Project: FROGEE publication

Lessons From the FROGEE Conference “The Playing Field in Academia: Why Are Women Still Underrepresented?”

Image of dark university area with two men representing women underrepresented in academia

Despite an increase in women’s representation since the beginning of the 20th century, women remain underrepresented in academia and other high-skilled professions. Academia has been prone to gender disparities both within and across fields as well as across academic ranks. In an endeavour to examine and address the underrepresentation of women in the academic profession, the Centre of Economic Analysis (CenEA), together with the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and other partners of the Forum for Research on Gender Economics (FROGEE) at the FREE Network, organized the two-day conference “The playing field in academia: Why are women still underrepresented?”, in Warsaw June 21-22, 2023. This brief offers insights from the presentations and panel discussions held at the conference.

To date, there are few, if any, high-skilled professions exhibiting gender balance, and academia is no exception. Consequently, this imbalance has been subject to increased multidisciplinary research attention, exploring its origins and potential remedies. However, attaining a comprehensive understanding of gender disparities remains a challenge. For instance, much remains to be learnt about their long-run dynamics, a subject addressed by Carlo Schwarz, in one of the conference’s keynote lectures.

A Century of Progress

Carlo Schwarz (in joint work with Alessandro Iaria and Fabian Waldinger, 2022) trace the evolution of gender gaps in academia across a variety of domains at the global level throughout the 20th Century. Facilitated by an unprecedentedly large database of nearly 500,000 academics, spanning 130 countries and supplemented by publication and citation data, the authors specifically examine gender imbalances in recruitment, publishing, citation patterns, and promotions.

They find that in 1900 women constituted roughly 1 percent of all hires in academia (226 women, with only 113 hired as full professors). By 1969 the share of female academics had risen to about 6.6 percent, and by the year 2000 it had grown to approximately 17 percent. These rates varied across disciplines, institutions, and countries. For instance, teaching-centric disciplines such as pedagogy and linguistics, exhibited higher representation relative to research-oriented ones.

The research subsequently reveals a hump-shaped evolution of the gender gap in academic output – starting small before peaking at 45 percentage points fewer publications by women in 1969, thereafter declining to 20 percentage points. These publication disparities were also found to share a U-shaped relationship with the share of women in academia, indicating the interconnectedness of gender gaps.

The authors also address gender gaps in citations, identified by the use of a novel machine learning approach, forecasting a paper’s citations had it been written by a man. The results indicate a progressive reduction in the citation gap during the 20th century, decreasing from 27 percentage points (pre-WW1) to 14 percentage points (interwar) and eventually to 8 percentage points (post-WW2) fewer citations of papers by female relative to male academics. These gender gaps in academic output reiterated current evidence from Mexico, presented at the conference by Diana Terrazas-Santamaria, showing that women are associated with lower citation rates. Terrazas-Santamaria attribute the low rates to gender differences in both the number of publications and duration of academic careers.

The work by Iaria, Schwarz and Waldinger (2022) further showcase the gender disparities in career advancement in academia, which similarly decreased over the years.  At the point of the greatest gender disparity, women required an approximately 6 percentage points better publication record to have the same promotion probabilities as their male counterparts.

The Leaky, Dry Pipeline

In the conference’s second keynote, Sarah Smith highlighted how academia, much like other professional occupations, exhibits a leaky pipeline. This is a phenomenon characterized by a declining representation of women as they ascend through the academic hierarchy. When examining specific fields, Smith’s results indicate that the gender disparities in economics much more closely align with those observed in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) than other social science disciplines. Furthermore, the economics’ field illustrate a significant lack of diversity among its new entrants. This phenomenon, referred to as the dry pipeline, generates future cohort implications, as they result in less demographically representative cohorts from which future professors can be recruited (see Stewart et al., 2009).

The cross-disciplinary comparison of the dry pipeline addressed in the keynote, contest the mathematical rigor of economics as a barrier to entry, as mathematics itself demonstrated higher women representation at A-level and undergraduate levels. In a following discussion panel, which focused on ensuring a fair start in academia (comprised of Yaroslava Babych, Alessandra Casarico, Federica Braccioli and Marta Gmurek, and moderated by Maria Perrotta Berlin), the panellists acknowledged that deeply engrained social expectations, gender trained behaviours and a lack of awareness constitute some of the persistent hindrances to the (early) involvement of women in specific fields, and the academic profession in general.

Additional factors influencing the gender balance in recruitment and promotion are gendered references, and the presence or absence of shared research interests between candidates and recruitment panels. These themes were extensively investigated in the work presented by Alessandra Casarico on the conference’s opening day. Specifically, results from collaborative work with Audinga Baltrunaite and Lucia Rizzica, highlight that grindstone words (e.g., “determined”, “hardworking”, etc.) are frequently used in recommendation letters to describe female candidates, while standout words (e.g., “excellent”, “strongest” etc.) typify male candidates’ references. Compared to their male counterparts, women are also shown to be more inclined to accentuate personality traits when serving as referees. This added to a broader literature demonstrating that female candidates’ recommendation letters frequently exhibit brevity, raise doubts, carry a weak tone, and emphasize candidates’ interpersonal skills and personality traits rather than their ability. Moreover, separate results from Casarico’s work (with Piera Bello and Debora Nozza) illustrate that research similarity between the recruiting committee and the candidate predict the likelihood of recruitment. The authors argue that the relationship is indicative of a bias against women if – as shown by the authors – women are less likely to be the candidates with the highest similarity.

In her presentation, Anne Sophie Lassen offered a different factor that may contribute to the attrition in the pipeline: the influence of parenthood on academic careers. Results from her work (with Ria Ivandić) indicate that while parenthood does not significantly influence graduation rates, it extends doctoral studies by an average of 7 months for women. Moreover, Lassen highlighted a declining trend of remaining in academia after becoming a parent, particularly pronounced among women.

More Areas of Imbalance

The remaining conference presentations and panel discussions explored additional domains of gender imbalances within academia. Iga Magda showcased evidence from her joint work with Jacek Bieliński, Marzena Feldy and Anna Knapińska of gender differences in remuneration during the early stages of an academic career, substantiating a gap within a year of graduation. These disparities endure throughout respondents’ careers and are contingent on the field of study – largest among engineering and technology graduates and lowest among those from the humanities and arts fields. Furthermore, it was observed that productivity plays a negligible role in the identified pay gaps, as its impact is similar for both genders.

The panel composed of Eleni Chatzichritou, Marta Łazarowicz-Kowalik, Jesper Roine and Joanna Wolszczak-Derlacz, and moderated by Michał Myck, deliberated on exposed disparities in the application for, and the success rates in attaining research funding in Poland and Europe – as seen in the National Science Centre (NCN) and the European Research Council research grants, respectively. The discussion highlighted how quantitative measures used in the allocation of research funding are riddled with subjective criteria that often benefit male academics. They also recognized how quests to allocate funds to the most successful candidate inadvertently penalize women with career breaks.

Another panel including Lev Lvovskiy, Carlo Schwarz, Sarah Smith, Marieke Bos and Joanna Tyrowicz, and moderated by Pamela Campa, lauded the growing objective data shedding light on gender inequalities in academia. The panellists discussed current challenges in identifying and quantifying aspects of gender disparities. For instance, currently used proxies do not allow to capture more subtle disparities, like microaggressions faced by female academics from students – emphasizing the need for more individual level survey data.

The panels were further enriched by personal anecdotes and filled with retrospective advice shared by both early career and established academics. To contextualize the above, a few cases from the FREE Network countries follow.

Evidence From Within the FREE Network

Yaroslava Babych shared insights concerning women in higher education in Georgia and other countries of the South Caucasus. Preliminary findings of her study confirm the presence of gender inequality in academia, evident in disparities in access to higher education as well as gender segregation across both fields and countries. Notably, women comprise a majority of the graduates in bachelor’s and master’s of art programs, whereas higher research-level programs such as doctors of science, and top echelons of the academic hierarchy remain predominantly male. Moreover, female academic output is found to be lower than that of male counterparts.

Lev Lvovskiy discussed the case of Belarus, highlighting the influence of the Soviet legacy. A significant factor linked to this legacy is exploiting university enrolment to circumvent compulsory conscription of men, allowing male university admissions to serve a secondary purpose beyond acquiring knowledge. This increases the perceived opportunity cost of enrolling a woman. Lvovskiy further documented the academic trajectories of Belarusians, revealing a majority of women at college and doctoral levels, but being underrepresented among doctoral graduates. The results further indicate significant cross-disciplinary gender disparities, with humanities having close to 80 percent women representation and engineering and information and technology (IT) fields having less than 30 percent women representation.

Monika Oczkowska provided evidence of gender disparities in Poland. Findings from the country reveal an overrepresentation of women graduates from bachelor through doctoral levels, and relative parity at post-doctoral level, but lower proportions at habilitation, associate professor, and professor levels. These general results confirm the higher detail findings presented by Karolina Goraus-Tanska on the first day of the conference. Results from Goraus-Tanska’s work (with Jacek Lewkowicz and Krzysztof Szczygielski) suggest that the drop-off among female academics from habilitation levels is not attributed to higher output expectations for women, but rather stems from the impact of parenthood.

Oczkowska further demonstrated that female academics in Poland are characterized by fewer international collaborations and lower levels of international output. Polish female academics were also showcased to engage in more international mobility during their doctoral studies relative to men, with the converse holding true after obtaining a doctoral degree. A potential explanation for this mobility decline among female academics, could be the increased burden of familial responsibilities at the post-doctoral and higher levels. Moreover, fewer women were reported to have applied for NCN grants and were underrepresented among the beneficiaries of these calls. Lastly, female academics in Poland record significantly lower total project costs relative to their male counterparts.

‘Plugging’ the Leak

In light of the aforementioned, what measures can be taken to address the gender imbalances in academia? As summarized by Sarah Smith, early initiatives have involved tracking women representation (e.g., in admissions, progression, hiring, etc.) within departments and/or institutions to identify where in the pipeline their progress is impeded. Attempted initiatives include formulation of seminar guidelines to overcome unfair experiences, as well as using gender-blind recruiting and objective hiring criteria to equalize hiring opportunities. Some other efforts, such as diverse recruitment panels have been unsuccessfully adopted, as they seem to embolden hostile male recruiters and load female panellists with unrewarded administration tasks. Conversely, mentoring has helped women build networks, publish more, and advance professionally. Awareness raising campaigns have reduced disparities in teaching evaluations and remain vital in addressing the dry pipeline and both transparent workload allocation and rewarding of administrative tasks have been shown to reduce promotion gaps in academia. In addition to the above, initiatives such as fostering gender-neutral networking opportunities, collaborations and a more diverse faculty were also deliberated during the conference.

