得益。在 发展中国家,农村地区供水和交通系 统的改善也有助于女性更好地管理时 间。確立並維持平等的財產擁有權和 遗产承繼权,可让女性更易获得信貸 和其他生产性资源,而提高一般法律 权利意识有助于减少歧视。

这些政策中,有几项近年來已經實 施,但我们必须加快进程。我们敦促 决策者采取行动实施政策,以消除阻 挡女性参与劳动力大军的壁垒。IMF 将做好对性别不平等的经济影响的分 析,并与成员国合作让女性能够为经 济增长和繁荣做出充分贡献。

特别是在世界大部分地区增长前景不 明的现在,鼓励更多女性参与劳动 力大军的政策必然会有所助益。女性 已经做好了准备,她们有能力也有意 愿。请相信我的话。

克里斯汀·拉加德 (Christine Lagarde) IMF总裁

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2013. www.project-syndicate.org