7 Mar 2014 11:42am

Countries gain from women's economic participation

March 8 is International Women’s Day, but Catalyst's new report, Women in the World, reveals that women are missing from the economies of many regions across the globe

The report, based on data from a variety of global organisations and sources, examines three important global trends -shifting demographics, access to education, and progress toward equality - and reveals the impact of these trends on women and workforces across regions.

It shows that women’s advancement can have a powerful ripple effect. For example, increasing the levels of female employment comparable to male levels could raise the gross domestic product (GDP) by 5% in the United States, 9% in Brazil, 9% in Japan, 11% in Italy, 12% in the United Arab Emirates, and 27% in India.

According to the report, one of the greatest challenges to the world currently and over the next half century is the rapidly ageing global population and its effect on the labour force. By 2050, it is projected that 21% of the world's population will be 60 years or older, compared with 12% in 2013. In Germany and Italy, over a quarter of the population is already this age.

The labour pool is therefore shrinking. In 2010, for the first time more workers overall retired in Europe than entered the workforce.

Globally, women represented just over half (51%) of those enrolled in tertiary education in 2007, a 5 percentage point increase from 1990

This older population is predominantly female, especially in certain developed regions. (Though this is projected to narrow as men’s life expectancy increases, the gap will not close completely). By 2050, more than a third of all the women 65 years or older will live in India or China.

This demographical shift could be mitigated considerably by increasing women’s participation in the workforce. Although the situation in Europe and other regions is complex, equipping women-particularly with the technical and hard skills most in demand - is part of the solution to improve women’s status and countries’ economies.

A fundamental tool in this process is access to education. Encouragingly, women have made enormous strides in education worldwide. Globally, women represented just over half (51%) of those enrolled in tertiary education in 2007, a 5 percentage point increase from 1990.

Yet there are still barriers for many young women which can affect their future earning power, particularly in developing nations. One extra year of secondary school, beyond national averages for girls, can increase their future wages by 10% to 20% one study revealed. Furthermore, increasing the share of girls in secondary education by just one percentage point will raise a country’s annual per capita income growth by 0.3 percentage points.

Investing in girls’ and women’s education results in very high economic and social gains (says the UN). Educated women, according to the UN, are also more likely to marry later, have smaller and healthier families, work and earn income, and invest in their own children, breaking negative cycles for the next generation.

Yet there are still countries in which women are not permitted to drive, vote, own property, or even open a bank account in their own names. In 15 countries husbands can even prevent their wives from accepting jobs.

Governments and businesses have the power to stimulate economies by removing barriers to allow women to enter and advance in the workplace. We know that when countries have passed laws and policies related to employment, minimum schooling, and access to credit for women, they in turn have smaller pay gaps, more women doing paid work, and more women in senior roles.

It shouldn't be forgotten that women have made incredible gains in the last 50 years but by many measures, particularly in mature economies, progress has slowed or stalled.

Today, only 24% of senior management roles globally are filled by women, but the G7 group of nations, including the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the United States, reached only 21%. Interestingly, developing markets sometimes had higher levels of women in senior management roles, including in Brazil, India, Russia, and China (BRIC economies at 28%), Southeast Asia (32%) and the Baltic states (40%).

Finland, Norway, and Sweden are at the forefront of the developed world in the percentage of women on corporate boards, and both France and Italy have seen increases due to recently enacted laws. However women still only make up 16.6% of the seats of the major publicly listed companies in the EU.

In Canada and the United States women’s representation on corporate boards and in corporate leadership has been extremely slow.

Now, as we approach International Women's Day, we call on leaders to ensure that women globally are as educated, as capable of earning money (and at the same levels as men), and as in control of their physical lives as men - not just because it’s fair, but because the economic empowerment of women positively impacts the prosperity, health, stability, and security of entire societies. 

Sibylle Rupprecht is executive director of Catalyst Europe. Read the full report here.


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