Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Nostalgia – not what is used to be!

From Wikiprogress Correspondent Wellbeing Wales Network - Dafydd Thomas

The Guardian ran an online thread asking if nostalgia could help make its readers happy? The premise for the article was a new report from San Francisco State University where they had examined the personality traits of 750 volunteers to see if those who viewed the past in a positive light had higher overall life satisfaction.

According to the article, in one corner there are the high energy extrovert types with lots of social connections and happier memories as a result.  In the other, stand those “high on the neurotic scale,” with a personality trait “marked by anxiety and irritability.”

It would seem to me that there are whole bunch of issues wrapped up in this study, which haven’t been made any clearer in its conclusion.  Is it just me, but surely a lonely person, with an “irritable and high anxiety personality trait” isn’t happy to begin with.  It’s no surprise surely that their past is bereft of happy thoughts and stimulating company. 

The report concluded that some people are “happier with their lives because they tend to hold a positive, nostalgic view of the past and are less likely to have negative thoughts and regrets.”  There’s hope for the negative amongst us in that “personality can't explain 100 percent of our happiness.” The irritable should savor happy memories, or even “recasting sad ones in an optimistic light” which should make you feel happier!

Steve Richard in the Independent asks whether Cameron’s idea of happiness can last.  His article covers what some commentators wearily titled the fourth re-launch of the Big Society, but it appears as though the Prime Minister is persisting in his interest in wellbeing, its measurement and use as a determinant of policy.

Although the article uses the concepts of happiness and wellbeing interchangeably, what is clear is Cameron’s desire to use measures other than GDP when informing and deciding policy.  If that is the case, Richard questions whether libraries and local post offices should not be subject to austerity cuts because of their value as “local binding agencies” and “valued institutions?” Whether that happens on the ground is a different issue and a real test for the current UK Government.  Downing Street insiders are quoted hoping that “wellbeing becomes as important a factor in determining policy as more orthodox economic measures.” This is certainly something that members of the Wellbeing Wales Network would welcome.

The “and finally” bit of this month’s Editor’s Choice goes to New Zealand Top News Network’s article on Rabbit Awareness Week.  Launched in May and part of an annual campaign, Rabbit Awareness Week tries to increase the general public’s “awareness of the emotional welfare needs of rabbits by encouraging owners to mull over the mental and emotional health of their pets.” 

Well, my awareness of “unhappy rabbits” developing “behavioral problems” that include purposeless activities” has risen beyond all recognition.  As a youngster, I always thought my pet rabbit was content, just bouncing around the garden. I assumed at the time, that I had a happy rabbit with a “high energy extrovert type” personality.  Even better, Flossy had “lots of social connections” which were mostly cats granted, but it all seemed so much easier and more innocent back then ...

Monday, 27 June 2011

Work, sex and fun: a day at a glance

By Maxime Ladaique, Manager of statistical resources in the OECD Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs (

One way to go beyond purely economic indicators, such as GDP, to measure well-being and progress is to present indicators on quality of life. In recent editions of OECD’s Society at a Glance, we’ve looked at how adults spend their days in OECD countries, using time-use surveys. In which country do people work longest, spend most time eating, drinking and sleeping, or spend most time just having fun? And importantly, are there gender differences in the time spent in these three main activities? Warning: reading this blog may leave you with the desire to change country, change the way you spend your time at home, or even change sex…

Firstly: work. Out of 24 hours, we spend on average eight hours working: one third of the day. And who works the most? MEX! Yes, it’s Mexico, with 10 hours of work per day earning money or doing unpaid work like housework, cooking or caring for children. Japan and Korea are next, with more than nine hours of work per day on average.

We spend on average three and a half hours per day on unpaid tasks. What’s interesting here is the difference between men and women. And you’ve guessed it; on average women spend two and a half hours more every day in these unpaid activities. The highest gap can be found in Turkey and Mexico, where women spend four and a half hours more than men per day doing housework, cooking and caring for children.

