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Gendered social norms continue to shape labour force participation, new data show
Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking
Photo: UN Women/Pathumporn Thongking

UN Women and ILO have have joined forces to produce A Spotlight on the SDG 8: The Impact of Marriage and Children on Labour Market Participation.

This paper is being released in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to being a health crisis unlike any other in recent history, the pandemic is also an economic and social crisis. Families — and women within them — are juggling an increase in unpaid care work as well as losses in income and paid work.

The restrictions put in place to combat COVID-19 also have an effect on women’s participation in the labour market. This publication, drawing on a global dataset and new indicators developed by UN Women and the International Labour Organization in 2019, shows that women’s employment is shaped by domestic and caregiving responsibilities in ways that men’s is not. The data provide insights into the distribution of domestic and caregiving responsibilities within various types of households – insights that are critical at this juncture when policies and programmes are being designed to respond to the pandemic's economic fallout. 

Below is an excerpt from an article by Rosina Gammarano, a co-author of the paper.


At the core of our analysis: the labour force participation rate

The labour force participation rate gives the share of the working-age population who are active in the labour market, either by having a job or by seeking one (that is, either by being employed or unemployed).

The labour force participation rate has its limitations. It refers to people participating in the labour force, irrespective of whether they are employed or unemployed, and regardless of the differences in working conditions and job quality among the employed. However, in spite of this, the labour force participation rate is still a key indicator showing us the extent to which people of working age hold or would like to hold jobs.

The difference between the labour force participation rates of women and men is particularly interesting, since it can reveal gender patterns in people’s decision to integrate the labour market. This difference (often called the gender gap in labour force participation) is closely linked to how ingrained gendered social norms and stereotypical gender roles are. 

Based on data for 84 countries, the ILO-UN Women study found that the labour force participation rate of prime-age men is 95%, meaning that almost all men aged 25 to 54 participate in the labour force. Conversely, prime-age women have a labour force participation rate of 52%. This results in a shocking gender gap in labour force participation of 43 percentage points.

The gender gap varies considerably from one region to the next, mainly due to variations in female labour force participation. The male labour force participation rate is very high in all regions, whereas the female labour force participation rate is as low as 29% in Western Asia and Northern Africa and Central Asia and Southern Asia. 


Read the complete article on the ILOSTAT blog.


Rosina Gammarano is an Economist in the Data Production and Analysis Unit of the ILO Department of Statistics. She is the focal point on SDG labour market indicators, a recurrent author for Spotlight on Work Statistics and is passionate about inequality and gender issues.

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