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Counting Women's Work: The Gendered Economy in the Market and at Home

- The political and economic rise of women has marked the 20th century. In some countries, women are not just enfranchised and fully engaged in the workplace, but women lead global corporations and countries. Despite impressive progress in the last century, women are yet lagging behind men. Women do similar sorts of work - health care, retail business and communications - but are paid less across countries as different as South Africa, India or Mexico. On average, women earn 75% of their male co-workers' wages. The difference cannot be explained solely by schooling or experience. It also reflects lack of opportunities, poor access to credit, social restrictions or simply outright discrimination. All these obstacles make the struggle to get equal wages for the same work much harder. More importantly, even without these obstacles, women continue to do far more child care and housework than men in every country. As a consequence, women take jobs that enable them more easily to combine family commitments together with paid employment. These jobs tend to be lower-paid, part-time or informal and lock up women in a situation with low pay or economic recognition. For a long time, feminist scholars--and all women at large--have been claiming the need to acknowledge their full economic contribution.

This project addresses this fundamental knowledge gap by incorporating women's non-market contributions into the economy and feeding this knowledge back into policy making. Previous research on gender in economic life has focused almost exclusively on production, without including an understanding of consumption, public and private transfers, and saving. The project builds on previous investments on the network of National Transfer Accounts. It brings the economic lives of girls and women into full view in a comprehensive and systematic manner than ever before, expanding the United Nations system of national accounts or SNA--built in 1953 and popularized by economists in the 20th century. The research focuses on the different stages of the life cycle, and opens them up to distinguish between men and women. Age is critical to understand any gender-specific role since women's--and men's - lives, defining family roles and responsibilities.

The project's main objective is to provide evidence to design better policies for women around work, economic development and investment in human capital and social welfare. In fact, the lens that demography provides to understanding economic policy has been often overlooked precisely because of its subtle, long-term nature. Four specific objectives include:
(1) To refine and apply the methodology for estimating how males and females at each age acquire and use economic resources in 15 to 20 countries, mostly middle-income, for which sufficient data are available.
(2) To produce and publish national-level gender-specific economic indicators that integrate (market-and household-based) measures of economic activity.
(3) To use these estimates to conduct research within the network to study the questions such as discrimination as a source of inefficiency hindering economic development, policies and institutions determining gender difference in human capital investment and work, policy options to address gender-based unfairness or inefficiency, among other gender-related issues.
(4) To disseminate results to policymakers, the media, and directly to the public by producing policy briefs, press releases, and on-line information about results from the project.

Fit with SIG:

Rather than fitting squarely the project into the SIG prospectus, the proposal represents a unique investment to push the frontier of understanding around inclusive growth. Demographics influence economic growth, savings and investment, government spending among other key economic variables. Also, demographics determine how generational and gender inequalities emerge or dissipate during economic growth. The lens that demography provides to understanding economic policy is an important one, often overlooked precisely because of its subtle, long-term nature. The present project catalyzes a much needed research and policy discussion on inclusive growth in the face of the rapid demographic transition in developing countries.

The project presents some risks:
1. The proponents are new to the administration of a global project. However, they both have the backing of world-class organizations (Berkeley and UCT, South Africa) that have that capacity.
2. The proponents are amply able to carry out the research, but might lack the capacity to connect it to policy. However, they will be working with other NTA national researchers who would promote these links at the national level. Also, the project will form and consult with a senior advisory group that includes prominent social scientists with strong gender credentials.
3. Having a more centralized working group brings the need to provide consistent methodological support, but the risk of not allowing enough open space for the Southern researchers. The proposed project learns from the experience of previous NTA projects and provides two tracks for involvement: one focused on the estimates and more guided (for the methodological, more centralized support to develop the estimates) and another for a more open, "freer" research (for individual NTA teams to develop their own research and feed into their national policy debate).

Note: Receipient Institute will be University of Cape Town

Project ID
Project Status
End Date
36 months
IDRC Officer
Martha Melesse
Total Funding
CA$ 817,400.00
South America
South of Sahara
Employment and Growth
Employment and Growth
Institution Country
South Africa
Project Leader
University of Cape Town