A growing body of evidence supports the proposition that women can boost economic growth. Research suggests that increasing female labor force participation would raise GDP in the United States by 5 percent, in Japan by 9 percent, in the United Arab Emirates by 12 percent, and in Egypt by 34 percent. One estimate proposes that narrowing the gender gap in employment in several APEC economies, including China, Russia, Indonesia, Korea, Vietnam, and the Philippines, could lead to a 14 percent rise in per capita incomes by 2020.
Despite this strong connection between women’s labor force participation and economic growth, many countries around the world continue to limit women’s economic opportunity. In its 2014 report on Women, Business, and the Law, the World Bank found that almost 90 percent of the one hundred and forty-three countries surveyed have at least one legal provision that restricts women’s economic participation, and about twenty-eight countries have ten or more legal differences between women and men. Seventy-nine countries have laws that restrict the kinds of jobs that women can perform, and in fifteen countries, husbands can prevent their wives from accepting jobs.
These legal differences and restrictions matter not only to individual women and their families, but to the growth and prosperity of entire communities and economies. Indeed, the 2010 World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report indicates that countries where the gender gap is small have more competitive and prosperous economies. Government leaders are taking notice of the evidence supporting the connection between women’s economic opportunity and growth and are taking action. According to World Bank research, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, the Philippines, and the Slovak Republic enacted legal provisions to improve women’s economic participation in recent years. In addition, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made increasing female employment a critical pillar of his economic agenda. To help increase Japan’s GDP, Abe has set a target of boosting women’s labor force participation from 68 percent to 73 percent by 2020 and closing the 30 percent pay gap between women and men. Efforts like these should be applauded by Washington and by other international actors. Especially at a time when fiscal belts have tightened worldwide, every person who wants to participate in the formal economy should be able to do so.