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Global Employment Trends for Women 2012

Labour market gender gap: Two steps forward, one step back

The gender gap in global labour markets showed some convergence in the earlier part of the last decade but increased after the crisis erupted in 2007, according to an ILO report produced in collaboration with UN Women. The picture varies considerably among regions.

News | 11 December 2012

GENEVA (ILO News) – Women face higher unemployment rates than men globally, with no improvements likely in the coming years, according to an ILO report.

The ILO’s Global Employment Trends for Women 2012 looks at the gender gap in unemployment, employment, labour force participation, vulnerability, and segregation in jobs and economic sectors.

Globally, the gap in unemployment and employment-to-population ratios was moving towards convergence before the crisis. The crisis reversed this trend in the hardest-hit regions.

Guaranteeing equal opportunities for women and men is not just the right thing to do. It’s smart economics.”
In the advanced countries, the crisis seems to have affected men in trade- dependent sectors more than women in health and education. In developing countries, women were strongly hit in trade-related sectors.

“While women worldwide contribute to the economy and its productivity, they continue to face many barriers that prevent them from realising their full economic potential. This is not only holding back women; it is holding back economic performance and growth,” said Michelle Bachelet, Executive Director of UN Women, which contributed to the report. ”Guaranteeing equal opportunities for women and men is not just the right thing to do. It’s smart economics,” she added.

Other key findings are:

  • From 2002 to 2007, the female unemployment rate was 5.8 per cent, compared with 5.3 per cent for males. The crisis raised this gap from 0.5 to 0.7 percentage points, and destroyed 13 million jobs for women.
  • The gender gap in employment-to-population ratios inched down before the crisis, but remained high at 24.5 points. The reduction was particularly strong in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle-East and in advanced economies.
  • The gap in labour force participation converged in the 1990s, but showed little or no convergence in the last decade. Both men’s and women’s participation rates fell equally in the last decade, mainly because of education, ageing and the “discouraged worker” effect.
  • In 2012, the share of women in vulnerable employment, (contributing family workers plus own account workers), was 50 per cent and that of men was 48 per cent. But there were much larger gaps in North Africa (24 percentage points), and in the Middle East and Sub-Saharan Africa (15 points).
  • The sectoral segregation measure shows that women are more limited in their choice of employment across sectors. Sectoral segregation increased over time with women moving out of agriculture in developing economies and out of industry and into services in developed economies.
  • In advanced economies, women’s employment in industry halved, crowding 85 per cent of them into services, primarily in education and health.
  • The occupational segregation measure shows that women continue to be segregated into particular types of occupations. There is some evidence of a decline in the gap in the 1990s and a stalling of this convergence in the last decade.


Tackling the issue


“Policies to reduce gender gaps can significantly improve economic growth and standards of living, and in developing countries can be a major contribution to poverty reduction” said José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, ILO Executive-Director for Employment.

The report calls for the expansion of social protection measures to reduce women’s vulnerabilities, investments in skills and education, and policies to promote access to employment.

The report lists a number of policy guidelines to help households reduce gender bias in their work decisions and gender gaps in the labour market:

  • Improving infrastructure to reduce the burden of housework. Depending on the level of development, this can range from the availability of electricity and water, to sanitation, roads and transportation facilities.
  • Providing care services, particularly child care.
  • Balancing the gender division of paid and unpaid work, mainly programs to increase fathers’ parenting shares.
  • Changing the costs and benefits of gender specialisation – mainly ensuring that taxes and transfers do not create disincentives for dual earner families.
  • Compensating for unequal employment opportunities based on gender, such as measures to eliminate the adverse impact of career breaks, through well-paid leave and right of return to post.
  • Public campaigns to challenge gender stereotypes and to ensure the proper implementation of legislation against discrimination.

Tags: employment, gender equality

Regions and countries covered: Global

Unit responsible: Department of Communication (DCOMM)

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