World Employment and Social Outlook – Trends for Women

Reducing gender gaps would significantly benefit women, society and the economy

A new ILO report shows that closing the gender gap by 25% by 2025 could add EUR 410.71 billion to the EU-28 economy and boost tax revenue.

Press release | 14 June 2017
GENEVA/BRUSSELS (ILO News) – Gender gaps remain one of the most pressing challenges facing the world of work. Women are substantially less likely than men to participate in the labour market, and once in the job market, they are less likely than men to find a job and the quality of employment they do find remains a key concern, a new ILO report shows.

Helping women access the labour market is nevertheless an important first step. Yet, in 2017, the global labour force participation rate for women – at just over 49% – is nearly 27 percentage points lower than the rate for men, and is forecast to remain unchanged in 2018. The female participation rate in the EU-28 is estimated at 50.9% in 2017. This is 13 percentage points below their male counterparts, which stands at 63.9% (table 1).

In 2014, G20 leaders made a commitment to reduce the gap in participation rates between men and women by 25% by the year 2025.

The report, World Employment and Social Outlook (WESO) Trends for Women 2017, estimates that if this goal was realized at the global level, it has the potential to add US$ 5.8 trillion dollars to the global economy. This could also unlock large potential tax revenues. For example, global tax revenue could increase by US$ 1.5 trillion, most of it in emerging (US$ 990 billion) and developed countries (US$ 530 billion), the report notes. Northern Africa, the Arab States and Southern Asia would see the greatest benefits given that in these regions the gaps in participation rates between men and women exceed 50 percentage points.

Closing the gaps in participation rates in the EU-28 by 25% by 2025 would bring an additional 2.1% in GDP, adding EUR 410.71 billion (US$ 460.8 billion) to the EU-28 economy (table 1), and EUR 175.77 billion in tax revenue.

Table 1. Gender gap in labour force participation and potential impact of closing these gaps
Source: World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends for Women 2017. Participation rates and gaps for 2017 are projections

Promoting women’s well-being

On top of the significant economic benefits, engaging more women in the world of work would have a positive impact on their well-being since most women would like to work. “The fact that half of women worldwide are out of the labour force when 58% of them would prefer to work at paid jobs is a strong indication that there are significant challenges restricting their capabilities and freedom to participate,” said ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy, Deborah Greenfield.

“The most immediate concern for policy makers, therefore, should be to alleviate the constraints that women face in choosing to enter the labour market and address the barriers they are confronted with once they are in the workplace.”

Unemployment levels remain higher for women than men

When women do participate in the labour market, they are more likely than their male counterparts to be unemployed.

Globally, the unemployment rate for women stands at 6.2% in 2017, representing a gap of 0.7 percentage points from the male unemployment rate of 5.5%. In 2018, both rates of unemployment are expected to remain relatively unchanged, keeping the gap, therefore, at its current level, with no anticipated improvement in the gap before 2021 based on current trends.

Women are constrained in job opportunities

A woman’s preference and decision to participate in the labour market and their access to quality jobs can be affected by a number of factors, including discrimination, education, unpaid care work, work-family balance and marital status. Gender role conformity also plays a major role in constraining decent work opportunities for women.

“We need to start by changing our attitudes towards the role of women in the world of work and in society. Far too often some members of society still fall back on the excuse that it is “unacceptable” for a woman to have a paid job,” said Steven Tobin, lead author of the report. For example, 20% of men and 14% of women think it is not acceptable for a woman to work outside of the home.

The report calls for comprehensive measures to improve equality in labour conditions and reshape gender roles. These include promoting equal pay for work of equal value, tackling the root causes of occupational and sectoral segregation, recognize, reduce, redistribute unpaid care work, and transforming institutions to prevent and eliminate discrimination, violence and harassment against women and men in the world of work.

“Policies should also address the socio-economic factors that influence participation by introducing measures that improve work-family balance, create and protect quality jobs in the care economy and target the macroeconomic environment and informal economy,” Tobin concludes.

This year’s International Labour Conference will hold a World of Work Summit on Thursday 15 June to discuss how to shape a better future for women at work.