Friday, April 14, 2006


Isn't that a mouthful? Anyway, Broadsheet put me on the trail to this article analyzing women and the world economy. While I found myself puzzled by the phrase "feminisation of the workforce,"I enjoyed this piece quite a bit.

Here's a nibble:

In poor countries too, the under-utilisation of women stunts economic growth. A study last year by the World Economic Forum found a clear correlation between sex equality (measured by economic participation, education, health and political empowerment) and GDP per head. Correlation does not prove the direction of causation. But other studies also suggest that inequality between the sexes harms long-term growth.

In particular, there is strong evidence that educating girls boosts prosperity. It is probably the single best investment that can be made in the developing world. Not only are better educated women more productive, but they raise healthier, better educated children. There is huge potential to raise income per head in developing countries, where fewer girls go to school than boys. More than two-thirds of the world's illiterate adults are women.

It is sometimes argued that it is shortsighted to get more women into paid employment. The more women go out to work, it is said, the fewer children there will be and the lower growth will be in the long run. Yet the facts suggest otherwise. Chart 3 shows that countries with high female labour participation rates, such as Sweden, tend to have higher fertility rates than Germany, Italy and Japan, where fewer women work. Indeed, the decline in fertility has been greatest in several countries where female employment is low.

It seems that if higher female labour participation is supported by the right policies, it need not reduce fertility. To make full use of their national pools of female talent, governments need to remove obstacles that make it hard for women to combine work with having children. This may mean offering parental leave and child care, allowing more flexible working hours, and reforming tax and social-security systems that create disincentives for women to work.

Countries in which more women have stayed at home, namely Germany, Japan and Italy, offer less support for working mothers. This means that fewer women take or look for jobs; but it also means lower birth rates because women postpone childbearing. Japan, for example, offers little support for working mothers: only 13% of children under three attend day-care centres, compared with 54% in America and 34% in Britain.

Despite the increased economic importance of women, they could become more important still: more of them could join the labour market and more could make full use of their skills and qualifications. This would provide a sounder base for long-term growth. It would help to finance rich countries' welfare states as populations age and it would boost incomes in the developing world. However, if women are to get out and power the global economy, it is surely only fair that men should at last do more of the housework.