Concluding Remarks

The conference advanced dialogue on societal and structural constraints to gender equality in academia and provided a platform to exchange ideas on how the shared objective of a more inclusive and equitable academic environment can be achieved. While the challenges remain abundant, and the costs associated not always negligible, it remains crucial to assess achievements, such as those resulting from mentoring and awareness intervention initiatives and recognize that further opportunities to enhance equity within the profession exist.

Additional Material

Seminar Programme 21.06.2023

Seminar Participants – short bios

Conference Programme 22.06.2023

Conference Participants – short bios

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Rebuilding Ukraine: The Gender Dimension of the Reconstruction Process

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The post-war reconstruction of Ukraine will have to comprehensively address a number of objectives to set the country on a path of stable, sustainable and inclusive growth. In this Policy Paper we argue that the principles of “building-back better” need to take the gender dimension under consideration. While the war has exposed women and men to different risks and challenges, various types of gender inequality were also pervading the Ukrainian society prior to it. Gender responsiveness in the preparation, design and execution of reconstruction programs is essential to ensure fair and effective allocation of the coming massive inflow of resources in the reconstruction effort. We argue that the principles and implementation mechanisms developed under the gender responsive budgeting (GRB) heading are suitable to apply in the process. We also document that the principles of GRB have in recent years become well established in Ukrainian public finance management and point out areas where the application of a GRB approach will be of particular importance.


In August 2022, in the midst of the full-scale Russian invasion, the Ukrainian government adopted the State Strategy for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men for the period until 2030 and approval of the operational plan for its implementation for 2022-2024 (Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, 2022), reaffirming its commitment to promote gender equality in Ukraine with a focus on empowering women and eliminating gender-based discrimination in all areas of life. The Strategy follows a number of earlier legislative initiatives that had placed gender equality at the center of Ukrainian public policy and included a comprehensive approach to the design of fiscal policy at the central and local government level, adopting the principles of gender responsive budgeting (GRB). Given substantial gender gaps in numerous areas of life in the Ukrainian society these principles will have to be considered in the future reconstruction process to address such disparities. Following the overall guidance presented by the authors of the CEPR Report published in late 2022, titled “Rebuilding Ukraine: Principles and policies” (Gorodnichenko et al., 2022), this Policy Paper examines some key dimensions of the future reconstruction of Ukraine from the perspective of gender equality with a focus on consistent and effective adoption of the principles of GRB.

Gorodnichenko et al. (2022) noted the critical importance of thinking already today about how Ukraine will rebuild after the war is over – “advanced planning and preparations now will save lives and increase chances of success (…) these steps will give hope to millions of Ukrainians that after the horrors of the war there is light at the end of the tunnel”. We argue, that if the reconstruction is to result in stable, sustainable development and bring tangible benefits to all Ukrainians, the principles of “building-back better” need to take the gender dimension under consideration. This is important for efficiency as well as equality reasons. Such an approach is fully consistent with the 2022 State Strategy which recognizes that gender equality is not only a human right but also a driver of economic growth and social development. The Strategy also provides a framework for mainstreaming gender into government policies and programs, including the budget, and recognizes the importance of gender budgeting as a tool for promoting gender equality and ensuring that public resources are allocated in a fair and equitable manner. Different forms of gender inequality permeated Ukrainian society before the war: while women were more educated than men, they were less likely to participate in the labor force, were severely under-represented in senior positions in business and politics as well as in fast-developing sectors such as information and communication technology, were earning lower wages, and were more likely to be victims of gender-based violence (see, e.g. World Economic Forum, 2021). The war has also exposed women and men to different risks and challenges (see, e.g., Berlin Perrotta and Campa, 2022). Gender responsiveness in the preparation, design and execution of the reconstruction programs is crucial to ensure fair and effective allocation of the vast amount of resources that will be mobilized through the reconstruction effort, providing a unique opportunity to address pre-war and war-related gender inequalities. We argue that the principles and implementation mechanisms developed under the heading of gender responsive budgeting are suitable tools to apply in the process. There are numerous examples from various post-disaster reconstruction experiences showing how sensitivity along the gender dimension can determine the success or failure of specific initiatives, and how thinking in advance along gender equality lines can help address the change from an ineffective and unfair status quo, to successfully “build-back better” (see Box 1).

The dimensions of post-war reconstruction of Ukraine covered in Gorodnichenko et al. (2022) range from necessary changes in governance, through reforms in the business and finance environment, energy and transportation infrastructure, as well as the labor market, the education and the healthcare system, to a discussion of the structure most efficient to deliver international aid. The Report offers an invaluable blueprint for peace-time reconstruction and development of Ukraine and constitutes a crucial reference point for the discussion about the efficient use of resources necessary to ensure rapid and sustainable development of the country. Below we build on its main principles, examine them through a gender lens and apply a gender responsive budgeting approach to highlight the areas where it can be used at different stages of the reconstruction process.

In what follows we draw on the growing literature in the fields, among others, of political economy, development, education and labor economics, that examines the importance of gender diversity and identifies implications of gender inequalities for socio-economic outcomes at the micro and the macro level. On the basis of this literature, we point out the dimensions of the reconstruction process where a gender responsive approach can be particularly beneficial, and specify the stages of the process where the principles of gender responsive budgeting can be effectively applied to ensure efficient and fair distribution of recovery resources. The paper begins with a brief introduction to gender budgeting (Section 2), followed by three sections focusing on key categories of the reconstruction. First, in Section 3, we discuss how a gender responsive approach can shape governance reforms in the post-war period. In Section 4 we examine how gender sensitivity combined with the principles of GRB can influence the allocation of recovery funds in the process of physical rebuilding after the war, as well as the design of the physical environment. Finally, Section 5 highlights the crucial role of human capital in post-war development and points out a number of areas where reconstruction policies might have to be carefully drafted, taking into consideration the specific needs and requirements of women and men. We stress throughout that the concept of gender budgeting and gender responsiveness has been exercised in Ukraine for some time and that it is well rooted in Ukrainian public policy making. These principles should thus come naturally to representatives of key institutions in the discussion of plans for the country’s reconstruction and their execution.

2. Applying Gender Responsive Budgeting Principles to the Process of Post-war Reconstruction

At the heart of gender responsive budgeting lies the recognition of the potential of financial and fiscal policies to influence gender disparities. Gender budgeting integrates “a clear gender perspective within the overall context of the budgetary process through special processes and analytical tools, with a view to promoting gender-responsive policies” (Downes et al. 2017). It is aimed at ensuring that fiscal policies and public financial management practices and tools are formulated and implemented with a view to promote and achieve gender equality objectives, and that adequate resources for achieving them are allocated (IMF, 2017). For GRB to be effective, gender considerations ought to be included in all the stages of the budget cycle, including:

  1. the setting of fiscal policy goals and targets
  2. the preparation of the annual budget and its approval by the legislature
  3. the control and execution of the approved budget
  4. the collection of revenues, the preparation of accounts, and financial reports
  5. the independent oversight and audit of the budget

At each stage of the process, different tools have been developed to ensure that discussion on the gender impact of a specific fiscal policy will constitute an integral part of budget decision-making, execution and reporting. These tools include documents ensuring that spending ministries and agencies are fully briefed on the legal and administrative procedures to be followed in implementing gender responsive budgeting as well as on the requirements to include gender-relevant indicators in budget requests, to provide data disaggregated by sex, or to request specific budgetary allocations for gender-related programs or projects (Budlender, 2015). Moreover, gender budget statements can be published with the budget document as strategic tools to implement gender-responsive policies by allocating adequate resources to reach strategic goals and measuring impact and results. Gender budgeting also includes requirements for gender-impact assessment of the potential direct and indirect effect of policy proposals on gender equality and more broadly on different groups in the society. The regulations may require such assessments to be made prior to implementation (ex-ante assessment) as well as after the roll out of the policies (ex-post evaluation).

The principles of GRB originated in the 1980s in the Australian government in the form of the so-called ‘Women’s Statement’. The principles were applied more broadly in transition and developing countries with support of UN Women and numerous NGOs and research institutions. In recent years, mainly as a result of recognition of the effectiveness of GRB from international financial institutions, such as the IMF, the World Bank and the OECD, the approach has been more firmly integrated with other existing budget tools. It has thus become much more common as a standard technical budget instrument in numerous developed and developing countries (For more details on the development of GRB theory and practice see for example: Budlender et al. 2002; O’Hagan and Klatzer 2018, and Kolovich 2018). Currently over ninety countries around the world apply some form of GRB. While in most of them its use has not been systematized and fully integrated in the overall budget process, countries such as Australia, Austria, Canada and the Spanish province of Andalusia apply GRB consistently across all levels of government and systematically monitor its execution. Ukraine is also among the countries that in recent years have made rapid progress towards comprehensive integration of GRB in its public policy (see Box 2).

The Ukrainian government firmly upheld the principles of GRB after the Russian invasion in February 2022, at a time when one might think that gender equality considerations would lose priority in the management of public finances. Throughout the war the Ministry of Finance has continued to ask line ministries to provide gender responsive budget requests, and fiscal policy has been monitored to ensure informed policies with regard to the distribution of the limited crisis-budget funds among different groups in society. These policies together with the State Strategy for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men for the period until 2030 and approval of the operational plan for its implementation for 2022-2024 (Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, 2022), adopted in August 2022, reaffirm the Ukrainian government’s commitment to gender responsive policy making and lay the foundations for the application of such an approach during the post-war recovery process. Effective implementation of GRB principles requires specific knowledge and expertise, and the lack of which has often been a key challenge in meaningful integration of gender analysis in financial processes and documents. Competence in finance among civil servants in line ministries and the Ministry of Finance needs to be combined with gender expertise in sector budget analysis. Development of the combination of these competencies in Ukraine in recent years bodes well for integrating the GRB principles in the process of recovery and reconstruction.

At different stages of the reconstruction process the needs of various social groups along the gender dimension as well as others such as age, disability or religion, ought to be taken into account. To ensure fair and effective use of recovery funds the process should consider the following principles:

  • Participation: consultation with different population groups by gender, age, disability, profession, and other characteristics should enable assessment of the priority objectives for reconstruction in specific localities.
  • Equity: there is always a risk of neglecting the needs of different categories of people (e.g. people with disabilities) while focusing on the needs of the majority of the population.
  • Addressability: it is important to realize that a reconstruction program aimed at “everyone” risks significant misallocation of funds, reaching “no one”. A careful approach needs to consider different economic, cultural, recreational, educational and service needs of well-specified groups of individuals.

The planning and execution of the reconstruction process could follow the lines of intersectional gender budgeting analysis which focuses on the analysis of how different budget measures impact different groups of citizens – women and men – taking into account their disability status, age, place of residence and other variables. Taking as an example a foot bridge reconstruction, a gender responsive analysis would enable information on the citizens in the area, their needs, and their use of the infrastructure. The reconstructed bridge should benefit pedestrians, often women who might sell their products at the marketplace, or whose access to various services requires to cross the river. The analysis would also consider employment levels among women in the reconstruction of the bridge, etc. Considering the example of a school reconstruction, the process needs to consider if there are children in the area and/or whether they will return to that area with their families; whether there is/will be sufficient access to transportation and whether – in case the school is not reconstructed – the children can conduct their education in other schools in the area. Reconstructed educational institutions should consider gender-sensitive infrastructure and account for design of facilities, such as ramps, to address the needs of individuals with disabilities.

