Bitesize: The improvement in the gender labour force participation gap

Thomas Viegas and Gabija Zemaityte.

Many things have being trending down globally over the recent decades: real interest rates, productivity, world trade, you name it! And it’s generally acknowledged that these falls are problematic for policymakers. However, there is one downward trend which has been welcomed with open arms…


The first chart shows the difference between male and female labour force (15-64 years old) participation rates across G7 countries from 1970. Its message is overwhelmingly clear, the participation gap has shrunk big time! Since 1984, the weighted G7 average participation gap has more than halved (26% to 12% in 2015), with the gap in some countries falling by nearly 21pp.

The second chart shows that while some of the fall can be explained by declining male participation (notably in the US), the bulk of the fall is due to increased female participation. On average across the G7, female participation has increased by around 10pp since 1984. Recent research by the OECD highlighted several factors for this improvement, such as higher educational attainment and increased anti-discrimination legislation.


Despite the general reduction, the speed of improvement has been a little sluggish (Japan) and/or the gap is still sizeable in certain G7countries (Japan and Italy). The closing of the gap is also largely a developed word phenomenon, with uneven progress at best across developing nations, according to the OECD.

So while this is one downward trend that will have pleased policymakers, it’s something we should all hope reaches the floor sooner rather than later.

Thomas Viegas works in the Bank’s Conjunctural Assessment and Projections Division and Gabija Zemaityte works in the Bank’s International Surveillance Division.

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Bank Underground is a blog for Bank of England staff to share views that challenge – or support – prevailing policy orthodoxies. The views expressed here are those of the authors, and are not necessarily those of the Bank of England, or its policy committees.

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Filed under Bitesize, Economic History, International Economics, Macroeconomics

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