Do we really have a good picture of women’s well-being?

OECD Statistics Directorate

Lack of data limits the ability to measure women’s conditions in an accurate and comprehensive way, and to make informed decisions about how women and girls fare. The post-2015 development agenda will translate into an increased demand for gender statistics that are regularly produced and provide solid and objective evidence.

However, there are many data gaps in national and international monitoring of gender inequality, particularly in less-traditional areas of official statistics. Countries face many challenges in mainstreaming the gender dimension into data production, analysis and dissemination.

To address this, the OECD is working with the United Nations and the World Bank through the Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE) Initiative to build national capacity to produce and disseminate gender statistics and create standards for data collection. We are also contributing to improving access to gender statistics through our Gender Data Portal, which gathers information on various topics of relevance to the post-2015 development agenda, including education, employment, entrepreneurship, unpaid work.

In terms of the metrics themselves, gender parity is not sufficient for measuring gender equality. Indicators that measure the quality of change are also necessary. For example, women may have similar rates of paid employment as men but this does not mean that they are paid the same or that they have the same opportunities for career advancement. Across OECD countries, women working full-time earn on average 16% less than men, although there is substantial variation amongst countries. Moreover, wage penalties increase as women get older and have children. Among women of child-bearing age who work full-time, those with children earn 22% less than men and 7% less than childless women. Conventional statistics do not measure the security of jobs either, which is particularly important since women’s paid employment is often more vulnerable than men’s, especially in developing countries. The OECD’s work on job quality may shed new light on the working conditions that women face around the world.

Women do not stop working when they leave their offices. At home, women still bear the brunt of unpaid work, such as child-rearing and household tasks. Across the OECD, women spend twice as much time as men on household chores and parenting. In other words, if women and men were to share unpaid tasks equally, women would gain 5 hours of free time per week. There are large variations from country to country: an average Italian woman spends 22 hours (or almost 3 full-time workdays) more than her partner on unpaid work per week, while this gap averages 5 hours in the Nordic countries.

When both paid and unpaid work are combined, the gender gap in working hours narrows, but it’s still the women who put in the longest hours. However, this kind of work is too often under-recorded or undervalued. Time-use data and statistics on time spent on domestic chores and caring are available only in around a third of countries of the world. An even smaller number of countries “value” this unpaid work through satellite accounts for household production. The OECD is contributing to fill this gap through its Time-Use Database, which gathers detailed information on how total time per day is spent in different activities in OECD countries and selected emerging economies.

Another important issue is the fact that data is simply not being collected for certain areas. Not because it is not possible, but because it has not been thought of or because power imbalances between men and women in institutions shape data collection priorities.

A good example is gender-based violence. The absence of an indicator on violence against women (VAW) in the millennium development goals (MDG) framework due to lack of data was a "missed opportunity". Only half the countries in the world currently produce official statistics on violence against women. And yet both the extent of such violence and costs of this form of discrimination call for action. Worldwide, 35% of all women report having experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their intimate partner or others in their lifetime. In the OECD area, one in four women reports having been a victim of such forms of violence at least once in her life. We expect great improvements in the cross-country comparability of data on VAW after the recent release of the Guidelines on Collecting Data on VAW by the UN Statistics Division. But we should also explore other data sources, such as records from shelters, hotlines, hospitals, the press or Internet searches. The OECD is currently undertaking research on the determinants of violence against women and on the costs of such violence to women.

Finally, a significant challenge relates to the need to measure gender equality and women’s rights for different demographic and social groups. Lifecycle analyses suggest that women and girls face constraints that can be age-specific or may be specific to different socio-economic groups. Disaggregated statistics along these lines should be promoted to assess how gender interacts with other "disadvantages" or characteristics.


Data on gender equality

Work-life balance in the OECD Better Life Index


Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now

Forging a gender-balanced economy

©OECD Observer March 2015

This article originally appeared on on 6 March 2015.

Economic data


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