The Ukrainian government is strongly committed to supporting gender equality trough, among other means, gender mainstreaming processes with well-established legal frameworks for gender budgeting. Reconstruction efforts shall acknowledge and use the existing analytical tools in Ukraine to ensure that donor funds, projects and initiatives achieve their objective of sustainable and equitable development. Effective and fair distribution of the reconstruction funds will require that substantial care is paid to the analysis of the beneficiaries at the stages of planning and during reconstruction.

3. The Gender Perspective on Governance in Post-war Reconstruction

The institutional arrangements adopted both at the national level in Ukraine and at the international level for the administration and distribution of reconstruction funds will be of crucial importance to the success of recovery efforts and their translation into rapid and sustainable development of the country. In this Section we take the gender perspective on these two dimensions of governance. First, we argue that, at the national level, improvements could be made in the Ukrainian electoral system to extend women’s access to elected political positions in order to increase women’s influence in the overall process of policy-making. Drawing on international evidence we argue that this would not only further ensure support for the application of the gender budgeting approach, but it would also help selecting more competent and non-corruptible politicians. Second, we build on the proposal in Mylovanov and Roland (2022) to create an EU-affiliated agency that would manage the funds from multilateral donors (the “Ukraine Reconstruction and European Integration Agency” – UREIA) and examine how the GRB principles should be applied to efficiently integrate them with other dimensions of such an agency’s activities.

3.1 Increasing Women’s Representation in Ukrainian Political Institutions

In international comparisons, Ukraine lags behind in terms of women’s representation in politics, with gender gaps persisting in national as well as local institutions – in spite of some recent progress. It is likely that a large presence of women in political institutions would help addressing concerns regarding the effective implementation of the gender budgeting principles.  Local and central politicians could promote ex-post evaluations of local and national projects to verify that the intended gender-breakdown of beneficiaries were reached, and they could consider and implement corrective measures when unintended balances were found. In this respect we note, once again, that key decision-makers in Ukraine have shown strong commitment to the principles of gender-budgeting, by supporting and prioritizing its implementation – even during the dramatic circumstances of the Russian invasion (see Box 2). However, the commitment to gender-budgeting among policy-makers in Ukraine would likely become even stronger with a larger presence of women among them. The gender composition of political institutions has been shown to affect the allocation of public funds. For example, Chattopadhyay and Duflo (2004) find that female village chiefs in India tend to spend more money in budgetary areas that appear to be especially important for female villagers. Similarly, an analysis of the bills proposed by French legislators shows that women tend to work more on so called “women’s issues” (Lippmann, 2022). We would therefore expect female politicians to be more likely to support an effective implementation of gender-budgeting principles. Moreover, we expect project proposals crafted by more gender equal groups to be more representative of both women and men’s needs and priorities, which in turns should make the reconstruction process more balanced across different areas and allow it to address numerous inefficiencies of the pre-war status quo (see Box 1).

It is also worth noting that some literature in economics and political science documents that, as more women are elected to political institutions, the average “quality” of elected politicians tends to increase (Besley et al., 2020; Baltrunaite et al., 2018). Moreover, female policy-makers are less likely to engage in corruption and patronage (Brollo and Troiano, 2018; Dollar et al., 2001; Swamy et al., 2001), a dimension which will certainly be closely monitored at an international level, and one which is key in ensuring international public support for the reconstruction.  Policies that increase women’s representation in politics could thus also help improve the quality of democratic institutions, a development that is of utmost importance in the face of Ukraine’s ambition to join the EU. While the existing empirical evidence does not unanimously link women’s representation in politics to more women-friendly budgetary expenditures or better institutions, it is worth noting that there is also no evidence of any major drawback from policies that help women accessing political institutions. Increasing women’s representation in Ukrainian political institutions would also be in line with the argument that bringing a critical mass of new people in politics will help counteracting “oligarchizing” tendencies (Mylovanov and Roland, 2022) in the development of Ukrainian democracy. Numerous options are available in terms of changes in the political ‘rules of the game’ to help address the current underrepresentation of women in Ukrainian political institutions. In Box 3 we list a few of these options.

3.2 Gender Budgeting in the Work of UREIA

Gender-budgeting in the reconstruction process requires an ex-ante gender-analysis of the different projects being financed, which relies on the availability of sex-disaggregated data and specialized skills. Given that gender-budgeting has been part of Ukraine public finance system for a number of years, there is likely a good supply of trained personnel who can work together with international experts right from the beginning of the reconstruction.  Conducting the ex-ante work of gender assessment within the reconstruction agency should speed up the process that we envision, as the tasks involved will be routinely sourced to the same teams of skilled individuals who will analyze different projects through the gender-budgeting lens. The agency should then also be in charge of a centralized evaluation of the various gender-analysis results. This work of overview will provide a comprehensive picture of who is reached by the entire pool of available reconstruction funds, thus allowing to distinguish project-specific gender differences – which can be justified by specific needs being targeted at project-level – from a systematic bias toward one of the genders in the overall reconstruction process. A clear picture of who are the beneficiaries of specific reconstruction initiatives, including statistics disaggregated by gender and potentially by other characteristics, may play a key role in reassuring the Ukrainian society that the recovery funds are used to benefit a broad spectrum of the population, as well as in legitimizing the use of these funds in the eyes of the international donor community.

The conclusions of the international literature on the implications of women’s representation in political institutions for the scope of realized public initiatives mentioned in Section 3.1, pertain also to the functioning of the UREIA. The very design and composition of the agency’s staff ought to ensure gender diversity in its ranks at all levels of seniority to safeguard both the highest quality of the work being carried out by UREIA, as well as the appropriate scope of projects undertaken by the agency, most preferably supported by the principles of GRB. Recent empirical studies indicate that the personal traits of public procurement actors, such as their abilities or competencies, may play a key role in influencing procurement practices and outcomes (see, e.g., Best, Hjort and Szakonyi, 2022 or Decarolis et al., 2020), and gender-based variations in personal characteristics such as risk aversion, ethical values, and others have been demonstrated to be significant, including in the context of corruption (see a review in Chaudhuri, 2012).

4. Post-war Reconstruction: the Gender Perspective on Rebuilding the Physical Environment

The physical environment provides the background for the functioning of societies and at the same time, through its physical durability, imposes a long-lasting legacy that may determine the dynamics of social processes well beyond the time of construction. It shapes the organization of cities, the location and efficiency of public infrastructure, as well as the transport networks and it is also an influential precondition and determinant of behavior and outcomes. There is plenty of examples of how the physical environment affects economic outcomes, both at the individual and societal level. The presence of large infrastructures such as ports or highways determined the process of agglomeration (Ganapati, 2021; Faber, 2014), while paved roads and irrigation canals affect local development and structural transformation of rural areas (Aggarwal, 2018; Asher et al., 2022). Availability of urban green spaces has implications for health outcomes and violence (Kondo et al., 2018) and the safety of commuting routes affects girls’ college choices (Borker, 2021). Moreover, elements of the built environment may also affect social norms (Josa and Aguado, 2019; Baum and Benshaul-Tolonen, 2021).

The post-war reconstruction of the physical environment will shape the structure of Ukrainian cities and villages for decades to come, and hence the process ought to consider very broad aspects of influence of the built environment, with a clear focus on the identity of its users and beneficiaries. We firmly believe that the application of the principles of GRB will facilitate effective use of recovery resources and at the same time help address the inefficiencies of the pre-war status quo to create an environment which fairly takes into consideration the interests of both men and women. With respect to the physical environment in particular, obvious path dependencies limit swift changes to benefit women and other marginalized groups (Hensley, Mateo-Babiano, and Minnery 2014) and from this perspective the post-war recovery process can be thought of as a unique opportunity to address a number of imbalances.

4.1 Gender Mainstreaming in Urban Planning

It has been pointed out that gender mainstreaming in urban planning remains inadequate, which has been linked to the gender bias in the planning industry, both in terms of representation – who plans the cities affects how the cities are planned (Beall, 1996) – and the dominant culture (Sahama et al., 2012). It seems intuitive that a planning approach which takes into account how beneficiaries of the design are disaggregated by gender, and how the design affects the functioning of different groups, would result in an environment much more suited to the needs of these groups. The design should take into consideration different preferences with regard to employment, leisure, housing, open spaces, transportation, and the environment. Gender is relevant across all these issues in urban planning. Including more women in planning and decision-making might be the easiest way to ensure that such perspective is accounted for.

As we argue in Section 5, the effective use of Ukraine’s human capital will be essential for the success of its recovery process and further development. The built environment has important consequences in this realm and so, when rethinking cities, questions such as zoning, connectivity and mobility, as well as the quality of sidewalks and lighting need to be considered in relation to the necessity to juggle work, care for household members, and other daily duties (Grant-Smith, Osborne, and Johnson 2017). The rebuilt physical infrastructure will affect the lives of those who are particularly limited by safety concerns, and it will affect the quality of life of those who walk pushing a pram or supporting elderly relatives. These aspects have been shown to be particularly important for women, increasing their actual and perceived vulnerability when they travel around the city, cutting them off from after-dark activities (Ceccato et al., 2020), but also affecting life choices with a long-lasting impact (Borker, 2021). Utilizing Geographic Information Systems (GIS), satellite imagery and open data sources holds the promise of creating more effective methods for observing patterns of utilization of the city and incorporating a gender responsive approach along these lines in urban planning of reconstructed areas of Ukraine (Carpio-Pinedo et al., 2019).

4.2 Gender Sensitivity in the Design of Transport Infrastructure

Transport infrastructure is crucial to the development of society. When a large share of the infrastructure capital needs to be rebuilt or updated, as will be the case in Ukraine, this opportunity may be used to lay new foundations for both economic and social development. To make the most of such an opportunity, attention ought to be paid to a number of identified risks. Unequal resource distribution has been observed both in connection with new construction of infrastructure (MacDonald, 2005) and relocation of the same (Chandra, 2000; Unruh and Shalaby, 2012). The large stakes inherent in these projects can generate high incomes and rent-seeking leading to a deepening of inequalities and further marginalization of those already vulnerable from the conflict. As women have been particularly strongly affected by the war and the resulting internal displacement (Obrizan, 2022a), the reconstruction process ought to pay particular attention to the risks of exacerbating some unequal developments that emerged with the war. Women’s representation in budgeting, procurement, and decision-making might make these aspects more salient and facilitate their integration into the recovery process.

