International Women's day

Towards a better future for women and work: Voices of women and men – Summary of key findings

ILO, in collaboration with Gallup, surveyed men and women in 2016 to understand their perceptions about women and work. The results, based on interviews with nearly 149,000 adults in 142 countries and territories, suggest that women might find support in their quest for productive employment and decent work coming from a rather unexpected source: men.

Briefing note | 08 March 2017
While gender equality is still far from being achieved and the findings show real divides still exist in many regions of the world, it also appears men and women are not always as far apart in their attitudes as conventional wisdom might lead them – and governments, employers and workers’ organizations – to assume.

Worldwide, the majority of women would prefer to be working, and men agree.

A total of 70 per cent of women and a similar 66 per cent of men would prefer that women work at paid jobs. Each of these figures is more than double the percentages of those who would prefer women to stay at home.

This total notably includes a majority of women who are not currently in the workforce. But more importantly, this is true in almost all regions worldwide, including several regions where women’s labour force participation is traditionally low, such as the Arab States.

Most men and women think it is acceptable for the women in their families to have paid jobs outside their home if they want one.

Majorities of women and men in every region of the world agree that work outside the home is acceptable for women in their families, although women are generally slightly more likely to feel this way than men are. Even in Northern Africa, where women’s and men’s attitudes are farthest apart, 79 per cent of women and 57 per cent of men believe work outside the home is acceptable.

Families play a significant role in shaping these attitudes: Among women in households in which it is not acceptable for women to work outside the home, 61 per cent say that they prefer to stay at home. Slightly more than one-third (36 per cent) would like to work at paid jobs.

Almost universally, men and women mention the “balance between work and family” as one of the top challenges that working women in their countries face.

In fact, people in the vast majority of countries mention “balance between work and family” as one of the top challenges facing women who work at paid jobs in their countries. With a few exceptions, women and men in most regions of the world identify the same top challenges for working women in their countries.

At the same time, women face different challenges in various parts of the world. Balancing work and family is the No. 1 challenge in developed and emerging economies, while unfair treatment at work is the most frequently mentioned concern in developing economies. Lack of affordable care for children and relatives is a bigger challenge in emerging and developing economies than it is in developed ones. And unequal pay tops the list only in developed economies.

If a woman has similar education and experience to a man, women and men worldwide are most likely to say that she has the same opportunity to find a good job in the city or area where they live.

Women and men share similar views on women’s employment: About four in ten believe women have the same opportunity to find a good job, while at least one in four believes women have either better or – on the other side of the spectrum – worse opportunities.

These attitudes vary, however, from region to region, largely based on women’s educational attainment and their level of participation in the workforce. Worldwide, the more educated women are, the less likely they are to see better opportunities in the job market for women who are similarly qualified as men. Men’s views do not change much with their education.

Worldwide, the majority of employed women say what they earn is at least a significant source of their household’s income. More than one in four women say they provide the main income for their households, but men are still more likely to say they provide the main source of income.

This pattern holds in every part of the world except for Eastern Asia. In this sub-region, the majority of employed women (61 per cent) see their contribution as a small source of income, and only 35 per cent see their earnings contributing at least a significant amount to their household income.

In every region, however, the gender gap shrinks with education. The gap among employed women and men who say they make a small contribution to their household’s income is also smaller among those with higher levels of education.

While the global trends suggest that women and men share some common ground in each of these areas, women face unique challenges in every region and every demographic. The following report will detail those challenges (as well as successes) and demonstrate through the data what work lies ahead and how daunting the task will be to bring more equality to the world of work.