New times, old perspectives?

Why is gender still an issue? Idea Factory
Directorate for Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, works on the OECD project on gender

The long road towards gender equality has arrived at greater educational attainment, higher female labour force participation, and advances in politics and business, but we haven’t reached the end yet. 

Even though in OECD countries 40% of women versus 31% of men obtain a tertiary degree, only 65% of women versus 79% of men participate in the labour force, and they earn 16% less than men and face a higher risk of poverty in old age. With few exceptions, women’s representation on corporate boards is under 15% and in parliaments it is rarely above 35%.

Why do the old challenges persist? Partly because the “new” role of women in the economy has not translated into a change at the family level. Women devote over two hours a day more to unpaid work than men in OECD countries (and up to five hours more in other countries).

Although it is hard to disentangle the influence of family, social attitudes, institutions or the working environment on choices, allowing equal economic opportunities is an important long-term investment for individuals and society alike. 

Indeed, as well as the moral imperative, women’s active contribution to the economy results in better use of human resources and greater potential growth. It also helps to address growing demographic concerns and to promote innovation and competitiveness in business.

In that regard though, the number of women enrolled in science courses is still higher than the number of women actually employed in research or other technical fields, partly because of the organisational structure of the workplace. Male-dominated environments can be an obstacle for a woman, especially if as a mother she has to put in long hours and travel at short notice.

That said, men might be under pressure too. What does your average employer think when his male employee takes sick leave because his children are ill or says no to a business trip because of an upcoming birthday?

It is clear that equality does not take care of itself and that policy interventions are required. But this should be complemented by men and women joining forces and sharing responsibilities. Dad can cook the dinner and let Mum take the kids to the football game. 

Read the Idea Factory debate in OECD Yearbook 2012

See also:


©OECD Yearbook 2012

Economic data


Stay up-to-date with the latest news from the OECD by signing up for our e-newsletter :

Twitter feed

Suscribe now

<b>Subscribe now!</b>

To receive your exclusive print editions delivered to you directly

Online edition
Previous editions

Don't miss

  • Do you know the OECD’s web ending? Or which Serbian American engineer is famous for his electric cars? Try our latest OECD Observer crossword. It’s full of fun facts, simplex in style, and gives you the solution at the tip of a button. You can time yourself too.
  • French Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron came to the OECD on 18 September for a webcast discussion on economic reforms, inequality and the outlook, with OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurría. You can watch the event by clicking on the photo.
  • The UN summit on the Sustainable Development Goals is just over a week away, and the OECD will be there in force. See our special SDG webpage.
  • Climate change: “We should not disagree when scientists tell us we have a window of opportunity–10-15 years–to turn this thing around” argues Senator Bernie Sanders.
  • Passionate about international taxation? The Institute for Austrian and International Tax Law is currently looking for a Research and Teaching Associate at the Christian Doppler Laboratory. For further information, click here.
  • In the long-run, the EU benefits from migration, says OECD Head of International Migration Division Jean-Christophe Dumont.
  • Is technological progress slowing down. Is it speeding up? At the OECD, we believe the research from our Future of ‪Productivity‬ project helps to resolve this paradox.
  • An employee prepares breakfast in front of the Eiffel tower at the Parisian luxury hotel Le Plaza Athenee, France July 30, 2015. Nowhere in the world has more accommodation available on Airbnb than Paris. Now the home-sharing website that has transformed budget travel to the French capital is giving its super-deluxe hotels a fright too (©REUTERS/Stephane Mahe).
  • Is inequality bad for growth? That redistribution boosts economies is not established by the evidence says FT economics editor Chris Giles. Read more on
  • On 19-20 September, come and visit the OECD to learn more about our home and our work.
  • Low interest rates here to stay for half a century, says OECD director Adrian Blundell-Wignall.
  • OECD speak on support it will offer to Greek
  • Bill Gates visited the OECD on 26 June. He met with the Secretary-General Angel Gurría to discuss areas of collaboration with his foundation and participated at a briefing session on official development assistance modernisation with OECD experts.
  • The People’s Republic of China decided to enhance longstanding collaboration with the OECD and to join the OECD Development Centre, in a historic visit by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang on 1 July to the OECD in Paris.
  • In order to face global warming, Asia needs at least $40 billion per year, derived from both the public and private sector. Read how to bridge the climate financing gap on the Asian Bank of Development's website.
  • One dollar in aid for trade generates eight dollars in extra trade for all developing countries and 20 dollars for low-income countries. Read OECD Secretary General's post on the newly released Aid for Trade at a glance 2015.
  • Catherine Mann, OECD Chief Economist, explains on Bloomberg why "too much bank lending can slow economic growth".
  • Interested in a career in Paris at the OECD? The OECD is a major international organisation, with a mission to build better policies for better lives. With our hub based in one of the world's global cities and offices across continents, find out more at .
  • Come va la vita in Italia? How's life in Italy? The OECD Better Life Index is an interactive online platform in seven languages that goes beyond GDP by offering important insights into measuring well-being and quality of life. Try it for yourself!
  • The IMF calls for a decisive energy subsidy reform in order to use the freed resources to meet critical public spending needs and to reduce pollution ahead of the Paris climate change summit.
  • Have a look at these posters representing a world without fundamental rights at work – including child labour, forced labour and inequality. Read more about this ILO image competition here.

Most Popular Articles


What issue are you most concerned about in 2015?

Euro crisis
Global warming
International conflict

OECD Insights Blog

NOTE: All signed articles in the OECD Observer express the opinions of the authors
and do not necessarily represent the official views of OECD member countries.

All rights reserved. OECD 2015