Mobility is connected with social inclusion, more general well-being and a higher quality of life (this literature is reviewed in Josa and Aguado, 2019). The transport infrastructure is particularly important from the point of view of gender equality as usage of transportation and transport mode preferences significantly vary across socio-economic groups, including by gender (Grieco and McQuaid, 2012; Ghani et al., 2016). In the reconstruction planning and rebuilding process the prioritization of public funding for roads, highways, and railways compared to slow modes, such as walking and cycling, should be put in relation to usage and preferences in different groups of the population. One way through which women are excluded, from mobility itself and from other economic outcomes that mobility would help to reach, such as education (Borker, 2021) and employment (Das and Kotikula, 2019), are safety concerns. In dozens of cities around the world, lack of safety and prevalence of sexual harassment in public transit has resulted in the creation of safe spaces to facilitate safer travel conditions for women (Kondylis et al., 2020). The reconstruction could put significant emphasis on the safety of public transportation which would benefit women in particular and facilitate their effective integration in the future aspects of socio-economic development.

4.3 The Gender Perspective in Increasing Energy Efficiency

One of the key focus points of post-war reconstruction will be rebuilding the energy infrastructure, which has, over the course of the war increasingly been a target of Russian bombing. This process will have to be accompanied by considerations of reorientation, in terms of the energy mix, with a focus on self-sufficiency and environmental sustainability, but also most likely of relocation. At the same time the country should pay significant attention to energy efficiency, which may significantly influence both the energy self-sufficiency of Ukraine and the environmental aspects of power and heating.

It is worth noting at this point that natural resources and their exploitation have significant implications for local communities with consequences from projects often spilling over to local attitudes, leading to gender inequalities through channels such as labor and marriage markets, environmental quality and health, fertility and violence (see a review in Baum and Benshaul-Tolonen, 2021). Both exploitation and new energy infrastructure projects – similar to other aspects of the build environment – will have to consider effective connection to the new urban and production mix, so that the energy infrastructure serves the new cities and the updated geographic distribution of various productive sectors, but also the impact that infrastructure positioning can have on surrounding communities. The presence of infrastructure may generate rents and inequality, and the same is true also for energy infrastructure.

The post-war reconstruction will also present a chance to substantially improve energy self-sufficiency through increased efficiency in energy consumption. Ukraine currently has an energy intensity in production that exceeds the EU average by a factor of 2.5. Although energy efficiency in industry and buildings represents the lion share of such gains, households’ consumption behavior has the potential to contribute substantially, both directly through the consumption of fuel and electricity, and indirectly through the consumption of goods and services (Bin and Dowlatabadi, 2005), as well as through the support for a green policy agenda (Douenne and Fabre, 2022). In this area women and gender-related attitudes might be particularly important. Recent literature claims that women tend to be more environmentally friendly than men, partly due to individual characteristics and attitudes considered more prevalent among women, such as risk aversion, altruism, and cooperativeness – important for environmental behaviors (Cárdenas et al., 2012 and 2014; Andreoni and Vesterlund, 2001). There is also empirical evidence that households where women have more decision power display higher energy-efficiency and energy savings (Li et al., 2019), while firms with more women in their board source significantly more energy from renewables (Atif et al., 2020). It might therefore prove instrumental that energy-efficiency policies directed to households (nudges, information/education, financial incentives) and firms respectively (including gender quotas in boards) take these aspects into account.

5. Post-war Reconstruction: the Gender Perspective on Rebuilding and Strengthening Ukraine’s Human Capital

The human cost of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, including the implications from the Russian occupation of Ukrainian territories since 2014, is immeasurable. The loss of lives, as well as the consequences of disabilities, physical injuries and mental trauma will scar the Ukrainian future for decades to come. The invasion has resulted also in massive displacement and emigration, as well as in the loss of numerous aspects of individual capacities. From the point of view of Ukraine’s reconstruction and future development, all these losses, apart from demonstrating dramatic individual human tragedies, need to be perceived as loss of an essential building block of socio-economic growth – human capital.

Successful post-war reconstruction of Ukraine and its long-term sustainable development can only be ensured if sufficient care is taken of areas which are key to the development and effective utilization of human capital. These cover, in particular but not exclusively, the areas of healthcare, education, research and the labor market and all of them have been extensively covered and discussed in Gorodnichenko et al. (2022, see chapters: 10, 11, 12, 13). Drawing on their general conclusions, we particularly focus on some of the gender aspects of human capital development in the context of planning Ukraine’s reconstruction. Highlighting gender aspects is sometimes misunderstood as being focused on achieving gender equality in numbers across domains. This is not our focus here. The starting point is to look at a number of empirical facts about actual conditions and, based on this, point to the importance of taking the gender dimension into account to achieve efficiency in the reconstruction process. Gender sensitivity seems particularly important in the area of human capital development, and given the fundamental role of human capital for growth (e.g., Barro, 2001; Squicciarini and Voigtländer, 2015; Goldin, 2016) it is essential for an effective use of reconstruction resources as well as for ensuring a cost-efficient, sustainable and fair process of redevelopment.

The reconstruction interventions we address in this Section are those in which the gender aspect is particularly salient. We categorize these under three broad overlapping headings: 5.1; supporting internally displaced individuals, returning international migrants, war veterans and other victims of conflict, 5.2; providing effective education and training to younger generations, and 5.2; reducing institutional constraints on labor market participation.

5.1 Supporting Internally Displaced, Returning International Migrants, War Veterans and Other Victims of Conflict

Forced internal displacement and international migration – apart from the resulting direct consequences for physical and mental health – comes with separation from family and local social networks, from jobs and schools as well as loss of physical and financial assets. According to UNWomen 7,9 million Ukrainians have been forced to leave the country and 90 percent of them are women with their children. Of the more than 5 million internally displaced 68 percent are women (as of Jan 2023; UNWomen, 2023). Many of those forced to move will either not be able to return home or will return to their localities devastated by the war along a number of dimensions.

Effective rebuilding and reconstruction will strongly rely on the input from these hundreds of thousands of individuals. We ought to bear in mind that a great majority of international war migrants are women, and supporting them in returning to Ukraine and in reintegration – often in places other than those they had left – will be of vital importance to the process of reconstruction. Significant care will also have to be taken of returning war veterans – most of whom are men, as well as victims of war related sexual violence – mostly women. Ukraine already counts more than 300,000 veterans from different armed conflicts on Ukrainian territory since 1992 – including 18,000 women or about 6 percent (Ministry of Veterans Affairs of Ukraine, 2022). According to the head of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, about 1 million are currently mobilized, with roughly 5 percent being women (Boyko, 2022). The Ministry of Social Policy of Ukraine (2022b) expects the number of veterans and their families to amount to 5 million. To support their involvement in the reconstruction process, short run interventions ought to address the following critical areas: housing and safety, physical and mental health, and active labor market policies. All these areas involve significant gender considerations.

a) Housing and safety

As many of the internally displaced and those returning to Ukraine from abroad will not be able to return to their homes, provision of safe and good quality housing will represent a major challenge in the reconstruction efforts. While ‘roof over your head’ is equally important for everyone, some aspects of the housing infrastructure, especially local safety and safe connectivity with other key locations, are of particular relevance to the wellbeing of women. Although already mentioned in in our discussion of reconstruction of the physical environment in Section 4, it is important to bear in mind that good quality housing and access to critical infrastructure and effective transportation networks have substantial implications for the effective ways of participation of different members of the society in its socio-economic activities. If the human capital of men and women is to be efficiently engaged in the reconstruction process and further developed, the physical context in which it will happen must be adjusted with the objectives of different groups in mind. Housing, neighborhood conditions, and safe transportation translate into access to jobs, training, education, and local services. The design of the physical reconstruction after the war ought to take these different perspectives into account along the lines of gender responsive budgeting to clearly delineate and correctly identify priorities for the allocation of recovery funds.

b) Physical and mental health support

It is clear that experiences from threat to one’s life and safety, the need to flee one’s home and search refuge, continued experience of insecurity, the direct exposure to terror and violence – including sexual violence – and war atrocities will leave a significant proportion of the Ukrainian population traumatized and in need of specialized mental health support. Additionally, numerous individuals will come out of the war with life-changing physical injuries, while to countless people the period of war will result in substantial neglect of common health problems which otherwise would have been taken care of. These dramatic consequences of war will have to be comprehensively addressed as part of the reconstruction effort to support the affected and vulnerable groups, with the aim to address both their physical and mental health deficiencies. The issues involved are too complex for a Policy Paper to deal with in detail – we can only highlight health as an area to be prioritized in the allocation of recovery funds. With that in mind it is important to stress that there are numerous examples in the public heath literature showing the significance of the gender perspective with regard to the efficient use of public resources and appropriate design of health interventions, taking into account the specific requirements of men and women both in physical and mental health (Abel & Newbigging, 2018; Chandra et al., 2019; Diaz-Granados et al., 2011; Judd et al., 2009; Oertelt-Prigione et al., 2017).

War veterans – primarily men – will be a group in need of particular concern and a comprehensive approach with regard to physical and mental health. Specific specialized support will have to be offered also to victims of conflict-related sexual violence – mostly women. The direct health support will often need to go along with education and training as well as assistance in such areas as housing and material conditions.

Already before the full-scale Russian invasion Ukraine had rolled out several programs in support of veterans from the ongoing 2014 conflict. These included establishing private or publicly co-funded therapy centers for treating posttraumatic stress disorder (Colborne, 2015) and creating organized groups of psychological and psychiatric specialists providing psychological assistance (Quirke et al., 2020). They also included conducting special trainings for general practitioners to provide mental health consultations to increase the overall capacity of Ukraine’s health care system to address mental health issues (Kuznetsova et al., 2019), and broadcasting national TV/social media awareness campaigns such as ‘Mental Health Awareness Week’ (Quirke et al., 2021). Since 2017, as part of the broader healthcare reform program, a thorough reform of the mental health services provision has been underway. The key identified challenges targeted with the reform were: securing human rights protection in mental health legislation, improving regulation of the mental healthcare sector and expanding delivery of mental health services outside of the institutionalized settings (The Ministry of Health of Ukraine, 2018; Weissbecker et al., 2017).

c) Active labor market policies (ALMP)

In precarious conditions in particular, women tend to be those responsible for care of elderly and children, which additionally contributes to disconnecting them from the labor market. It seems that large scale ALMP programs for displaced individuals and returning migrants will be essential to improve the match between skills and the local post-war labor market conditions.

With greater war time labor market disconnect among women, many of whom will have spent months without employment or in various forms of war-time subsistence work, ALMPs will be critical for many in the process of post-war reconstruction. Overview studies show that effectiveness of labor market interventions is generally positive for men and women (e.g. Card et al., 2010). These are often similar in size even though in settings with high employment gaps – such as in the case of Ukraine – the programs tend to be more effective for women (Bergman and van den Berg, 2008). Appropriate identification of skill shortages and provision of training can be an effective way of supporting the post-war Ukrainian labor market and the integration of women in particular. The design of these programs ought to pay special attention in order to avoid labor market stereotyping, to provide broad and integrated routeways to deliver the greatest pool of talent, and to ensure that men and women are appropriately matched to jobs suitable to their skills and abilities. Significant training programs should also be directed towards war veterans.

