The Surprising Relationship Between Gender Equality and Economic Development

Joshua Eastin and Aseem Prakash find support for the idea that gender equality rises non-monotonically with income in a new article in World Politics:

We argue that the effects of economic development on gender equality are contingent on the particular developmental phase. Drawing on Simon Kuznets’s thesis regarding a curvilinear relationship between economic growth and income inequality, we suggest that economic development and gender inequality also exhibit a nonmonotonic relationship, marked by three phases. In the first phase, economic development should improve gender equality; in the second phase, equality should plateau or even decline slightly; and in the third phase, it should rise again.

Below is an image with the key results (derived from linear mixed effects models). The dependent variables are two different gender equality indices developed by the UN ( GDI and GEM) as well as percentage of women in the labor force and in parliament.

This is an important descriptive finding.The authors also speculate on the mechanisms. In the early development stages, added income from work outside the home provides women additional bargaining power. However, perverse social norms often gain strength when countries emerge into the middle income group. Once service sector jobs start becoming more prominent, some of the social stigmas weaken. This is obviously a very simplistic description of what is a complex issue. Go read the whole paper (free).

[Originally posted at Crooked Timber]

Erik Voeten

Erik Voeten is the Peter F. Krogh associate professor of geopolitics and global justice at Georgetown University.