The headline message of the 2017 OECD report on the Implementation of Gender recommendations reads ‘Some Progress on Gender Equality but Much Left to Do.’ This resonates with this year’s update of the Women in Work Index, which shows that OECD countries have made progress towards greater female economic empowerment but this pace of change has been gradual.
The Nordic countries, particularly Iceland, Sweden and Norway, continue to occupy the top three positions on the Index. Of the total 33 OECD countries, all have charted improvements in absolute terms from last year, with the exception of Finland, Switzerland, Chile and Australia.
The UK has fallen back from 14th to 15th position. Although it has made strides in female employment prospects, its gains have been outpaced by improvements in female job market conditions and gender pay gap elsewhere.
The gender pay gap continues to be a policy focus in the UK, starting with increased transparency. From 5 April 2017, British employers with more than 250 staff must publish data on their gender pay gaps. Early disclosures reveal just how far we have to go to close the gap, but greater transparency will help shine a light on the factors contributing to the gap and hold businesses to account to take action.
This year, we take a closer look at the drivers of the pay gap across the OECD, by exploiting cross-time and cross-country differences in the data. We find that besides structural factors, government spending on family benefits, the share of female entrepreneurs, maternity leave and occupational segregation help explain the gender pay gap.
These findings suggest that governments should focus on policy levers that provide enhanced social support to women and families to encourage participation in work. Encouraging more female entrepreneurship as well as improving opportunities for working women in higher-paying, higher-skilled roles through flexibility can also contribute to greater gender pay equality.
The prize is clear: closing the pay gap across the OECD could increase total female earnings by US$2 trillion.
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Yong Jing Teow, Author and Economist
Swati Utkarshini, Author and Economist
Foreword Saloni Goel, Author and Economist