The skills training aspect of ALMPs has other important gender dimensions – women represent a large majority of Ukrainian teachers, and their skills can be utilized not only in schools but also in adult education and retraining, taking particular advantage of the extensive network of vocational education institutions. Similarly, around 83 percent of the country’s healthcare workers are women, and skills upgrading in the healthcare sector – especially focused on increasing the competence and skills of nurses to take over greater responsibilities for primary care – will constitute an important reform element in the Ukrainian healthcare sector (see Gorodnichenko et al., 2022, chapter 12).

5.2 Providing Effective Education and Training to Younger Generations

Ukrainian youth have in recent years faced a double blow to their educational development. The first one in the form of numerous Covid-19 pandemic related restrictions, followed by the disruption in their education process due to the Russian invasion. The latter especially affected those who had to flee their homes and leave their local schools, as well as those whose schools have been destroyed and rendered dysfunctional. However, many Ukrainian schools opted for or were forced to limit the extent of provided classes and/or provided some of the instruction online. According to UNICEF, the war in Ukraine has disrupted education for more than 5 million children (UNICEF, 2023). 60 percent of children have experienced different traumatic events such as separation from family and friends, moving to another region, shelling and bombing, having witnessed the death of relatives or loved ones, etc. In early 2023, 42 percent of children aged 3-17 studied online, 29 percent both online and in school/kindergarten, 26 percent attended educational institutions while 3 percent studied at home (Sociological Group Rating, 2023). As mounting evidence from the Covid-19 pandemic shows, such disruptions accumulate in the form of significant human capital losses (e.g., Gajderowicz et al., 2022, Contini et al., 2021) and post-war recovery will have to address these to minimize the losses to the pool of skills of the future Ukrainian work force.

Home schooling and school routines disrupted in various ways might, in particular in communities characterized by traditional gender norms, impose additional limitations on the education of girls who may be tasked with greater home and care responsibilities. Thus, while emphasis on catching up on effective learning will be of utmost importance for all students, from the point of view of gender equality, it will be particularly important to closely monitor the school coverage and return to standard school attendance among girls. As post-pandemic evidence from developing countries suggests this may be of particular relevance with regard to teenage students (Kwauk et al., 2021). Post-war recovery initiatives aimed at financial support for households ought to ensure that households with older children in particular do not need to trade off material conditions and schooling opportunities. This might call for programs designed to incentivize school attendance in particular among children in displaced families and for returning international migrants (Aygün et al., 2021).

The post-war reconstruction initiatives in education might also be a chance for the education system to be more forthcoming in promoting high skilled occupations among female students. The 2018 PISA study demonstrated that while Ukrainian 15-year-old girls and boys do equally well in mathematics and science, their objectives with regard to occupation – in particular in STEM areas – differ significantly (OECD, 2019).

5.3 Reducing Institutional Constraints on Labor Market Participation

In order to make most of the potential of the Ukrainian labor force in the process of post-war reconstruction, the plans ought to target various institutional constraints to labor market participation. In this respect the gender equality literature has stressed in particular the provision of early and pre-school childcare to facilitate employment of parents, and in particular of mothers (Addati et al., 2018; Attanasio et al., 2008; Azcona et al., 2020; Gammarano, 2020). Although much has been done during the past decades to improve women integration in the labor market, attitudes in the home and in the family care realm remain traditional and unbalanced (Babych et al., 2021; Obrizan, 2022b). This translates into an unequal division of care and work at home as well as participation in the labor market.

While childcare facilities have been shown to play a key role in supporting female participation in numerous contexts, they are going to be of particular importance to displaced families and returning international migrants, who may lack family support and social networks to organize informal care. Before the full-scale invasion, a relatively high proportion of children aged 3-5 and 5-6 (88 and 97 percent, respectively) were covered by institutional childcare (Ministry of Education and Science of Ukraine, 2021). Returning to such high levels of coverage will be an important element of the reconstruction process. Additionally, authorities should extend the coverage of childcare available to younger children, which in 2019 was much lower (18 percent).

Similarly, welfare arrangements in a broader sense are important to facilitate employment of all working age individuals, men as well as women. It is well established that in situations where government support is cut in various ways, it is typically the women who withdraw from the labor market to manage not just childcare but elderly care and other welfare functions (Mateo Díaz and Rodriguez-Chamussy, 2016). While a high proportion (54 percent) of people in Ukraine before the 2022 invasion declared that care duties should be equally divided between spouses, as many as 41 percent thought that it is the woman’s responsibility (Babych et al., 2021). This implies that it is still likely that, when faced with institutional and informal care constraints, it will be women who will be more likely to drop out of the labor market.

To facilitate effective reconstruction, high participation rates among both men and women will be of utmost importance. To achieve this, substantial reconstruction funding ought to be committed to ensure adequate care support directed both to parents of young children as well as to those with care responsibilities of older family members. Such support will be particularly important in localities with high numbers of internally displaced and returning international migrants. These needs should be correctly accounted for when planning the reconstruction process and allocation of funds, and the GRB approach is likely to be an essential instrument to ensure that objectives of different groups of the Ukrainian society are appropriately addressed.


Over the last few years, the Ukrainian government has introduced substantial reforms in the management of public finances with the aim of developing gender responsive procedures to ensure greater gender equality in the delivered outcomes. The government’s commitment was confirmed in August 2022 with the adoption of the State Strategy for ensuring equal rights and opportunities for women and men for the period until 2030 and approval of the operational plan for its implementation for 2022-2024 (Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, 2022). The implemented legislation and the experience from practicing gender responsive budgeting at different levels of government can prove to be an invaluable platform to be utilized in the post-war reconstruction process. Pre-war statistics from many areas of life in Ukraine demonstrated a high degree of inequality along the gender dimension. Gender gaps were high in employment, pay levels, the allocation of home and care responsibilities, and it could also be seen in senior positions in politics, company management, and academia. One of the many tragic consequences of the full-scale Russian invasion and the ongoing war is that these gaps are likely to grow.

If the post-war reconstruction process is to take the principles of “building-back-better” seriously, then, apart from many other dimensions which need to be considered (see Gorodnichenko et al., 2022), recovery planning and execution will also have to address various social inequalities, especially that along the gender dimension. As argued in this Policy Paper, to ensure fair and effective use of recovery funds, the reconstruction process should pay close attention to the identity of its beneficiaries, as well as the way decisions are being made. The authorities, including the central agency responsible for the reconstruction (e.g., UREIA, see Gorodnichenko et al., 2022), should take full advantage of existing tools and instruments of the gender responsive budgeting approach, as well as of an equitable representation within their ranks, and build on the basis of existing Ukrainian legislation and practice of gender budgeting (see Box 2). The reconstruction process will offer a unique chance to set Ukraine on the path of inclusive, stable and sustainable development. We have pointed out a number of areas in which the gender dimension will be particularly important – these include both the reconstruction and rebuilding of the physical environment as well as support and recovery of the full potential of Ukrainian citizens – old and young, men and women. The reconstruction of Ukraine will be a hugely challenging task, and it will have to involve massive resources. International support for channeling those funds to Ukraine and their effective use will depend on how effectively and how fairly they will be used. The application of gender responsive budgeting can help both in ensuring efficiency of allocation of the funds, and in strengthening the legitimacy for the provision of support by the international community.


Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Understanding the Economic and Social Context of Gender-based and Domestic Violence in Central and Eastern Europe – Preliminary Survey Evidence

20220511 Economic and social context of domestic violence Image 02

This brief presents preliminary findings from a cross-country survey on perceptions and prevalence of domestic and gender-based violence conducted in September 2021 in eight countries: Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. We discuss the design and content of the study and present initial information on selected topics that were covered in the survey. The collected data has been used in three studies presented at the FROGEE Conference on “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence” and offers a unique resource to study gender-based violence in the region.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the academic and policy interest in the causes and consequences of domestic violence, the Russian invasion of Ukraine has tragically reminded us about the gender dimension of war. There is no doubt that a gender lens is a necessary perspective to understand and appreciate the full consequences of these two ongoing crises.

The tragic reason behind the increased attention given to domestic violence during the COVID-19 lockdowns is the substantial evidence that gender-based violence has intensified to such an extent that the United Nations raised the alarm about a “shadow pandemic” of violence against women and girls (UN Women on-line link). Already before the pandemic, one in three women worldwide had experienced physical or sexual violence, usually at the hands of an intimate partner, and this number has only been increasing. The tragic reports from the military invasion of Ukraine concerning violence against women and children, as well as information on the heightened risks faced by war refugees from Ukraine, most of whom are women, should only intensify our efforts to better understand the background behind these processes and study the potential policy solutions to limit them to a minimum in the current and future crises.

The most direct consequences of gender-based and domestic violence – to the physical and mental health of the victims – are clearly of the highest concern and are the leading arguments in favour of interventions aimed at limiting the scale of violence. One should remember though, that the consequences and the related social costs of gender-based and domestic violence are far broader, and need not be caused by direct acts of physical violence. Gender-based and domestic violence can take the form of psychological pressure, limits on individual freedoms, or access to financial resources within households. As research in recent decades demonstrates, such forms of abuse also have significant consequences for the psychological well-being, social status, and professional development of its victims. All these outcomes are associated with not only high individual costs, but also with substantial social and economic costs to our societies.

This policy brief presents an outline of a survey conducted in eight countries aimed at better understanding the socio-economic context of gender-based violence. The survey, developed by the FREE Network of independent research institutes, has a regional focus on Central and Eastern Europe, with Sweden being an interesting benchmark country. The data was collected in September 2021 in Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. The socio-economic situation of all these countries irrevocably changed with the Russian invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022, the ongoing war, and its dramatic consequences. The world’s attention focused on the unspeakable violence committed by the Russian forces in Ukraine, the persecution in Belarus and Russia of their own citizens who were protesting against the invasion, and the challenges other neighbouring countries have faced as a result of an unprecedented wave of Ukrainian refugees. This change, on the one hand, calls for a certain distance with which we should judge the survey data and the derived results. On the other hand, the data may serve as a unique resource to support the analysis of the pre-war conditions in these countries with the aim to understand the background driving forces behind this dramatic crisis. In as much as the gender lens is necessary to comprehend the full scale of the consequences of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, it will be equally indispensable in the process of post-war development and reconciliation once peace is again restored.

