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close this book Development in practice: Toward Gender Equality
close this folder Definitions and Data Notes
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View the document Data Notes
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View the document Why Do Gender Inequalities Persist?
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Why Do Gender Inequalities Persist?

The causes of the persistent inequality between men and women are only partially understood. In recent years attention has focused on inequalities in the allocation of resources at the household level. as seen in the higher share of education, health. and food expenditures boys receive in comparison with girls. The decisionmaking process within households is complex and is influenced by social and cultural norms market opportunities, and institutional factors. There is considerable proof that the intrahousehold allocation of resources is a key factor in determining the levels of schooling. health. and nutrition accorded household members.

Inequalities in the allocation of household resources matter because education, health. and nutrition are strongly [hiked to well-being, economic efficiency. and growth. Low levels of educational attainment and poor health and nutrition aggravate poor living conditions and reduce an individual's capacity to work productively. Such economic inefficiency represents a significant loss to society and hampers future economic growth.

Social returns to investments in women's education and health a? e significantly greater than for similar investment in men.

The social and economic losses are greatest when women are denied access to basic education and health care. Data from around the world show that private returns to investments in education are the same for women as for men and may even be marginally higher (Psacharopoulos 1994). More importantly. social returns (that is, total benefits to society) to investment in women's education and health are significantly greater than for similar investments in men, largely because of the strong correlation between women's education, health, nutritional status. and fertility levels and the education. health, and productivity of future generations. These correlation are even stronger when women have control over the way resources are allocated within the household.

Wage differentials between women and men in the market are closely linked to educational levels and work experience. since on average. women earn 30-40 percent less than teen' it is not surprising that fewer women than men participate in the labor force. This wage disparity, reinforced by discriminality institutional norms, in turn influences the intrahousehold division of resources. A vicious circle ensues as households invest less in daughters than in sons in the belief that investment in girls yields fewer benefits. As a result. many women are unable to work outside the household because they lack the education or experience that men have.

The decision not to participate in the labor force does not necessarily reflect a woman's own choice, no' does it always correspond to the optimum use of household resources. Furthermore. the market wage does not take into account the social benefits of educating and hiring women. Discrimination in households and in the market carries not only private costs for individuals and households but social costs for society as well.

Public policies for reducing gender inequalities are therefore essential for counteracting market failure and improving the well-being of all members of society. Investing in women's education and health expands their choices in labor markets and other income-generating activities and increases the rate of return on a household's most valuable asset-its labor.

The decision to allocate women's time to the type of non wage work women typically carry out within the household. such as child care. food preparation, and, in low-income countries especially, subsistence farming and the collection of fuel wood and water, has less to do with economics than with social conventions and norms. These nones can have a strong influence on the household division of labor, even in industrial economies, where women's levels of human capital are equal to-and some times higher than those of most men

The economy pays to this inequality in reduced labour productivity today and diminished national output tomorrow

Whether this division of labor is appropriate is, essentially, for society to decide. However. there is no doubt that women's entry into the labor market and other spheres of the economy is directly affected by the extensive amounts of time they traditionally devote to household maintenance and family care. Most men do not make similar allocations of time in the home. Such inequality constrains women's employment choices and can limit girls' enrollment in schools. The economy pays for this inequality in reduced labor productivity today and diminished national output tomorrow. Public policy can address inequalities in the household division of labor by supporting initiatives that reduce the amount of time women spend doing unpaid work. Examples of such interventions include improved water and sanitation services, rural electrification, and batter transport infrastructure.

Constraints on female employment opportunities arising from the household division of labor are compounded by institutional norms operating within the labor market. Although overt wage discrimination is illegal in many countries, employers frequently segregate jobs or offer less training to women workers. Employers often perceive the returns to investing in women workers as lower than those for men mainly because of women's primary role in childbearing.

Lack of access to financial services, to land, and to intonation and technology compounds the unequal treatment of women. Requirements for collateral, high transaction costs, and limited mobility and education contribute to women s inability to obtain credit. When women do have access to credit, the effect on household and individual well-being is striking. Bon-owing by women is linked to increased holdings of non-land assets, to improve in the health status of female children, and to an increased probability that girls will enroll in school. Independent access to land is associated with higher productivity and. in some cases, with greater investments by women in land conservation.