The second main activity is personal care. This is mainly sleeping, eating and drinking, and also looking after yourself (hygiene, grooming, etc.). It represents, on average, almost half of our time, that’s 11 hours per day. Most of these 11 hours are spent sleeping; on average eight and a half hours. I say sleeping, but the question in the survey is actually “time in bed”. And you’ve guessed it again; it may not be only sleeping… Which country spends most time in bed? France. Yes, the French report one hour more in bed than the Koreans, who sleep the least. [Interestingly enough, France has the highest fertility rate in OECD-Europe after Ireland and Iceland with almost 2 children per woman, and Korea has the lowest fertility rate in the OECD at 1.15 children per woman].

The French also enjoy eating and drinking, and report doing this for more than two hours a day on average. This is nearly twice as much time spent eating and drinking in Canada or in the US, with only a little over one hour per day. But only one in ten French are obese, whereas one third of Americans are obese, the highest rate in the OECD. The French do spend time eating at home with family or in “brasseries” (from which I’m writing you in Paris) for business. This is part of the French culture.

The third and last main activity is leisure, which takes most of the remaining four to five hours per day in most countries. This is time spent reading books, newspapers or blogs, watching TV or listening to the radio, practising sport, or socialising with friends. Norwegians spend the longest time on leisure activities, up to six hours per day, while Mexicans spend the shortest time with only four hours per day (remember, Mexicans work the most!). But what’s most interesting is again the gender difference in leisure time. In all countries, men spend more time having fun. In Norway, only by a few minutes, but in Italy, men spend almost the duration of a football match everyday more than Italian women enjoying themselves (80 minutes on average).

Thanks for taking a bit of your precious time to read this blog. Now you know that Mexicans, Japanese and Koreans spend the longest time working. You also know more about the French way of living, we enjoy having a good time. And you know that there are less gender differences in leisure times in Nordic countries than in Mediterranean countries. Is it surprising?

You can see more figures on leisure and unpaid work activities in OECD’s Society at a Glance. They are part of the new interest by statisticians to go beyond GDP and measure well-being and progress with information on the people‘s quality of life. I hope these indicators will contribute to the progress of our societies. So please don’t change country or indeed sex, but make things change at home!  I wish you all the very best work, food, sleep and fun for the remainder of the day.

Friday, 24 June 2011

The week in review

It has been an incredibly busy week in the world of progress and we are pleased to share some highlights with you from the week that was. Be sure to see the Wikiprogress Community Portal for all the recent media coverage on the progress movement.

On progress
The Beijing Normal University released a report detailing the overall development of people's livelihood in China during the 11th Five-Year Plan (2006-2010). Beijing, Shanghai and Tianjin topped the well-being charts.
See more on China

On data
This is a video of Aleem Walji speaking about the World Bank’s commitment to open data and the impact open data is having on the world. The presentation was part of the Guardian’s 2011 Activate conference.
See more on Activate

On gender equality
70% of the 1.6 billion people on the planet who don’t have access to electricity are women and girls. Solar Sisters presents a bottom-up solution to bring a new kind of clean energy in Africa with an Avon-style women-driven business model.
See more on Solar Sisters

On child well-being
Child Poverty Insights (UNICEF Global Study Blog 21.06.2011)
The June edition of Child Poverty Insights asks the question: why do so many poor children miss out on essential immunizations? According to the World Health Organisation 27 million children do not receive essential vaccinations.
See more on child well-being

On happiness
A GOOD week (20 – 26th of June)
A Good Week is a global celebration of all the good people, communities and businesses are doing around the world. The week is led by the London based social innovation agency A Very Good Company and has a number of powerful partners involved in promoting the Good Week.
See more on happiness

In the Spotlight

That’s all from us this week. We hope to see you back here this time next week for another round of highlights from the week that was.

