by Jessica Looze, Aleta Sprague, and Jody Heymann
Over the past half century, the number of women in the workforce and their earnings rose markedly—not just in the United States, but worldwide. Yet in recent years, this progress has stagnated, and we’re still far short of gender parity in the economy. This is in large part because many workplaces continue to operate as if employees have no caregiving responsibilities. The global increase in women in the labor market hasn’t coincided with an equivalent rise in men’s share of caregiving. And in too many countries, laws and policies aren’t helping.
Indeed, the gender wage gap is largely a motherhood gap: unmarried women without children earn 95 cents on a man’s dollar, but for married mothers with at least one child under age 18, this figure drops to 76 cents. The gender gap at work is fueled by a gender gap at home. Women continue to spend more time doing carework than men, which is not simply a reflection of personal preferences: gender disparities in caregiving are embedded in, and perpetuated by countries’ laws, and policies. The consequences for the financial well-being of women and their families can be enormous.
To assess countries’ progress toward promoting gender equality in the economy and in caregiving, the WORLD Policy Analysis Center (WORLD) at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health, together with our colleagues at the Maternal and Child Health Equity (MACHEquity) research program, recently released new globally comparative data and analyses on laws and policies affecting work and caregiving across all 193 UN member states. We examined the availability of leave following the birth of a child, for children’s health and education needs, as well as leave for the health needs of adult family members. The data show that while globally, countries are making some progress in promoting gender equality for workers with infant children, many countries still have a ways to go. Moreover, compared to infant caregiving, countries have made far less progress toward promoting gender equality when it comes to providing care for children beyond infancy or for elderly parents.