Survey Design, Countries, and Samples

The survey was conducted in eight countries in September 2021 through as a telephone (CATI) survey using the list assisted random digit dialling (LA-RDD) method covering both cell phones and land-lines, and the sampling was carried out in such a way as to make the final sample representative of the respective populations by gender and three age group (18-39; 40-54; 55+). The collected samples varied from 925 to 1000 individuals. The same questionnaire initially prepared as a generic English version was fielded in all eight countries (in the respective national languages). The only deviations from the generic version were related to the education categories and to a set of final questions implemented in Latvia, Russia and Ukraine with a focus on the evaluation of national IPV legislation.

Table 1 presents some basic sample statistics, while Figure 1 shows the unweighted age and gender compositions in each country. The proportion of women in the sample varies between 49.4% in Sweden and 55.0% in Belarus, Russia and Ukraine. The average sample age is between 43 (Armenia) and 51 (Sweden), while the proportion of individuals with higher education is between 29.3% in Belarus and 55.4% in Georgia. The highest proportion of respondents living in rural areas could be found in Armenia at 62.9%, while the lowest was in Georgia at 24.1%. Figure 1 illustrates good coverage across age groups for both men and women.

Table 1. FROGEE Survey: samples and basic demographics

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Figure 1. FROGEE Survey: gender and age distributions

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Socio-economic Conditions and Other Background Characteristics

To be able to examine the relationship between different aspects of domestic and gender-based violence to the socio-economic characteristics of the respondents, an extensive set of questions concerning the demographic composition of their household and their material conditions were asked at the beginning of the interview. These questions included information about partnership history and family structure, the size of the household and living conditions, education and labour market status (of the respondent and his/her partner) and general questions concerning material wellbeing. In Figure 2 we show a summary of two of the latter set of questions – the proportion of men and women who find it difficult or very difficult to make ends meet (Figure 2A) and the proportion who declared that the financial situation of their household deteriorated in the last two years, i.e. since September 2019, which can be used as an indicator of the material consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. We can see that the difficulties in making ends meet are by far lowest in Sweden, and slightly lower in the other EU countries (Latvia and Poland). The differences are less pronounced with regard to the implication of the pandemic, but also in this case respondents in Sweden seem to have been least affected.

 Figure 2. Making ends meet and the consequences of COVID-19

a. Difficulties in making ends meet

b. Material conditions deteriorated since 2019

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Perceptions and Incidence of Domestic and Gender-Based Violence and Abuse

Frequency of differential treatment and abuse

The set of questions concerning domestic and gender-based violence started with an initial module related to the different treatment of men and women, with respondents asked to identify how often they witnessed certain behaviours aimed toward women. The questions covered aspects such as women being treated “with less courtesy than men”, being “called names or insulted for being a woman” and women being “the target of jokes of sexual nature” or receiving “unwanted sexual advances from a man she doesn’t know”, and the respondents were to evaluate if in the last year they have witnessed such behaviours on a scale from never, through rarely, sometimes, often, to very often. We present the proportion of respondents answering “often” or “very often” to two of these questions in Figure 3A (“People have acted as if they think women are not smart”) and 3B (“A woman has been the target of jokes of a sexual nature”). We find significant variation across these two dimensions of differential treatment, and we generally find that women are more sensitive to perceiving such treatment. It is interesting to note that the proportion of women who declared witnessing differential treatment in Sweden is very high in comparison to for example Latvia or Belarus, which, as we shall see below, does not correspond to the proportion of women (and men) witnessing more violent types of behaviour against women.

Figure 3. Frequency of differential treatment (often or very often)

a. People have acted as if they think women are not smart

b. A woman has been the target of jokes of a sexual nature

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Questions on the frequency of witnessing physical abuse were also asked in relation to the scale of witnessed behaviour. Here respondents were once again asked to say how often “in their day-to-day life” they have witnessed specific behaviours. These included such types of abuse as: a woman being “threatened by a man”, “slapped, hit or punched by a man”, or “sexually abused or assaulted by a man”. The proportion of respondents who say that they have witnessed such behaviour with respect to two of the questions from this section are presented in Figure 4. In Figure 4A we show the proportion of men and women who have witnessed a woman being “slapped, hit or punched” (sometimes, often or very often), while in Figure 4B being “touched inappropriately without her consent”. Relative to the perceptions of differential treatment the incidence of a woman being hit or punched (4A) declared by the respondents seems more intuitive when considered against the overall international statistics of gender equality. The proportions are lowest in Sweden and Poland, and highest in Armenia and Ukraine. However, the perception of inappropriate touching by men with respect to women (Figure 4B) shows a similar extent of such actions across all analysed countries.

Figure 4. Frequency of abuse (sometimes, often or very often)

a. A woman has been slapped, hit or punched by a man

b. A woman has been touched inappropriately, without her consent, by a man

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Perceptions of abuse

The questions concerning the scale of witnessed behaviours were complemented by a module related to the evaluation of certain behaviours from the perspective of their classification as abuse and the degree to which certain types of gender-specific behaviours are acceptable. Thus, for example respondents were asked if they consider “beating (one’s partner) causing severe physical harm” to be an example of abuse within a couple (Figure 5A) or if “prohibition to dress as one likes” represents abuse (Figure 5B). This module included an extensive list of behaviours, such as “forced abortion”, “constant humiliation, criticism”, “restriction of access to financial resources”, etc. As we can see in Figure 6, with respect to the clearest types of abuse – such as physical violence – respondents in all countries were pretty much unanimous in declaring such behaviour to represent abuse. With respect to other behaviours the variation in their evaluation across countries is much greater – for example, while nearly all men and women in Sweden consider prohibiting a partner to dress as he/she likes to be abusive (Figure 5B), only about 57% of women and 36% of men in Armenia share this view.

The questionnaire also included questions specifically focused on the perception of intimate partner violence. These asked respondents if they knew about women who in the last three months were “beaten, slapped or threatened physically by their intimate partner”, and the evaluation of how often intimate partners act physically violent towards their wives.

Figure 5. Perceptions of abuse: are these examples of abuse within a couple?

a. Beating causing severe physical harm

b. Prohibition to dress as one likes

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

A further evaluation of attitudes towards violent behaviour was done with respect to the relationship between a husband and wife and his right to hit or beat the wife in reaction to certain behaviours. In Figure 6 we show the distribution of responses regarding the justification for beating one’s wife in reaction to her neglect of the children (6A) or burning food (6B). The questions also covered such behaviour as arguing with her husband, going out without telling him, or refusing to have sex. As we can see in Figure 6, once again we find substantial country variation in the proportion of the samples – both men and women – who justify such violent behaviour within couples. This was particularly the case when respondents were asked about justification of violent behaviour in the case of a woman neglecting the children. In Armenia as many as 30% of men and 22% of women agree that physical beating is justified in those cases. These proportions are manyfold greater than what can be observed in countries such as Latvia, where 3% of men and women agreed that abuse was justifiable under these circumstances, or Sweden, where only 1% of men and women agreed.

Figure 6. Perceptions of abuse: is a husband justified in hitting or beating his wife

a. If she neglects the children

b. If she burns the food

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Seeking help and the legal framework

The final part of the questionnaire focused on the evaluation of different reactions to incidents of domestic and gender-based violence. Respondents were first asked if a woman should seek help from various people and institutions if she is beaten by her partner – respondents were asked if she should seek help from the police, relatives or friends, a psychologist, a legal service or if, in such situations, she does not need help. In Figure 7 we show the proportion of people who agreed with the last statement, i.e. claimed that it is only the couple’s business. The proportions of respondents who declare such an attitude is higher among men than women within each country, and is highest among men in Armenia (48%) and Georgia (25%). Again, these proportions are in stark contrast to men in Sweden, or even Poland, where only 4% and 8% of men agreed, respectively. Nevertheless, looking at the total survey sample, a vast majority believe that a woman who is a victim of domestic violence should seek help outside of her home, indicating that at least some forms of institutionalised support for women are popular measures with most people.

Figure 7. Proportions agreeing that domestic violence is only the couple’s business

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

The interview also included questions on the need for specific legislation aimed at punishing intimate partner violence and on the existence of such legislation in the respondents’ countries. The latter questions were extended in three countries – Latvia, Russia and Ukraine – to evaluate the specific sets of regulations implemented recently in these countries and to facilitate an analysis of the role IPV legislation can play in reducing violence within households. Legislation on domestic violence is relatively recent. During the last four decades, though, changes accelerated in this respect around the world. Legislative measures have been introduced in many countries, covering different aspects of preventing, protecting against and prosecuting various forms of violence and abuse that might happen within the marriage or the family. Research strives to offer evaluations on what legal provisions are most effective, in a setting in which statistics and information are still far from perfect, and as a consequence of the dearth of strong evidence the public debate on the matter is often lively. For legislation to have an effect on behaviour through shaping the cost of committing a crime, on the one hand, and the benefit of reporting it or seeking help, on the other, or more indirectly through changing norms in society, information and awareness are key. For how can deterrence be achieved if people do not know what the sanctions are? And how can reporting be encouraged if victims do not know their rights? The evidence on legislation awareness is unfortunately quite scarce. A survey of the criminology field (Nagin, 2013) concludes that this is a major knowledge gap.

Figure 8 shows the proportions of answers to questions concerning the need for and existence of legislation specifically targeted towards intimate partner violence. We can see that while support for such legislation is quite high (Figure 8A), it is generally lower among men (in particular in Armenia, Russia and Belarus). Awareness of existence of such laws, on the other hand, is much lower, and it is particularly low among women. It should be pointed out that all countries have in fact implemented provisions against domestic violence in their criminal code, but only around half of the population, sometimes much fewer, are aware of that.

Figure 8. Need for and awareness of IPV legislation

a. State should have specific legislation aimed at punishing IPV

b. Country has specific legislation aimed at punishing intimate partner violence

Source: FROGEE Survey on Domestic and Gender-Based Violence.

Recent reforms of DV legislation that were implemented in Russia in 2017, in Ukraine in 2019 and in Latvia just a few months ago (at the time of the survey, the changes were at the stage of a proposal) were the subject of the final survey questions in these countries. We find that awareness of these recent reforms is very low in all three countries, and knowledge about the reform content (gauged with the help of a multiple-choice question with three alternative statements) is even lower. Our analysis suggests that gender and family situation are the two factors that most robustly predict support for legislation, while education and age are associated with awareness and knowledge of the reforms. Minority Russian speakers are less aware of the reforms in both Ukraine and Latvia, in Ukraine are also less likely to answer correctly about the content of the reform, and in Latvia are less supportive of DV legislation in general.

Analyses of this type are useful for policy design, to better understand which groups lack relevant knowledge and should be targeted by, for example, information campaigns to combat DV, such as those many governments around the world implemented during the covid-19 pandemic.

