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Economic Opportunity and Growth

Inheriting Gender Bias

Among countries with similar economic circumstances, India stands out for gender inequality and limited opportunities for women. In a recent study published in the Journal of Development Studies, IPR economist Seema Jayachandran and her colleagues investigated the intergenerational transmission of gender bias in India to determine the sources of children’s opinions about gender. Through survey data collected in 314 government schools in Haryana from nearly 5,500 adolescents and their parents, the researchers found that parents are the most significant influencers of their children’s attitudes about the appropriate roles and rights of women. According to the study, when a parent holds a discriminatory attitude toward women, their child is 11 percentage points more likely to hold the same value. Parents were shown to be more influential than peers, stay-at-home mothers more influential than working mothers, and mothers more influential than both working and non-working fathers. The study also found that the impact of parental bias was strongest in Scheduled Castethe “lowest” caste, also called dalitcommunities, possibly due to greater social exclusion. The results of this study suggest the necessity of targeting both children and their parents in educational endeavors aimed at eliminating gender bias and providing more opportunities for women and girls in India.

Social Norms as a Barrier to Women’s Employment in Developing Countries

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IPR development economist Seema Jayachandran focuses on health and gender in developing countries. One of her current projects examines gender-discriminatory attitudes among adolescents in India.

Globally, only one in every two women participates in the labor market, compared with three in every four men, and women earn less on average than men. In a working paperJayachandran discusses the social and cultural barriers hobbling women’s “full and equal participation” in developing countries’ labor markets, and how they can also hinder economic development. She highlights research showing the stigma associated with women’s employment, and how it might differ across countries. For example, women might have to interact with men in countries where gender segregation is a norm. Or, they face barriers when they are employed that include fearing for their safety, having smaller networks for support, lacking control over their earnings, and experiencing violence at home. Jayachandran highlights some previously evaluated interventions that sought to dismantle barriers to female employment, such as those for public transportation where Mexico City and Rio de Janeiro created women-only subway cars to reduce harassment. Research suggests that policymakers can also consider expanding female entrepreneurs’ business networks through training programs to help boost their skills and access to market information, or allowing women to have their own bank accounts so they have greater control over their earnings. Jayachandran points out that one of the biggest barriers to overcoming the gender gap in employment is that housework and childcare are primarily considered a woman’s responsibility. She argues that efforts to reduce household chores and to provide viable childcare alternatives could help here. Last, she underscores the powerful role that governments can play in promoting equality of opportunity and how they can help drive down the gender gap by adding media campaigns and school programs to their standard efforts to address the issue.

Gender Inequality in the Spread of Information in Agriculture

Relying on people to spread information to each other may not help those who are less socially connectedparticularly women, according to a study by Beaman. Beaman and her Northwestern coauthor, Andrew Dillon, conducted an experiment that examined how to improve certain agricultural practices and how to spread that information to other farmers. They provided farmers in Mali with training on composting, and each of these farmers also received informational wall calendars to give to others. In Mali, men and women farm separate plots of land, but both genders are agricultural decision-makers and need to receive information. However, not all farmers ended up getting the calendars. People who were directly connected to the farmers who received the calendars were most likely to get the information, while friends of friends were significantly less likely. Overall, women were much less likely to get the information. According to Beaman, targeting the information to people who are very connected within a village also tends to leave out women, which could reinforce existing gender inequality. The results caution that while policymakers may be able to use social networks to spread information efficiently, the choice of whom to target within a network has implications for who will ultimately benefit from the information.

The Long-Term Effects of Entering the Job Marketing During a Recession

Young workers are most vulnerable to changes in the economy and many studies show that entering the labor market during a recession can having long lasting consequences on earnings. A study by IPR economist Hannes Schwandt and Till von Wachter of the University of California, Los Angeles published in the Journal of Labor Economics looks at how the economy impacted young people entering the job market from 1976–2015 and how the impact might vary by education level, gender, and race. The researchers used several data sets, including data from the Current Population Survey, U.S. Census, and American Community Survey to examine the effect of joining the workforce during a recession. They find that cohorts of graduates entering the job market when unemployment is high earned on average less. These lower wages could last for up to 10 years into a worker’s career. Less advantaged workers, specifically nonwhites and high school dropouts, are substantially more affected than other demographic groups. Safety-net benefits like SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) help to partially offset the losses in earnings for the least advantaged workers. Overall, their results reveal that entering the job market during a recession increases poverty rates. The researchers note that more research is required to understand the sources of this persistent reduction in employment and wages.

The Architecture of Evaluation and Gender Bias

Performance can play a critical role in gender inequality in the workplace. In a study published in American Sociological Review, management and organizations professor and IPR associate Lauren Rivera and András Tilcsik of the University of Toronto asked whether gender inequalities in evaluations depend on the design of the tool used to evaluate performance. Using a quasi-natural experiment of more than 100,000 students’ course ratings over 29 terms at a large North American university, they analyzed how a shift from a 10-point to a 6-point scale affected the evaluations of 369 male and female instructors. In the 10-point scale, men’s ratings were 1.6 times more likely than women’s to be a 10 in the most male-dominated subject areas. When instructors were rated on a 6-point scale, however, the gender gap was almost eliminated. In fields with more women instructors, no major gender gaps were seen in either the original 10-point scale or the 6-point scale. The researchers also surveyed 400 students from 40 different universities, asking them to evaluate a lecture transcript. Under the 10-point scale, the same lecture received an average rating of 7.8 when indicated it was given by a male versus 7.1 when given by a woman. Again, the gender gap almost disappeared on the 6-point scale. The researchers conclude that the scale chosen matters for gender gaps in ratings, and organizations should carefully consider the scale used to evaluate performance.

The Impact of Occupational Licensing on Immigrants

More and more occupations in the U.S. require licensing, spreading from white-collar professions to less-skilled jobs including carpet layers, massage therapists, and agricultural inspectors. As of 2016, about one-third of all U.S. workers are required to hold licenses in their occupations. In Sociology of Race and Ethnicity, IPR sociologist Beth Redbird and her co-author ask whether licensing is helping or hurting immigrants join the workforce, and what mechanisms are at work in this process. To answer their questions, they use data from occupational legislation and regulations in all 50 states from 1994–2016 in combination with the Current Population Survey. The researchers show that licensing eases access into occupations for immigrants, especially for the most vulnerable—such as those who obtained educational credentials in their countries of origin and those who entered recently and may not have social networks to help them find work. Licensing works to help immigrants become part of the labor force by promoting various institutions, such as vocational schools, job fairs, and application assistance, that can help immigrants develop the social and cultural capital to enter occupations. A state-granted license that provides credentials also helps to legitimize foreign-born workers and overcome the disadvantages of entering the U.S. labor market as an immigrant.

Building Sustainable Income for the Very Poor

Promising experimental programs to raise desperately poor people out of poverty have used a combination of providing assets such as goats, training and coaching, and access to a savings account. Is it necessary to use all of these methods together to help the world’s poorest families increase their household net worth, income, and consumption? To find out, development economists and IPR associates Dean Karlan, Christopher Udry, and their colleagues investigate the mechanisms of how each part of these multifaceted programs work. They then test whether only one of the parts, either the savings component or the grant of goats, will work as well as the combined pieces. By separating the parts in different arms of the experimental programs in Ghana, the researchers determine that the multifaceted program’s success is driven by enabling households to build profitable businesses that produce revenue. Neither component used alone led to the poor creating such businesses. The authors point out that in terms of policy, a simpler and cheaper program would be preferable but turns out not to be effective; in fact, they suggest additional components, such as mental health interventions, might increase the impact of these programs.