Why empowering women can make women and men happier

By Gaëlle Ferrant, Alexandre Kolev and Caroline Tassot, OECD Development Centre

IWD2017The OECD has long argued that the ultimate goal of public policies is to improve the quality of our lives. But what makes us happy? Does living in a country guaranteeing equal rights and opportunities to women and men increase people’s happiness? The answer apparently is yes.

For policy makers interested in the pursuit of happiness, these findings may at first glance come as bad news as we mark International Women’s Day this year. Gender-based discrimination remains, after all, a critical challenge around the globe. Despite changes in gender roles following improvements in economic, political and social rights, no country has achieved gender parity. Only half of working-age women are in the labour force, earning on average 24% less than men (UN Women, 2015). Despite their increasing involvement in the labour market, women still perform 75% of total unpaid care and domestic work (OECD, 2014). And gender-based discrimination in social norms remains widespread worldwide (OECD Development Centre, 2014).

Empirical evidence shows that gender inequality is bad for growth, especially when it comes to gender disparities in education, labour and social institutions. Side-lining women holds back economies from growing and prospering: current levels of gender-based discrimination in social institutions cost up to USD 12 trillion to the global economy (Ferrant and Kolev, 2016). On the other hand, closing the gender gap to allow women to play the same role in labour markets as men would add as much as USD 28 trillion (26%) to annual global GDP in 2025 (Woetzel et al., 2015).

The OECD Development Centre’s study further indicates that gender-based discrimination in social institutions, measured by the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI), impedes well-being beyond GDP. Benchmarking with an ideal world of perfect gender parity in social institutions, the study finds that current gender-based discrimination in social institutions fuels a decline of 4.4% in the world average level of life satisfaction.

Together, these findings foreshadow the need to focus more on the life satisfaction impact of government policies as a way to measure fairness. Ultimately, they stress the potential of gender equality to promote better, happier lives.

Read the working paper: Ferrant, G., A. Kolev and C. Tassot (2017) The pursuit of happiness: Does gender parity in social institutions matter? OECD Development Centre Working Papers, No. 337, OECD, Paris.



Ferrant, G. and A. Kolev, (2016), “Does gender discrimination in social institutions matter for long-term growth?: Cross-country evidence”, OECD Development Centre Working Papers No. 330, OECD, Paris.

OECD (2014a), Gender, Institutions and Development Database, OECD, Paris, http://stats.oecd.org.

OECD Development Centre (2014), Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) 2014 Synthesis Report, OECD, Paris, http://www.oecd.org/dev/development-gender/BrochureSIGI2015-web.pdf.

UN Women (2015), “Transforming economies, realizing rights”, Progress of the World’s Women 2015- 2016, UN Women, New York, http://progress.unwomen.org/en/2015/ (accessed October 2016).

Woetzel, J. et al. (2015), “The power of parity: How advancing women’s equality can add $12 trillion to global growth”, McKinsey Global Institute.