Closing Gender Gaps Beyond Education


Faculty Researcher Ricardo Hausmann, Professor of the Practice of Economic Development, Harvard Kennedy School Paper Title Closing the Gender Gap in Education: Does it Foretell the Closing of the Employment, Marriage, and Motherhood Gaps? Coauthor Ina Ganguli; Martina Viarengo, Harvard Kennedy School

The gender gap in education — the disparity in schooling between men and women — has been closed and even reversed in almost all developed and many developing countries. But, according to new findings by Harvard researchers, the connection between the closing of the education gap and the reduction in other gaps affecting women, such as participation in the workforce, is currently weak and differs widely among countries.

Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Center for International Development and professor of the practice of economic development; Ina Ganguli, a doctoral fellow at Harvard’s Center for International Development; and Martina Viarengo, a postdoctoral fellow in Harvard Kennedy School’s Women and Public Policy Program, used census data from 40 countries to examine the status of gender inequalities.

Among the countries included in the study sample, 27 have closed the education gap (most have done so by the early 2000s), while in the 13 remaining, men still have higher levels of schooling than women. For instance, the gap has closed in Vietnam and has reversed significantly in Mongolia, Venezuela, Argentina, Brazil, and Greece. Among the 10 Latin American countries studied, the gap has closed or reversed in eight, with only Mexico and Bolivia remaining. An interesting finding is that although the education gap has declined in the majority of countries, it’s increasing in India. Because India is the second most populous country in the world, the authors suggest that its increasing gender gap warrants further study. Belarus was the first country in the sample to close the gap (for the cohort born in 1945), and South Africa and Romania closed it most recently (for those born in 1975). In the United States the gap was first closed for those born in 1946, but the United States lagged behind 10 other countries in that achievement.

Among several key findings regarding the labor participation gap is that Rwanda is the only country where women’s participation in the labor force is higher than men’s — which, the authors note, may be a consequence of the 1994 genocide. Other African countries, and former or current communist countries, also show high female labor force participation rates.

In examining the marriage gap — the difference in employment rates between married or cohabiting women and single women — the authors find that in countries where women’s employment is below 20 percent, fewer married women work relative to single women. The Arab countries studied — Palestine, Iraq, and Jordan — where the marriage gap is the highest, fall into this category.

Not surprisingly, research on the motherhood gap — the disparity in workforce participation between women with children and those without — reveals that women with children tend to work less than women without children, with the gap largest in Chile, followed by Costa Rica and Argentina. The authors found that several countries have a positive motherhood gap: women with children work more than women without children. In Rwanda, the difference is almost 10 percent, and Iraq and Palestine, the countries with the lowest employment rates for women, also have positive motherhood gaps.

“What we’ve found in this study is that education is not a silver bullet — it is one important aspect of empowering women, but making the labor market compatible with marriage and motherhood remains a task to be completed in many countries,” Hausmann says. One puzzling finding that warrants further study is that as the gender education gap reverses and women become more educated than men, it is harder for an educated woman to find an educated husband.

— by Lori Shridhare

“Making the labor market compatible with marriage and motherhood remains a task to be completed in many countries”

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