Future Work Based on the Survey

The above is just a small sample of the rich source of information that has resulted from conducting the survey. Already from this simple overview we can see some interesting results. There are, for example, clear differences between men and women in perceptions of how common certain types of abusive behaviour are. However, for many questions differences between countries are larger than those between men and women within a country. Interestingly such differences are also different depending on the severity of the abuse or violence. In Sweden the perception of women being victims of less violent abuse is higher than in some other countries where instead some more violent types of abuse are reported as being more common. This could, of course, be due to actual differences in actual events but it is also possible that there are differences in what types of behaviour are considered to represent harassment and abuse in different societies. More careful data work is needed to try to answer questions like this and many others. Currently there are a number of ongoing research projects based on the survey results, three of which will be presented at the FREE-network conference on “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence” in Stockholm on May 11, 2022. Our hope is that this work will help in taking actions to prevent gender-based abuse and domestic violence based on a better understanding of underlying cross-country differences in social norms and attitudes and their relation to socio-economic factors.

About FROGEE Policy Briefs

FROGEE Policy Briefs is a special series aimed at providing overviews and the popularization of economic research related to gender equality issues. Debates around policies related to gender equality are often highly politicized. We believe that using arguments derived from the most up to date research-based knowledge would help us build a more fruitful discussion of policy proposals and in the end achieve better outcomes.

The aim of the briefs is to improve the understanding of research-based arguments and their implications, by covering the key theories and the most important findings in areas of special interest to the current debate. The briefs start with short general overviews of a given theme, which are followed by a presentation of country-specific contexts, specific policy challenges, implemented reforms and a discussion of other policy options.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Social Norms, Conspiracy Theories and Vaccine Scepticism: A Snapshot from the First Year of the Covid-19 Pandemic in Poland

20220419 Social Norms and Vaccine Scepticism Image 05

In January 2022, Poland experienced the highest rate of SARS-CoV-2 transmission since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Considering the widespread consensus among experts about the efficacy of vaccines in preventing hospitalisation and death resulting from the virus, low vaccination rates and widespread anti-vaccine sentiments in Poland are of great concern. We use data from the DIAGNOZA+ Survey to demonstrate the relationship between various demographic characteristics, opinions around certain gender norms, the propensity for conspiratorial thinking, concern about the pandemic, and vaccine scepticism. While controlling for exogenous demographic characteristics, we measure the strength of the relationship between various beliefs that people hold and how they feel about the COVID-19 vaccine. Our analysis indicates that while respondents who hold more traditional views on gender roles are 6 percentage points less likely to get vaccinated, those who agree with a variety of conspiratorial statements are 43 percentage points less likely to vaccinate against COVID-19.


As of January 2022, Europe finds itself well into the 4th wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some countries, including Poland, experiencing the highest rates of transmission since the virus was first detected. There are a few tools available to policymakers and healthcare professionals for combating the spread of the virus, ranging from preventative measures to strict social lockdowns aimed at reducing interpersonal interaction. A comprehensive literature review of 72 academic studies conducted by the BMJ found that the implementation of preventative measures such as hand washing, mask wearing, and social distancing decreased the risk of transmission by 53% (Talic et al., 2021). But even though such measures reduce transmission, the shortcomings in adherence and enforcement make high vaccination rates much more effective in diminishing the risk of hospitalization and death (Moline et al., 2021). With a consensus among experts reaffirming the effectiveness of vaccines in minimising the more severe cases of COVID-19 illness,  the widespread availability of the vaccine has become the most effective and cost-efficient tool in limiting morbidity while avoiding future instances of economically unsustainable lockdowns. The drawbacks of the alternative scenario have already been made evident in 2020, before the development and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines. Over the course of the year, hospital capacities were overwhelmed in many countries around the world, leading to significant spikes in excess deaths. Poland saw an increase of over 18% in all-cause mortality in 2020 (OECD, 2021), the fourth-highest in the OECD and second-highest in the European Union (Eurostat, 2021).

Considering the central role that prevalent vaccination plays in combating the impact of COVID-19, it is important to understand the underlying factors and demographic characteristics of individuals who are driving the low vaccination rates in countries such as Poland. With this in mind, we use an online survey: DIAGNOZA+ (DIAGNOZA Plus, 2020-2021), conducted on a representative sample of adults in Poland throughout the pandemic, allowing for the identification of characteristics that are most strongly correlated with vaccine scepticism. This kind of analysis can provide useful indicators for the targeting of certain policies and information campaigns that encourage vaccinations, and thereby suppress future outbreaks of SARS-CoV-2, as well as any other future pandemics. Below, we first outline the key features of the DIAGNOZA+ data, describe the methodology adopted in this study, and present results on the relationship between key demographic characteristics, social norms, views of respondents, and attitudes towards COVID-19 vaccination. We show a strong correlation between traditional family values, conspiratorial views, and reservations relating to the vaccination programme. Having traditional family values (expressed by about 40% of the sample) is associated with an over 10 percentage point (p.p.) lower probability to declare a willingness to get vaccinated. This drops to about 6 p.p. when we extend the model to account for conspiratorial thinking, which strongly dominates the relationship. Individuals who express strong conspiratorial and anti-establishment views (about a quarter of the sample), conditional on other demographic characteristics, were more than 40 p.p. less likely to declare a willingness to get vaccinated.


The following analysis is based on data from DIAGNOZA+, an online survey collected in seven waves over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic (DIAGNOZA Plus, 2020-2021). The panel survey was conducted with the purpose of assessing changes in the labour market situation of adults in Poland between April 2020 and July 2021. The survey consistently included standard questions on individual and household characteristics such as age, gender and education, as well as questions on as well as questions about the respondent’s labor market status, hours worked, and financial situation. Waves 3 and 4 included additional modules where respondents were asked to express their opinions on a variety of statements surrounding gender norms such as “In general, fathers are as well suited to look after their children as mothers”, “A pre-school child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works” and “When jobs are scarce, men should have more right to a job than women”. The questions were answered on a scale of 1 (strongly agree) to 4 (strongly disagree). For the analysis, these categorical variables are dichotomised, with a value of 1 assigned to responses 1 and 2 (strongly agree or agree) and a value of 0 assigned to responses 3 and 4 (disagree or strongly disagree). Thus, for each question, we develop a binary variable that categorises respondents as either having a progressive or traditional reaction to each particular gender norms statement.

In consecutive waves, the same respondents were asked questions surrounding their willingness to vaccinate against the virus (in wave 5) and their trust in experts and the government response to the COVID-19 pandemic (in wave 6). For this analysis, we select questions that may influence an individual’s likelihood to vaccinate, starting with their level of concern about the pandemic or their fear of the virus itself. Furthermore, we identify individuals with a high predisposition for conspiratorial beliefs based on information from wave 6. Each variable included in this module is converted into a binary measure of agreement or disagreement, as outlined above for the social norms questions. We consider seven statements from the survey related to conspiratorial views, including “Secret organisations influence political decisions” or “I trust my intuition more than the so-called experts” (see the full list of statements in Figure 2). For each of them, the variable is converted into a binary measure of agreement or disagreement, similarly to the social norms questions above. Those who agreed or strongly agreed with all seven statements are classified as having conspiratorial views.

Due to sample attrition and after dropping respondents who did not answer one (or more) of the questions needed for our analysis, the sample reduces to 726 individuals (see table A1 in the Annex). Although each wave of the DIAGNOZA+ survey is carefully weighted to ensure population representativeness of the survey, these cross-sectional weights are only relevant to each independent wave of the survey. Therefore, for our sample, we develop frequency weights by sex and age using population data from Statistics Poland (Statistics Poland, 2021), which are utilised throughout the analysis. Given the low number of participants in the oldest age groups (those above 60 years old), we limit the sample to individuals aged between 21 and 60. Unfortunately, calibrating the weights according to additional characteristics such as education and municipal population is not feasible with a sample of this size. Clearly, the requirement of consistent consecutive participation in at least three waves of the survey has implications for its representativeness. For example, after the sample of respondents that participated in wave 6 is cut to include only those who also participated in waves 3, 4 and 5, we observe a bias in favour of conspiratorial views among the remaining observations, indicating that individuals who hold these views were more likely to continue their participation in the survey. For example, while 18.1% of the total cross-sectional sample of individuals in wave 6 hold conspiratorial views, the proportion is 23.4% in the sample we analyse (falling slightly to 23.2% when weights are applied). From this perspective, while indicative of existing correlations, the results ought to be treated with some caution.

Limiting the sample to respondents who answered all sets of questions across several rounds of the survey allows us to study vaccine scepticism and respondents’ susceptibility to conspiracy theories in relation to a number of personal characteristics. Furthermore, we consider the relationship between a respondent’s attitudes towards certain social norms (asked in waves 3 and 4), their individual response to COVID-19 (asked in wave 5), and their trust in the government’s response to the pandemic (asked in wave 6). We begin the analysis by assessing the relationship between respondents’ demographic characteristics and their opinions on gender roles, their propensity to hold conspiratorial beliefs, and their concern about the pandemic. This is followed by two models measuring respondents’ willingness to vaccinate. In the first of these models, demographic characteristics and traditional family values are used as explanatory variables, while in the second model conspiratorial views are included as well. Finally, we conclude with a summary of results and policy considerations.

Survey Results

Traditional Family Values in Poland

The respondents of the DIAGNOZA+ survey vary, on average, in the ‘traditionality’ of their attitudes towards gender and family depending on the selected indicator. The shares of answers to the three questions about gender norms are presented in Figure 1. The results demonstrate that progressive views on gender norms in Poland were more common in relation to the workplace than the home and family. For example, the statement to which most respondents were opposed was “When jobs are scarce, men have more right to a job than women”, with 37.2% of respondents disagreeing and 50.3% of respondents strongly disagreeing. On the other hand, slightly fewer respondents disagreed (50.5%) or strongly disagreed (34.8%) with “In general, fathers are not as well suited to look after their children as mothers”. Finally, respondents were most ‘traditional’ in their views in reaction to the statement “A pre-school child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works”, with 28% agreeing and 10% strongly agreeing. There is a natural correlation between these different views, and in our analysis, we examine the significance of different combinations of the three indicators. Given the relatively small sample, only the last indicator proved to be significantly related to our main outcome of interest and we use this one to represent the view on the ‘progressive-traditional’ spectrum

 Figure 1. Gender norms in the survey sample

Source: DIAGNOZA+ survey, waves 3 and 4. Note: Data weighted using weights generated from Statistics Poland’s data on population by sex and age. Sample limited to individuals aged 21-60. The statement “In general, fathers are as well suited to look after their children as mothers” from the questionnaire was adjusted in the graph for better readability.

