Lack of support for motherhood hurting women’s career prospects, despite gains in education and employment, says OECD


17/12/2012 - Women pay a high price for motherhood, with steep childcare costs, availability or access to such facilities, and taxes deterring many from working more, according to a new OECD report.

Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now says that gains in female education attainment have contributed to a worldwide increase in women’s participation in the labour force, but considerable gaps remain in working hours, conditions of employment and earnings.

In OECD countries men earn on average 16% more than women in similar full-time jobs. At 21%, the gender gap is even higher at the top of the pay scale, suggesting the continued presence of a glass ceiling. Even though there has been progress in narrowing the gender gap in pay, especially in employment, this is not enough and much remains to be done in many countries.

"Closing the gender gap must be a central part of any strategy to create more sustainable economies and inclusive societies,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría said at the launch of the report at the OECD Gender Forum in Paris. “The world’s population is ageing and this challenge can only be mastered if all the talent available is mobilised. Governments should make further progress in the access and quality of education for all, improve tax and benefits systems, and make childcare more affordable, in order to help women contribute more to economic growth and a fairer society."



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The average pay gap between men and women widens to 22% in families with one or more children. For couples without children, the gap is 7%. Overall the wage penalty for having children is on average 14%, with Japan and Korea showing the greatest gap, while Italy and Spain have almost none.

 Improving the tax and benefit system for working parents would help tack the gap. After accounting for childcare, more than half (52%) of a family’s second wage is effectively taxed away. This proportion rises to 65% and above in Australia, Germany, Ireland, Switzerland, the United States and the United Kingdom.

If childcare eats up one wage, there is often little or no financial gain from both parents working or at least working full-time. Part-time work among women is most common in Austria, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and the UK. Taking into account part-time work, the gender wage gap in take-home pay doubles in many European countries, and triples in Ireland and the Netherlands.

 In many countries, during the crisis women have suffered less than men in terms of employment and married women have often been able to cushion household earnings by working more. But crisis-driven cuts in public sector employment, where women account for just under 60% of the total workforce, will worsen womens’ position in the labour market in coming years. Governments must make sure that spending cuts do not reverse progress made in gender equality in employment, says the OECD. Increasing a father's individual entitlement to parental leave on a “use it or lose it” basis may increase a father's share in caring on a longer term basis. Men are key to increasing female labour market participation: countries with the smallest gender gap in unpaid work are those which the highest female employment rates.


The impact of pay inequality is dramatic over a woman’s lifetime. Having worked less in formal employment, but having carried out much more unpaid work at home, many women will retire on lower pensions and see out their final years in poverty. Living an average of nearly 6 years longer than men, women over 65 are today more than one and a half times more likely to live in poverty than men in the same age bracket.

The report also presents new evidence of the gender gap in entrepreneurship. The proportion of women-owned businesses is around 30% in OECD countries. Self-employed women also earn 30 to 40% less than their male counterparts. Improving women’s access to business financing is key, says the OECD.

In education, women have made great gains worldwide over the past two decades, although girls still suffer from unequal access to education in some developing countries. In OECD countries once in education girls outperform boys in many subjects and are more likely to stay at school until 18 and beyond. But girls are less likely to choose science or technology subjects. To get more girls to follow careers in these high-earning, skilled professions, the OECD recommends raising awareness of the consequences of educational choices on career and earnings prospects. Yet a shift in perceptions and social norms takes time and needs to take place both at school and at home. Societies must also do their best to take advantage of this increased investment in human capital, as school attainment increases are not fully reflected in women participation in the labor force.

>> Country notes are available for Austria, Belgium, Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.

>> There will be a presentation of the OECD Gender report on December 20 at the OECD Mexico Center, Av. Presidente Masaryk 526, 1er piso, Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, C.P 11560. To register, contact Carolina Ziehl, OECD Mexico Centre (+ 52 55 9 138 6235 or

>> Interactive charts and downloadable data are available at

>> For more information or comment, journalists should contact the report’s lead authors, Willem Adema (tel.+ 33 1 45 24 15 57) or Angelica Salvi del Pero (tel. + 33 1 45 24 91 53) of the OECD’s Social Policy division.

>> The report is available on the journalist protected site or from the OECD's Media Division on + 33 1 45 24 97 00



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