- A massive new study of economic data found that women’s income share hasn’t changed much in 30 years.
- This is despite the fact that women’s educational attainment has surpassed men’s in many countries.
- Part of the reason for the gap is that women spend “substantially more time” doing unpaid care work.
Worldwide, women only make about a third of all labor income, but that doesn’t mean they work less.
This number has barely changed since 1990, even though the amount of college-educated women has outstripped that of men in many countries since then.
Overall, women’s share of global labor income was about 30% in the early 1990s, and today, it’s just under 35%, according to the World Inequality 2022 Report, the first report of its kind, written by leading experts on economic inequality including Thomas Piketty, Gabriel Zucman, and Emmanuel Saez.
“In a gender equal world, women would earn 50% of all labor income,” the team wrote. “In 30 years, progress has been very slow at the global level, and dynamics have been different across countries, with some recording progress but others seeing reductions in women’s share of earnings.”
There are a number of structural reasons for why the labor force is so gender unequal throughout the world: sexism that keeps women from advancing in certain industries, or that shuts them out from certain careers completely. Women also perform a disproportionate amount of care work, such as for children and elderly family members, which precludes them from seeking paid jobs.
The following chart from the report highlights just how little progress has been made in three decades:
"I think that this report in particular, it just shines the light that it's clear: Women's work is undervalued," Jasmine Tucker, director of research at the National Women's Law Center, told Insider. "Women are underpaid and the wage gap is sort of pervasive around the world."
Despite women often being more educated than men, the report identified the key factors to closing the gender pay gap. The first major issue is the different value placed on different types of work and the limited career growth opportunities available by gender.
In both cases, the issue is access. Certain industries exclude women, and certain industries hinder the achievement potential of women once they get there.
Women take up a low number of entry-level positions in the automotive industry, for example, a McKinsey report found in 2016: just 26%.
Technology is similarly forbidding: McKinsey found women hold 37% of entry-level roles in the sector.
And in healthcare and pharmaceutical companies, women are overrepresented at the entry level (59%) but represent a minority of those promoted.
Why women are getting paid less — and where in the world progress has stagnated
The gender inequalities chapter of the report, which is based on the research of T. Neef and A.-S. Robilliard, found that not much of an increase in the places where women's share of labor income has gone up from 30 years ago. In North America, for instance, the share has increased from 34% to 38% over three decades. In China, it's actually dropped.
The following chart from the report shows just how the share of women's labor income in different areas of the world has changed:
"There are things that we need to be doing to make sure that we're moving in the right direction, that women will make up at some point 50% of all of the earnings, and we have to make it so that they can work if they want to," Tucker said. This includes things like raising the minimum wage and paid leave.
Part of the reason for persisting gaps worldwide is that women spend "substantially more time" than men doing unpaid care work, for children, for instance. This is true across regions.
"Women's labor is devalued across the world. Women are disproportionately taking on caregiving responsibilities across the world, and all of those things are playing a factor in women's wages," Tucker said.
The pandemic has only made things worse with women taking on more caregiving roles and in some cases even having to exit the labor force because of childcare issues, such as no spots for their child at a daycare. Tucker said the US can be "doing more" to support women who want to work.
"That would bring in earnings for tons of families or bring in more earnings if women have only been able to be part-time workers or if they've had to drop out of the labor force temporarily due to the pandemic."