12 Nov

Trends in Women’s Employment and Poverty Rates in OECD Countries

A Kitagawa–Blinder–Oaxaca Decomposition

Although employment growth is propagated as being crucial to reduce poverty across EU and OECD countries, the actual impact of employment growth on poverty rates is still unclear. This study presents novel estimates of the association between macro-level trends in women’s employment and trends in poverty, across 15 OECD countries from 1971 to 2013. It does so based on over 2 million household-level observations from the LIS Database, using Kitagawa–Blinder–Oaxaca (KBO) decompositions. The results indicate that an increase of 10% points in women’s employment rate was associated with a reduction of about 1% point of poverty across these countries. In part, this reduction compensated for developments in men’s employment that were associated with higher poverty. However, in the Nordic countries no such poverty association was found, as in these countries women’s employment rates were very high and stable throughout the observation period. In countries that initially showed marked increases in women’s employment, such as the Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Canada, and the United States, the initial increases in women’s employment rates were typically followed by a period in which these trends levelled off. Hence, our findings first and foremost suggest that improving gender equality in employment is associated with lower poverty risks. Yet, the results also suggest that the potential of following an employment strategy to (further) reduce poverty in OECD countries has, to a large extent, been depleted.

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