Yours in progress,

Philippa Lysaght

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Lessons in resilience from PISA

This blog first appeared on OECD Insights
It won’t be news to anyone at this stage that – on average – students from poorer families don’t do as well in school as kids from middle class families.
As the OECD’s PISA education research has shown, social background is consistently one of the major factors that determines average student performance.

But it’s important to emphasise the word “average”.

In just about every place that takes part in PISA, a proportion of kids from poorer families buck the trend – they do much better in school than might be predicted based on their family circumstances.
Such kids even have a name – “resilient students”. Across OECD countries, about three out of ten kids from poorer families are resilient, according to results from the latest round of PISA.

But the findings also show big variations between countries: In effect, in some places social background has a much smaller impact than in others. In Korea, for instance, well over 50% of kids from poorer backgrounds are resilient, and among some non-OECD members the proportion is even higher: Over 70% in the Chinese city of Shanghai. Finland – a traditional PISA high-flyer – also does well, with close to 50% of students beating the odds. The results are less encouraging at the other end of the scale: Only 20% of students are resilient in Austria and, as the BBC reports, only around 24% in the United Kingdom.

The research offers some insights into the factors that can help to encourage resilience. Spending more time in class is one: “In France, Germany and the Netherlands, resilient students spend at least one hour and 45 minutes more in science classes per week than disadvantaged low-achievers do,” the latest edition of PISA In Focus notes. Self-confidence and motivation also matter.

Incidentally, if you want to find out more about the man behind OECD PISA – our colleague Andreas Schleicher – he’s profiled in the latest edition of The Atlantic. Andreas tells journalist Amanda Ripley about the state of education research before PISA: “I remember everyone telling you, ‘We have the best education system in the world,’” he says. “To his data-driven mind,” she comments, “this was madness. How can everyone be the best?”

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Data challenges in estimating the HDI: The cases of Cuba, Palau and the Occupied Palestinian Territory

This post first appeared on UNDP's Let's Talk Human Development

By Francisco Rodríguez and Clara García
Head of Research, and Statistics and Research Analyst (respectively),
Human Development Report Office, UNDP

There are many statistical and methodological challenges in estimating the annual Human Development Index (HDI). The goal of the Human Development Report has always been to make national HDI coverage as extensive as possible, based on a common and consistent set of indicators for the HDI's health, education and income dimensions.

In recent months the Human Development Report Office has been working with national and international statistical authorities to expand the range of national indicators available to calculate the HDI, using methods we describe here and, in greater technical detail, in a forthcoming Human Development research paper. As a result, we are now able to show how Cuba, Palau and the Occupied Palestinian Territory would have been ranked in the 2010 HDI had these figures then been available.

Cuba, for example, would have been placed at #53 in the 2010 HDI country rankings, in the High Human Development Index category. Palau, also omitted from the 2010 HDI due to data unavailability at the time of its calculation last year, would have been ranked #54, also in the High Human Development category, while the Occupied Palestinian Territory would have been #97, in the Medium Human Development group. (See PDF Inline (GIF) 2010 HDI update, with Cuba, Occupied Palestinian Territory and Palau included.)

One of the biggest challenges in constructing a composite measure of development like the HDI is to balance comprehensiveness against country coverage. The choices are not easy. For example, we all would agree that it would be better to include a measure of educational quality in the HDI instead of just the measures of years of school attendance currently used. But the indicator of educational quality with the broadest country coverage currently available, compiled by the OECD, covers only 65 countries, far fewer than the 173 countries for which we were able provide HDI education indicators in 2010, using expected years of schooling for children entering primary school and years of schooling completed by the adult population.

One key challenge relates to cross-country comparability. Take the case of income: In order to compare levels of income across countries, it is necessary to use a common currency - one can’t meaningfully compare zlotys with dirhams, for example – but even after one converts into (say) US dollars, we need to take into account that a dollar does not purchase the same amount of goods in Morocco as it does in Poland. For this reason, the World Bank collects data that allows estimates of exchange rates adjusted for these differences in purchasing power for 181 countries. Unfortunately, 13 countries are not included. Three of these – Cuba, Palau and the Occupied Palestinian Territory – have data on all other HDI components, so the estimation of GNI is the only constraint that we need to address to calculate an HDI value.

