Gender and the labor market, in Mongolia and the US

A few weeks ago, on International Women’s Day, a couple colleagues and I posted a blog on gender disparities in the labor market, arguing that Mongolia’s full economic potential was being missed as a result of these disparities. After all, women are increasingly better educated than men and could play a more active role, not only in the broader labor market, but in leadership positions in the private sector, as well. (English and Монгол)

The blog was a preview, of sorts, to a World Bank report that we launched last week, Perceptions of Precariousness: A Qualitative Study of Constraints Underlying Gender Disparities in Mongolia’s Labor Market. The report highlighted the results of qualitative research on the extent and nature of the disparities. I am a data junkie and I love surveys and quantitative data, but without the stories that come from qualitative techniques, the numbers are unexciting and do not help much in explaining why the numbers are as they are.

The United States Jobs Report came out just after International Women’s Day, and an NPR podcast ran an episode called Where the ladies at? Jobs report.  At 75.2 percent, the US female labor force participation rate is higher than Mongolia’s, but the US rate is lower than it was in 2000. The podcast’s hosts decided to focus on this aspect of the Jobs Report.

Interestingly, the explanations in the US paralleled those in Mongolia.  They argue, for example, that the growth in female LFPR since the 1970s reflected the increasing educational attainment of women and that this had helped the economy to grow.  Around 2000, however, the trend reversed in the US, even while it continued in other countries such as France, Canada, the UK, and Japan.  While the US has a very flexible labor market, it does relatively less to support working families with flexible working arrangements, leave, and childcare—much like Mongolia.  And, like Mongolia, women in the US are much more likely to say that they are not in the labor force in order to stay home with their children.  (Isabel Sawhill, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, was a guest on the podcast.)

To be clear, making markets work better is about opening up opportunities, not forcing people to work when they prefer not to. The barriers described in the report were identified by women themselves, not by the authors.

Making market work better …  As a data junkie myself, one always looking for numbers of nontraditional sorts, I couldn’t help but take a quantitative look at the 22 World Bank blog posts on gender that came out on or around International Women’s Day.  Three out of four were authored by women.  This is not surprising since women economists are much more likely to study and publish on gender issues than male economists, and the converse is true for fields like macroeconomics. At the same time, if gender disparities are making markets inefficient, one would expect the issue to have broader appeal to economists of all specializations and genders.



You can read more about the issue of women’s labor force participation in the US here, and in Mongolia here.

A pair of blogs last year highlighted some other World Bank Group research related to gender issues, here and here.

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