The Cost of the Gender Gap

Working women throughout the world have long complained of the unfairness implied by lower pay than what men receive. But the wage disparity between men and women is more than unjust. It is also economically harmful.

Economists at the International Monetary Fund have calculated that the “gender gap” costs the world billions of dollars in economic growth each year. A cross section of 40 poor and rich countries shows that there is a strong relationship between women’s economic and social status and overall economic growth. Women’s lack of education, health care, and economic and social opportunities – both absolutely and relative to men – inhibits economic growth. By contrast, economic growth ameliorates women’s subordinated condition.

In The State Of The World’s Children 2007 , UNICEF reports that gender equality renders a double dividend: healthy, educated women rear healthy, educated children. According to UNICEF, women feel greater responsibility than men for the household, and they spend more money on food, medicine, and educating children. But what UNICEF suggests as the solution for developing nations – that women be made responsible for the household and childrearing – is in fact the cause of the problem.

Indeed, the “double dividend” is a curse rather than a blessing, because it confines women to the home. Policy measures that cultivate traditional role patterns should be abolished. Instead, one must promote the economic empowerment of women to help generate economic growth.