Indeed, for Cuba, we know that performance on the non-income dimensions has been stellar. As highlighted in an earlier Let’s Talk Human Development blog posting (Subtracting GNI from the HDI: A non-income HDI), Cuba is the only Latin American country in the top ten non-income-HDI movers over the past decade, with life expectancy increasing by two years and expected years of schooling increasing by five years. These are remarkable improvements for a country that already had very high health and education indicators at the outset of the decade. Cuba is in fact the best performing developing country in terms of the non-income HDI, as that previous article demonstrated.

Problems with cross-country comparability led to reduced national coverage in the 2010 HDI – a trend that the Human Development Report Office was keen to reverse. Recent efforts have allowed us to generate estimates that will allow us to calculate the HDI in the 2011 Report for at least 13 new countries, raising the HDI’s coverage from 169 to more than 180 countries, representing 99 percent of the world’s population.

This effort has been undertaken in close consultation with the international statistical community to address the problems of countries for which we did not have enough data to calculate an HDI last year. This dialogue has led to the creation of a Statistical Advisory Panel, a Working Group of Countries without an HDI, and been reflected in continuous consultations with global and regional statistical associations such as the United Nations Statistics Commission and the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Cuba is an interesting case, because two currencies are in circulation – the Peso Cubano (CUP), which is traded at an implicit exchange rate of 24 to the dollar, and the Peso Cubano Convertible (CUC), which is traded at an exchange rate of 1 to the dollar.[i] Estimating a purchasing-power-parity (PPP) adjusted exchange rate for this country requires knowing what fraction of spending is carried out in each currency, information which is not available in official Cuban statistics. In background research carried out by HDRO, we found that the estimated level of GNI per capita in 2008 PPP$ in Cuba could vary hugely – between $264 and $9225 – using methods developed by other international organizations, depending on the exchange rate used in the calculation.

For these reasons, HDRO proposed a method for directly estimating GNI in PPP-adjusted dollars based on a regression model. Two key pre-conditions are that the explanatory variables were not originally constructed in domestic currency (as then we would still require an exchange rate to allow conversion) and that they be directly linked to the state of the economy (as we are estimating GNI, not the level of human development). In light of the results of extensive robustness and sensitivity analysis, we settled on a model which explained GNI per capita as a function of international trade, per capita energy use, the share of the population with internet access and a set of regional variables.

The cases of Palau and the Palestinian Occupied Territory are more straightforward, since we can apply existing estimation models, which use information on GDP and other macroeconomic variables valued at market exchange rates to infer PPP-adjusted exchange rates.

These methods will be used to estimate GNI per capita for these three countries in the upcoming 2011 Report. In the meantime, it is relevant to ask what would have happened to the HDI rankings last year if we had used these methods then to estimate the Index for the countries in question. The table below provides the answers, showing where these countries would have placed in the HDI 2010 rankings.[ii]

2010 HDI update for Cuba, Occupied Palestinian Territory and Palau [iii]

Cuba Occupied Palestinian Territory Palau
Ranked above Croatia
HDI rank 53 97 54
HDI value 0.760 0.645 0.757
Ranked below Palau
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Bolivia, Plurinational State of
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya
Model used HDRO ICP 2005 Sun & Swanson 2008

Sources: Rodriguez and Garcia, "Estimating Purchasing Power Parities" 2011. Human Development Research Paper (forthcoming); "International Comparison Programme, Global Purchasing Power Parities and Real Expenditures" (Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2008); Sun and Swanson, "Estimation of PPPs for non-benchmark economies for the 2005 ICP round",

Using this newly developed method, it is clear that Cuba would have ranked well in the 2010 HDR – indeed at number 53 in the global rankings, and thus among the High HDI group and sixth in the Latin America and the Caribbean region. Globally, in terms of the HDI, its nearest neighbours would be Uruguay and Croatia (just above) and Libya and Palau just below. This reflects the combined achievements of Cubans averaging ten years of schooling among adults, almost 18 expected years of schooling among new entrants and 79 years of life expectancy, and a model based estimate of approximately $5747 in income per capita in PPP terms.

