Lack of women in paid work holding back global development

Ireland in sixth place on ‘Human Development Report’ index

Global development is being held back by the relative shortage of women in paid work, with participation rates having risen only slightly in the past two decades, according to a new report.

The Human Development Report, published annually by the United Nations Development Programme as an attempt to challenge purely economic assessments of national progress, found that overall major advances had been made over the last 25 years. Between 1990 and 2014, the number of people living in countries with very high scores on the human development index, which ranks states based on factors such as income, life expectancy and education, more than doubled from 0.5 billion to 1.2 billion.

Likewise, the number of people in countries with low human development scores fell by more than 60 per cent from 3.2 billion to 1.2 billion. Nineteen countries moved out of the "low human development" category, including Congo, Ghana and Namibia.

Ireland in sixth place

The top five states in the 2015 ranking, unchanged from the previous year, were









and the


. Ireland was in sixth place. The bottom five were



Central African Republic








Despite progress overall, however, the report suggests human development is being held back by glaring inequalities in access to decent, equitable work. Setting out a detailed new estimate of the share of all work, it finds women carry out 52 per cent of all global work, including unpaid work.

Women are less likely to be paid for their work than men, with three out of every four hours of unpaid work in the world carried out by women. In contrast, men account for two of every three hours of paid work. Since women often carry the burden of providing care services for family members, the report warns that this disparity is likely to increase as populations age.

When women are paid, they earn on average 24 per cent less than men, and occupy less than a quarter of senior business positions worldwide.

Comparing data from 1995 and today, the report found that at the global level there was “a perceptible move” towards equality between men and women on a range of measurements. The pace of change varies considerably, however. The labour force participation rate has moved “only a little”, but the gains in parity of representation at decision-making levels in the private and public sectors have been much more pronounced, the report states.

The labour force participation rate, which includes those already employed or actively seeking work, is consistently much lower for women than for men, and in many regions the gap has remained constant for decades. Today the participation rate is about 77 per cent for men and about 50 per cent for women

“Achieving higher engagement in paid work confers multiple benefits not just to women but to societies and economies at large. It is well recognised that a higher female labour force participation rate boosts economic growth,” the report states.

Polarised world of work

While lauding the digital revolution, the report suggests technological changes are producing an increasingly polarised world of work. “There has never been a better time to be a highly skilled worker. Conversely, it is not a good time to be unskilled. This is deepening inequalities,” said report author

Selim Jahan


Highly skilled workers and those with access to technology, including to the internet, have new opportunities in the types of work available and the way work is done. Today, there are seven billion mobile phone subscriptions, 2.3 billion people with smartphones, and 3.2 billion with internet access. Despite new opportunities, however, more jobs are now becoming vulnerable and a wide digital divide remains, the report notes.

In 2015, 81 per cent of households in developed countries have internet access, but only 34 per cent in developing regions and 7 per cent in the least developed countries have that access. Many types of routine work, such as clerical jobs, are predicted to disappear or be replaced by technology, or have disappeared, the report warns.

It notes that these shifts exacerbate the insecurity many people face at work. According to the International Labour Organisation, 61 per cent of employed people in the world work without a contract, and only 27 per cent of the world’s population is covered by comprehensive social protection.