America is faring badly when it come to gender equity, and this could seriously undermine our ability to recover economically. The World Economic Forum's newly released 2012 Global Gender Gap Report shows that the U.S has sunk to 22nd, showing an increasingly wide gender gap and marking our lowest score since 2009. The report measures gender differences based on four main factors including economic participation and opportunity, education, health, and political empowerment. Our growing gender gap is both ethically problematic as a human rights issue and economically regressive as we lose potential productivity, capital, and innovation.
Investing in women can exponentially increase GDP in both developing and developed countries. Currently, gender gaps in education, health, work, wages, and political participation exist in both developed and developing countries. However, political and financial attempts to diminish such gaps have been proven to be extremely advantageous. Evidence shows that direct investments in improving women’s education and economic opportunity create a “spillover effect,” benefiting families and communities related to these women. This multiplier effect has had an even greater effect when investing in women than in men.
Sandra Lawson explains the benefits of diminishing the gender gap through education and increasing employment opportunities further:
“Bringing more women into the labor force could provide a substantial boost to GDP growth and per capita income. Productivity levels would likely rise as higher competition for job raised the average quality of the overall workforce. In countries with younger populations, greater gender equality is associated with the start of the ‘demographic transition,’ which is typically a period of rapid economic growth.”
The struggle to close the gender gap requires both political and economic investments as well as shifting cultural ideologies. As Lawson points out, “limited financial resources, cultural preferences and government policy all affect decisions about who has access to education and who has the opportunity to reap its full benefits.”
Education is key to ameliorating the gender gap and increasing economic growth. Educating women is correlated with higher wages, decreased fertility, reduced rates of maternal and child mortality, and improved health for both women and their children. Furthermore, female education has been linked to higher productivity and higher returns to investment. Investments in education circulate to provide for even greater investment and increasing capital and productivity. Lawson predicts that narrowing the gender gap could increase nation’s GDP by up to .2% per year.
While a gender gap persists in most developing and developed countries, the necessary policies to ameliorate the gap may differ. The OECD explains that while women in some nations are becoming increasingly better educated, pervasive gender stereotypes in both schools and families may prevent these women from entering high income fields such as those requiring education in science and technology. These fields, which are suffering from skill shortages, could benefit from the “likelihood of positive spillovers from more skilled workers in these fields to innovation and growth.”
Furthermore, recent political attempts in the U.S. to diminish women’s reproductive freedom by limiting access to abortion and birth control may continue to widen the gender gap while costing women and our government billions of dollars.
Thus, while investment in education is vital in decreasing gender inequalities and increasing national productivity, a re-assessment of gender stereotypes may be effective by reversing harmful gendered preferences in education and employment. Further, the U.S must stop treating reproductive rights and the economy as two separate issues. While politicians may neatly separate the two, gender equality and the economy are inextricably linked and could be mutually benefited by some progressive change.