Palau would rank slightly below, at number 54, in the high human development group between Cuba and Libya. Its estimated income per capita is $9376. The Occupied Palestinian Territory falls in the medium human development group, between Suriname and Bolivia, with an estimated income per capita of $3933.

These types of model-based estimates allow us to meeting the objective of maximizing HDI country coverage. The disadvantage is that modeled data are typically of lesser quality than information collected directly from censuses, surveys, or national registers. Mindful of this caveat, and heeding the recommendations of the statistical community of using caution in such cases, HDRO does not estimate more than one indicator of the HDI for any given country. Moreover, as noted above, extensive robustness and sensitivity analysis are adopted before adopting any estimation model. The methods used for these new country HDI calculations satisfy these strict criteria, and thus allow us to expand the coverage of the HDI without sacrificing methodological rigour. A fuller description of these challenges and approaches will be provided in our forthcoming Human Development Research Paper (Rodriguez and Garcia 2011), which will be available on our website.

[i] Strictly speaking, CUPs are not convertible to dollars but are convertible to CUCs at a rate of 24 to 1.
[ii] Note that mean years of schooling was missing for Occupied Palestinian Territory in 2010, so that our rule of not imputing more than one component of the index would have precluded us from producing an HDI. However, we now have mean years of schooling for 2010.
[iii] The 2010 HDI value and ranking reflect the inclusion of one or more HDI indicators that were not available at the time of the preparation of the 2010 Human Development Report. See table below.

HDI value* HDI rank* GNI per capita (PPP)*
Cuba 0.760 53 $5747
Occupied Palestinian Territory 0.645 97 $3933
Palau 0.757 54 $9376

2010 HDI update including Cuba, Occupied Palestinian Territory and Palau [75 KB]

Friday, 17 June 2011

The week in review

It has been another busy week in the world of progress and we are delighted to report on the highlights from the week that was. Be sure to visit the Wikiprogress Community Portal for all news articles and blog posts on progress.

On data
The 2010 Human Development Report has been updated with new data that was previously unavailable for Cuba, Palau and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Both Cuba and Palau have been ranked in the group of high human development, with Cuba ranking 53rd on the 2010 HDI and Palau ranking 54th. The Occupied Palestinian Territory ranked 94th and is placed in the medium development group.
See more on the Human Development Report

On progress
This article highlights the work being done by organisations around the world to develop indicators that look beyond GDP in measuring national well-being. The author profiles key progress thinker and former Chief Statistician of the OECD, Enrico Giovannini, and his role in the Global Project on Measuring the Progress of Societies.

On child well-being
Asha Rose Migiro, UN Deputy Secretary-General, spoke at the United Nations General Assembly’s Development Dialogue this week on the importance of improving the health of women and children in progressing towards the Millennium Development Goals.
See more on child well-being

On gender equality 
A major Swiss union held a national day of action this week to increase the minimum wage for women, which has not changed since the 1980s. Switzerland has one of the highest costs of living in the world; the union is seeking a minimum wage of $4000 per month for all workers.

On happiness
Are Happy Countries All Alike? (New York Times Blog 14.06.2011)
The Better Life Initiative launched by the OECD last month has received a lot of media attention. This article looks at the similarities between countries with high levels of life satisfaction and explains how Your Better Life Index works.
See more on happiness

In the Spotlight
The United Nations General Assembly’s Development Dialogue held on Tuesday addressed the progress made toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

That’s all from us this week. We hope to see you again next week for another round up of highlights from the week that was.

Yours in progress,
Philippa Lysaght

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Does peacebuilding bring peace?

