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Where Women Stand

A wide-angle look at the past two decades shows that women across advanced economies have made far-reaching gains as workers, consumers, and savers. But much of this progress has been offset by rising costs and new forms of insecurity that once again disproportionately affect women.

BERKELEY – Despite a deep recession in 2008 and a slow recovery thereafter, the first two decades of the twenty-first century were generally a time of economic progress in most advanced economies. Real (inflation-adjusted) per capita GDP in the OECD grew at a compound annual rate of 1.15% between 2000 and 2018, and employment levels steadily increased, hitting record highs in some countries.

But this growing prosperity was not shared evenly. Real average wage growth in this period was markedly slower than it was between 1995 and 2000, and real median wage growth was slower still. Work became less secure, and poverty rates (even after tax and transfer payments) rose. Moreover, gender gaps in employment and wages narrowed but remained large, and women continued to confront unique challenges as workers, consumers, and savers.

Consider the track record for women workers. Total employment across 22 advanced economies was at a record high at the beginning of 2020 (before the COVID-19 pandemic.) There were 45 million more jobs in 2018 than there were in 2000, and women held around two-thirds of them. The female labor force participation rate has grown throughout the OECD, with the exception of Norway – where it was already above average – and the United States, where it fell from 60% in 2000 to 57% in 2018. A comparison of female employment trends in Europe and the US indicates that improvements in paid maternity and paternity leave in Europe have spurred higher female labor force participation, whereas gains in female employment in the US have been held back by the absence of such policies in many states.

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