Closing the gender gap in education: What is the state of gaps in labour force participation for women, wives and mothers?

Publication Date01 Jun 2014
International Labour Review, Vol. 153 (2014), No. 2
Copyright © The authors 2014
Journal compilation © International Labour Organization 2014
Closing the gender gap in education:
What is the state of gaps in labour force
participation for women,
wives and mothers?
Ina GANGULI,* Ricardo HAUSMANN** and Martina VIARENGO***
Abstract. The educational gender gap has closed or reversed in many coun-
tries. But what of gendered labour market inequalities? Using micro-level census
data for some 40 countries, the authors examine the labour force participation
gap between men and women, the “marriage gap” between married and single
women’s participation, and the “motherhood gap” between mothers’ and non-
mothers’ participation. They nd signicant heterogeneity among countries in
terms of the size of these gaps, the speed at which they are changing, and the
relationships between them and the educational gap. But counterfactual regres-
sion analysis shows that the labour force participation gap remains largely un-
explained by the other gaps.
Eliminating differences in education between men and women has been
a priority of development organizations and the international commu-
nity for many years. Pursued by institutions like the United Nations and the
World Bank, the third Millennium Development Goal (MDG) aims to “elim-
inate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by
2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015”.1 Equality of educa-
tional opportunities between men and women has also been acknowledged in
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 and in the 1979 United
* SITE, Stockholm School of Economics and Harvard University, email: ina.ganguli@ ** Harvard University, email: *** The Graduate Insti-
tute, Geneva, and Harvard University, email: The authors
gratefully acknowledge the support received from the Women and Public Policy Program and the
Women’s Leadership Board at the Harvard Kennedy School, and from the Center for International
Development at Harvard University. They would also like to thank Iris Bohnet, Claudia Goldin,
Marcela Escobari, Victor Lavy and Lant Pritchett for helpful discussions.
Responsibility for opinions expressed in signed articles rests solely with their authors, and
publication does not constitute an endorsement by the ILO.
1 For a list of the Millennium Development Goals, see:
goals/gti.htm [accessed 26 May 2014].
International Labour Review174
Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against
Women.2 A key rationale for the above MDG is to contribute to the attain-
ment of other development goals, such as economic growth, world poverty
reduction, the eradication of disease and epidemics, and the improvement of
other well-being indicators. According to the World Bank (2012), “there is no
investment more effective for achieving development goals than educating
The differences in education between men and women have now dis-
appeared, or even been “reversed” in women’s favour, in almost all developed
countries and in many developing countries as well, including among cohorts
born over 60 years ago in several countries. The question, then, is whether
these countries have also made progress in eliminating other inequalities fa-
cing women in the labour market, not only in terms of broader gender equal-
ity and women’s empowerment for economic participation, but also between
married women and single women, and between mothers’ and non-mothers’
labour force participation.3 Also, how have developed countries fared relative
to developing countries in this respect?
Based on micro-level census data from some 40 countries, this article
shows how these inequalities or “gaps” have changed over time. First, we
document the closing of the gender gap in education and rank countries by
the year in which this gap closed or reversed. We then turn to analysis of the
gender gap in labour force participation, the “marriage gap” and the “mother-
hood gap”. These gaps still exist in many countries, although there is sig-
nicant heterogeneity in terms of their size and the speed at which they are
changing. Finally, we investigate the relationships between the gaps. While
our cross-country research design does not allow us to identify causality be-
tween the gaps or the impact of economic development on them,4 it does
provide a useful descriptive analysis of how they relate to one another. De-
spite the international community’s signicant focus on reducing the gender
gap in education and the remarkable reversal of the gap in so many coun-
tries, this is, to the best of our knowledge, the rst study to use micro-level
data for so many countries to study the state of these gaps and how they
have changed over time.
Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates that: “Everyone has the
right to education … and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit ...
Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strength-
ening of respect for human rights.”
3 We acknowledge the importance of other dimensions of women’s empowerment, such as
political participation, earnings and property rights protection. Eliminating gender disparity in these
areas is clearly necessary on grounds of human rights and, according to a large body of literature,
to promote development (Bandiera and Natraj, 2011). In this article, we focus on labour force par-
ticipation, which has often been regarded by international organizations as a rst step towards im-
proving women’s living standards, and as a mechanism for increasing income and economic growth.
4 See Bandiera and Natraj (2011) for a summary of existing studies on gender inequality and
development, and their limitations. These authors suggest that most of the existing literature does
not adequately address issues related to reverse causality and omitted variables.
The gender gaps in education and labour force participation 175
Research background and rationale
It has been suggested that educating girls and achieving the MDG on gender
equality in education will lead to a range of improved economic and social
outcomes for developing countries (Schultz, 2002). Evidence from recent em-
pirical work, focusing primarily on developing countries, shows that there are
indeed positive economic consequences and social externalities from improv-
ing women’s education. For example, increases in women’s education have been
associated with reductions in fertility (e.g. Osili and Long, 2008), decreases in
infant mortality and increases in life expectancy (see Dancer, Rammohan and
Smith, 2008; Behrman and Deolalikar, 1988). Overall, it appears that educating
women has benecial effects on children’s health (see Glewwe, 2000), school-
ing, and adult productivity (Lam and Duryea, 1999; Strauss and Thomas, 1995).
The benecial effects are greater than those produced by the same level of
education for fathers (see Schultz, 2002). Moreover, studies have shown that
the benets gained from expanding female education are far greater than the
benets gained from other public interventions, such as improving family plan-
ning service provision or increasing the number of physicians in the population
(Kingdon, 2002). Empirical evidence also shows that gender equality in edu-
cation leads to higher economic growth (e.g. Abu-Ghaida and Klasen, 2004),
while low investment in women’s education leads to slower economic growth
and reduced income levels (Dollar and Gatti, 1999; Klasen, 1999).
Why would increases in women’s education produce improvement in
other indicators of gender equality and socio-economic development? In an
attempt to answer this question, we now discuss the theoretical reasoning be-
hind the potential effect of narrowing the gender gap in education on women’s
labour force participation generally, on the participation of married versus un-
married women, and on the participation of those with children versus those
without children.
Education and labour force participation
The theory of human capital investment relates differences in earnings to dif-
ferences in schooling, training, and other assets (Mincer, 1974; Becker, 1991).
Specically, it relates expected lifetime labour force participation to one’s in-
centive to acquire education and training. According to this theory, education
increases the productivity and, thus, the earnings of individuals. And existing
studies have indeed established a strong causal relationship between educa-
tion and income at the individual level.5
Human capital theory explains why women have traditionally had fewer
incentives to invest in education and training given their shorter expected la-
bour force participation (Becker, 1992). Many factors have been put forward
5 At the macro level, however, the cross-country evidence linking education to growth is
inconclusive (Pritchett, 2001 and 200 6). The factors that may explain the discrepancy between
macro and micro analyses include measurement error in macro regressions and issues related to
the quality of education.

To continue reading

Request your trial