This post first appeared on OECD Insights

By Patrick Love 
How much do you think it would cost to achieve the Millennium Development Goals? Among other things, that would mean cutting extreme poverty by half in 2015 compared with 1990, achieving universal primary education, and cutting the under-5 mortality rate by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters.
In 2002, the World Bank came up with a figure of an extra $40-$60 billion a year in foreign aid. Let’s assume that prices have doubled since then, and it would now cost $120 billion.
That’s a gigantic sum of money, but it’s peanuts compared to a figure in the 2011 Yearbook of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI): military expenditure in 2010 increased by 1.3% in real terms to reach $1630 billion. The top three arms dealers each had sales of around $33 billion.
SIPRI gives some encouraging figures, noting that two peace operations closed in 2010, making it the second consecutive year in which the total number of operations fell.
However, that still leaves 52 multilateral peace operations and the total number of personnel deployed increased by 20% between 2009 and 2010, to reach 262 842, mainly due to the increase in NATO troops in Afghanistan from 84,146 in 2009 to 131,730 in 2010.
That too is expensive. A report by the US Congressional Research Service states that between 2009 and 2010, average Department of Defense spending for Afghanistan alone grew from $4.4 billion to $6.7 billion a month (Afghanistan’s GDP in 2010 was $15.6 billion at the official exchange rate).
Is all this multilateral peacekeeping money well spent? SIRPI seems to have some doubts, arguing that operations are “increasingly contested by host countries and challenged in their efficacy by a combination of overstretch and weak political support”.
Next week, the second global meeting of the International Dialogue on Peacebuilding and Statebuilding being held in Monrovia, Liberia will discuss these issues and take a hard look at the role of governments, aid donors and civil society in building sustainable peace and developing capable and accountable states.
We’ll be covering the meeting for Insights blog, and hoping to get answers to three questions:
Have the populations of fragile states and countries affected by conflict benefited from the money, effort and time devoted to peacebuilding and statebuilding these past years?
Are they any nearer to achieving the Millennium Development Goals?
What lessons can these states and the international community as a whole learn from recent experiences, both positive and negative?

Friday, 10 June 2011

The week in review

It has been another busy week in the world of progress; see below our round up of highlights from the week that was. As always, you can find full media coverage of what’s happening in the world of progress by visiting the Wikiprogress Community Portal.

On progress
Maintaining progress amid turmoil (World Bank Blog 07.06.2011)
The World Bank released the Economic Global Prospects June 2011 report on Tuesday with a key message to developing countries- it is time to shift the focus from crisis fighting to sustaining growth. This World Bank blog gives an overview of the key findings of the report and looks at what impact this has on the world.

On gender equality
Shami Chakrabarti is the director of a civil rights pressure group called Liberty. This article profiles her work over the past decade and looks at the progress of her activism and what her hopes are for the future. 

On innovation and development
This interview with Aleem Walii of the World Bank gives insight into development indicators and the role that technology plays in developing and communicating these indicators. The article also looks to the future of the World Bank and the aspirations Mr. Walji has for the organization.

On child well-being
Almost two thirds of South African children live in poverty, with unemployment being one of the biggest obstacles to improving child well-being. This article gives detailed statistics on factors impacting child wellbeing and what progress has been made so far.
See more on child well-being

On happiness
The World's Happiest People (The Atlantic 06.06.2011)
Denmark ranks number 1 on a variety of quality of life indices, so it is no surprise that Danish people are ranked the world’s happiest. According to a Gallup poll, 72% of Danish people are ‘thriving’ compared to the global median of 21%.
See more on happiness

In the Spotlight on Wikiprogress this week – United Nations report declares Internet access a human right (link to full report and media coverage)

That’s all from us this week- we hope to see you back here this time next week for more highlights from the week that was.

Yours in progress,

Philippa Lysaght 

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Reducing the gender wage gap in Europe – how to tackle the task?

This post first appeared on Gender Debate.

Women in Europe currently earn on average 17.5% less than men. Even though there is an increasing political will to reduce the gender wage gap, initiatives often do not have much impact, as the real reasons for the persisiting gender wage gap tend to be misidentified.

At EU level, the gender pay gap is defined as the relative difference in the average gross hourly earnings of women and men within the economy as a whole. Even though there exists a significant gender pay gap in every European country, there are considerable differences between the Member States in this regard, with the pay gap ranging from less than 10% in Italy, Malta, Poland, Slovenia and Belgium to more than 20% in Slovakia, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Cyprus, Germany, United Kingdom and Greece and more than 25% in Estonia and Austria.

Source: Data: Eurostat (2008) except for EE (2007); Image: European Commission

The gender pay gap differs widely between France and Germany, which are the both European countries with the most socioeconomic similarities. In Germany, women earn on average 23.2% less than men, whereas in France, women earn “only” 17.1% less than men. In addition, salary gaps have been rising continuously in Germany for more than a decade, while wage gaps have been almost constant in France since 2000 and even sank in the early 2000s. The increase in the gender wage gap in Germany has been especially pronounced in recent years, as the low pay sector has been largely expanded  since 2000 and especially during the recent economic crisis. In France, on the other hand, the legally binding minimum wage helps prevent such a development. The fact that less women in France are in precarious employment and more women are employed full time further reduces the gender wage gap as compared to Germany to a significant extent.

The European Commission cites several causes for the persisting gender wage gap in European countries: The most frequently cited reason is labour market segregation: women tend to work more in sectors and statuses that are not very well paid. Many girls still limit their career choices to a narrow range of jobs  despite their superior academic performance (horizontal segregation). A high proportion of women  is employed in the social services sector, with the majority employed in the lower income segment (for example as elementary school teacher, nurse, social worker, cleaning lady, saleswoman, child care provider), which leads to the fact that women are significantly under-represented in the industry sectors. The job groups in which women are overrepresented usually offer worse career opportunities and lower pay in comparison to male-dominated jobs. Female-dominated jobs are also paid less simply because of their lower social status as “women’s jobs”. Typically masculine job categories, on the other hand, such as engineering and finance, are usually very well paid. At the same time, men and women are employed on different hierarchy levels (vertical segregation). Women tend to get promoted less frequently and find it more difficult to attain management positions. Thus, across all sectors, women are less present in supervisory boards.

However, only a small proportion of the gender wage gap is attributable to differences in productivity between men and women, which result from differences in training, choice of the sector, choice of working hours or limited flexibility caused by family commitments. Career paths of qualified women are blocked by informal and often invisible barriers – this phenomenon is known as the ‘glass ceiling’. The glass ceiling limits women’s access to networks and information within companies. Furthermore, there is evidence that male bosses tend to favour and promote male employees rather than female employees in many companies. Women’s careers often come to a halt when they reach middle management. It is mainly women themselves who come to suffer from this. The wage inequality has an impact throughout women’s lives and especially when they retire as lower salaries lead to lower pensions and a higher risk of poverty in older age.  However, there is rising awareness  that company’s executive management stands to lose or never attains important competencies held by women stuck in middle management.

Since recently, one can observe an increasing political will to reduce the gender wage gap allover Europe.  “Equal pay” initiatives and laws often call for paying women and men the same wage when both do the same job. However, this “direct” wage discimination only accounts for a small part of the gender wage gap. The main main reason why women earn less than men is not because they earn less for doing the same job, but because they do NOT do the same job! Women are underrepresented in the industry sector and in management positions and therefore do not have the same career and wage options than men.

Fighting against the gender wage gap therefore primarily implies enlarging career perspectives for women and encouraging girls and women to take on typically “male” jobs while putting typically “female” soft skills (empathy, social competence, conflict management) into use. At the same time, boys and men should be encouraged to do typical female jobs, especially in social services. This requires gender-conscious school pedagogy to encourage children to choose gender-atypical careers and to break up gender stereotypes.

To further boost women’s career development, there should be mechanisms to help women make the transition from marginal work arrangements to a regular full-time job. Publicly funded initiatives for qualifications and continuing education may be a good start. The introduction of a legally binding minimum wage would also represent an important step towards financial independence and social security for women employed in the low pay sector. In order to advance gender equality in the business world, a female quota for executive and supervisory boards of large companies would be appropriate. Gender mainstreaming and women’s advancement programmes should contain clear goal definitions, responsibilities and binding sanction mechanisms both in the private and the public sector.

Sources: Blog author’s own contribution; FES Report Angela Luci;European Commission

Friday, 3 June 2011

The week in review

Another week and another weekly review of highlights from the busy week that was.

On progress
ABCDE Conference (This week, Paris)
The Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics was hosted in Paris this week, with viewers from around the world tuning in for the live webcast. Key progress thinker, Amartya Sen, addressed the conference stating, "Democracy & human rights are essential to development & economic growth".

On gender
The Commission on the Status of Women has this week encouraged individual, non-governmental organization, group or network to submit communications on any violation of human rights that affects the status of women from any country in the world by August this year.

On data
Data guzzlers (The Economist 01.06.2011)
The Economist included this short little article earlier this week on Internet traffic data. The data is accompanied by future predictions for data usage to 2015.

On happiness
This week David Puttnam, CBE is a film producer and member of the House of Lords, wrote a short article on the Action for Happiness website on what collective happiness really means.
More on happiness

That’s all from us for the week in review. We hope you look forward to the week ahead and join us the same time next week for another weekly round up of events from the week that was.

Yours in Progress,

Philippa Lysaght

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Focusing on inequality or poverty reduction is not enough

This post first appeared on OECD Insights.

Our second post from the Annual Bank Conference on Development Economics (ABCDE) is from Mario Pezzini, Director of the OECD Development Centre. 

Day two of the 2011 ABCDE conference has just finished and so far, the conference has given me a lot to think about. There seems a growing consensus that high levels of inequality are not conducive to sustained growth and development.

At the Development Centre we go beyond this, arguing that societies that are growing rapidly and undergoing significant structural changes could see their growth trajectories compromised unless they put in place policies to help manage the process.

What is less clear is what policies should be employed, and in what order. Given the extensive changes that many countries are experiencing, focusing on inequality or poverty reduction is not enough.  Rapid economic growth may be instrumental to reducing poverty, but if large parts of the population get absorbed into the informal sector for example, then these “non-poor” will remain very vulnerable over time.

In this context we need a broader policy objective, one which caters to the multi-faceted challenges that many emerging and developing countries face.  I would call this policy objective social cohesion: a combination of social inclusion, social capital and social mobility. These three dimensions all interact and influence each other, which is why they need to be viewed as part of a whole. 

I don’t mean to belittle what is being said at the ABCDE. On the contrary, the breadth of topics covered in both the plenaries and side-sessions is impressive. Yet there is still a tendency to fragment policies, focusing on isolated outcomes rather than broader development objectives. An example is education, where often the focus can often be on improving enrollment or raising completion rates. But if there is no coherence between education and labour market policies, aren’t today’s school children tomorrow’s (albeit higher qualified) unemployed?  

These issues are explored in a forthcoming OECD Development Centre publication, the second in our Perspectives on Global Development series which focuses on social cohesion in a world of Shifting Wealth.   
Finally, I would add that a broader policy framework requires new measures. More data detailing citizens’ perceptions and aspirations, and more robust tools capable of capturing new socio-economic realities. Combining traditional and subjective measures will help us get a better picture of the current state of social cohesion, and design policies to nurture it.

Fortunately, new measures and data availability are two areas that will be discussed at length during day three of the ABCDE, specifically during the roundtable on Democratising Development Economics.
I hope to see you there, or if not, that you get a chance to follow the debate online.

Useful links  
Mario Pezzini talks about “Shifting Wealth” to CNBC Africa