Conspiratorial Views

In wave 6 of the DIAGNOZA+ survey respondents were asked seven different questions relating to trust in government, politicians, media, and the recommendations of experts. As shown in Figure 2, for five out of the seven statements, a majority of respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the government or media are dishonest, intentionally share misinformation, or have ulterior motives. Nearly three quarters of respondents agreed that “politicians and the media deliberately hide certain information”. This result supports data published by the OECD in 2020 showing that, out of the 38 member countries, Poland had the second-lowest trust in government, with only 27.3% of the population expressing confidence (OECD, 2022). However, the DIAGNOZA+ survey goes further to find that nearly half of respondents in our sample reported that they trust their own intuitions more than the experts during the pandemic, while the least widespread belief out of the seven was that “secret organisations influence political decisions”. Still, even this statement, which suggests deep-seeded nefarious behaviour behind the scenes of government, found 39.8% of respondents to be in agreement. Note that we aim to identify individuals who have a general propensity for conspiratorial thinking, rather than those who simply find some of the statements particularly compelling. To this end, we only categorise those respondents who agreed with all seven statements as having a high propensity for conspiratorial thinking, which was the case for 23.2% of our sample after reweighting.

Figure 2. Conspiratorial beliefs and trust in authority

Source: DIAGNOZA+ survey, wave 6. Note: Data weighted using weights generated from Statistics Poland’s data on population by sex and age. Sample limited to individuals aged 21-60.


Table 1 presents regression results on the relationship between specific beliefs reported in the different waves of the survey and a number of individual characteristics. We show these results for three dependent variables: traditional family values, as defined by the opinion that a pre-school child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works; propensity for conspiratorial views, which identifies the respondents that agreed with all seven statements presented in Figure 2; and concern about the pandemic, a binary variable that identifies individuals who expressed great worry or fear about the pandemic. The results indicate that parents who live with their children are 10.1 p.p. more likely to hold traditional family values. After controlling for age, gender and education, living in a small town or village is associated with a 10.9 p.p higher probability of ascribing to more traditional gender norms, while individuals holding a tertiary degree are 18 p.p. less likely to agree that “a pre-school child is likely to suffer if his or her mother works” compared to those with primary education. Interestingly, neither age nor gender significantly correlates with family values, suggesting that the DIAGNOZA+ survey did not capture an intergenerational or gender-driven divide on these issues. This might relate to the online nature of the survey and the implied sample selection, in particular among older individuals.

 Table 1. Regression results on views and attitudes

Standard errors in parentheses. * p < 0.1, ** p < 0.05, *** p < 0.01. Note: Data weighted using weights generated from Statistics Poland’s data on population by sex and age. Sample limited to individuals aged 21-60. Estimates using the linear probability model.

The results presented in Table 1 also demonstrate a relationship between some demographic characteristics and the likelihood to hold conspiratorial views (as defined by expressing agreement to the seven related statements in wave 6). A number of characteristics strongly correlate with conspiratorial thinking: being a parent living with their children aged 0-17, and living in small cities, towns and villages. Each of these characteristics is associated with a higher probability of believing in secret organisations and mistrusting experts. A number of characteristics strongly correlate with conspiratorial thinking: holding such views are 9.3 p.p. more likely among parents living with their underaged children and 10 p.p. more likely among individuals living in smaller towns or villages compared to those living in cities of over 500 thousand inhabitants. Higher education is strongly negatively correlated with the likelihood of holding conspiratorial views – those with tertiary education are 14.5 p.p. less likely to have these views compared to individuals with primary education.

One simple explanation for the increased vaccination rates among certain demographic groups in Poland could be that some segments of the population are more worried about the virus, and thus choose to take greater precautions. The analysis presented in Table 1 demonstrates that people were increasingly likely to be concerned about the pandemic in higher age groups. When asked “To what extent are you concerned about the COVID-19 pandemic?”, the probability of expressing serious concern increases progressively with age. This is an intuitive result considering the strong relationship between age and the severity of COVID-19 symptoms and the associated risk of mortality (CDC, 2021).  Respondents aged between 31 and 40 were 10 p.p. more likely to report being very concerned or frightened than respondents between the age of 21 and 30, while in the age groups 41-50 (12.6 p.p.) and 51-60 (21.4 p.p.) the probability was even higher. There is also a weak but positive correlation (7.7 and 8.6 p.p.) between living in a city with a population of 10,000 to 500,000 inhabitants and expressing fear about the pandemic, as compared to respondents who lived in cities with a population of more than 500,000 people. The relationships between the remaining demographic characteristics and the probability of being seriously concerned about the pandemic are not statistically significant. Below, we use this data to examine the link between people’s beliefs and the likelihood of getting vaccinated.

Vaccine Scepticism, Demographic Characteristics and Conspiratorial Views

In light of the widespread scientific consensus on the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines, low vaccination rates in Poland are difficult to explain. In this section, we analyse to which extent they may be driven by the underlying beliefs, on top of the socio-demographic characteristics. Overall, 54% of respondents in the selected sample from the DIAGNOZA+ survey planned to be or had already been vaccinated. Thus, the survey sample closely reflects the actual proportion of the population that was fully vaccinated in Poland as of January 2022. (ECDC, 2022). In Model A of Table 2, we present the relationship between the response to the question “Do you plan to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or are you already vaccinated?” and traditional family values, alongside the usual demographic characteristics. We find that those in the 51-60 age group were 14.5 p.p. more likely to plan to vaccinate than those aged between 21 and 30. This also reflects the higher level of concern about the virus expressed by those over the age of 50, as presented in Table 1, and the risk of serious illness associated with increasing age. However, the relationship between age and the probability of vaccination was much weaker than the relationship between age and the probability of expressing general concern about the pandemic, implying that concern does not translate directly into a willingness to vaccinate. We also find that tertiary education has a particularly strong effect, and respondents who have a university degree were much more likely (17.7 p.p.) to get vaccinated than those with less than secondary education.

Through this analysis we also discover several less intuitive relationships between individual characteristics and the propensity to vaccinate. We find that women are 11.5 p.p. less likely to plan to vaccinate against COVID-19 than men. Moreover, individuals living in a city with less than 500,000 inhabitants were much less likely to vaccinate, with the strongest correlation (-23.5 p.p.) observed for respondents living in medium-sized cities of 100,000 to 500,000 people. However, a strong relationship can also be seen for smaller cities of 10,000 to 100,000 inhabitants (-19.3 p.p.) and small towns and villages (-17.2 p.p.). Respondents’ expressions of traditional family values are also a strong predictor of their propensity to vaccinate. After controlling for gender, age, education and municipality size, those categorised as holding traditional views are 10.6 p.p. less likely to plan to vaccinate against COVID-19. Our findings demonstrate that while population density, education, age and gender, are all strong indicators of vaccine scepticism in Poland, so is the degree of traditionalism in people’s beliefs.

Table 2. Regression results on vaccination: probability of being vaccinated or planning to get vaccinated

Standard errors in parentheses. * p < 0.1, ** p < 0.05, *** p < 0.01. Note: Data weighted using weights generated from Statistics Poland’s data on population by sex and age. Sample limited to individuals aged 21-60. Estimates using the linear probability model.

A commonly cited explanatory factor for vaccine scepticism is the susceptibility to conspiratorial beliefs, as well as scepticism towards information disseminated by figures of authority (Hornsey et al., 2018). Thus, in Model B, we seek to identify a relationship between conspiratorial beliefs and scepticism towards the COVID-19 vaccine in Poland. When adding to our model a binary indicator for agreement with all seven of the conspiratorial statements included in the survey, we find that those who agreed across the board were 43.3 p.p. less likely to get vaccinated. Therefore, it seems that the propensity for conspiratorial thinking is a very strong correlate of willingness to vaccinate, and the characteristic most strongly associated with vaccine scepticism. The impact of the demographic factors goes in the same direction for both models, although the scale diminishes in Model B after controlling for conspiratorial views, reflecting the higher propensity of older individuals to hold such views. Furthermore, the effect of traditional family values is much weaker in Model B, suggesting a positive correlation between traditional family values and conspiratorial beliefs (Figure A1 in the Annex shows how values and views in the analysis views overlap with each other). This is in line with past research that ties traditional moral values and conservatism with conspiratorial beliefs, both before and during the COVID-19 pandemic (Pennycook et al., 2020; Romer and Jamieson, 2021).

One explanation for the strong relationship between conspiratorial beliefs and vaccine scepticism could be that respondents who do not trust the media and figures of authority believe that the dangers of the pandemic have been exaggerated and would thus not be concerned about its consequences. We account for this possibility in Model C by including the indicator for fear of the pandemic. We find that those who are very concerned or frightened are 21.1 p.p. more likely to vaccinate than those who are not. However, including this variable in the model has little effect on the estimates of the relationship between traditional gender views or conspiratorial thinking and the likelihood to vaccinate. Further research is needed to understand what is driving these relationships in this particular context. These findings demonstrate that while individuals that believe in conspiracies are the most susceptible to vaccine scepticism, other elements such as fear of the pandemic, education attainment, and where people live play an important role as well.


By January 2022 most European countries have reached a plateau in their vaccination rates, with free vaccines readily available since the summer months of 2021 to all those who are willing to take them. Not only have the high rates of hospital admissions among the non-vaccinated population proven the epidemiological models about the efficacy of vaccines in reducing hospitalisation and death to be true (a study in the United States showed a more than tenfold reduction in the risk of each measure; Scobie et al., 2021), but disparities between countries in the proportion of the population that is vaccinated have created a natural experiment that further substantiates this hypothesis. Poland, a country with a vaccination rate that is 15 p.p. lower than neighbouring Germany, had virtually the same number of cases per 100,000 people in the first two weeks of December, but almost threefold the number of deaths from COVID-19 (ECDC, 2021). Due to the burden COVID-19 related hospitalisations place on healthcare systems, the issues arising from the significant scale of vaccine scepticism are not only related to physical well-being, but also directly impact economic and fiscal stability.

Despite a fairly small sample size available for our analysis from the DIAGNOZA+ survey, a number of important correlations are identified in this study. We find that people living in cities and towns smaller than 500,000 people are less likely to vaccinate than those living in big cities. We show that women, those with less than secondary education, and young people are less likely to be vaccinated. Moreover, those believing that pre-school-aged children suffer when their mothers work are less likely to vaccinate compared to those with more progressive gender views. The most significant predictor of vaccine scepticism, however, is whether a respondent expressed low trust in authority and belief in the conspiracy theories presented in the survey, which was the case for 23.2% of the sample. These individuals are more than 40 p.p. less likely to express willingness to get vaccinated than the rest of the population. This suggests that the low rate of vaccination in Poland can, in part, be attributed to widespread distrust of government, the media, and scientific experts. Poland has already suffered the consequences of the high magnitude of anti-vaccine sentiments in the population, with the severity of the fourth wave of COVID-19 being one of the harshest in Europe (ECDC, 2021). If the government intends to prevent future outbreaks and protect the healthcare system and the economy, it must present a consistent, clear, and transparent message about the safety and efficiency of vaccines to minimise the misinformation that is driving vaccine scepticism among certain demographic groups.


Annex is available in the PDF version.


This Policy Paper was prepared under the FROGEE project, with financial support from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida). FROGEE papers contribute to the discussion of inequalities in Central and Eastern Europe.  For more information, please visit The views presented in the Policy Paper reflect the opinions of the authors and do not necessarily overlap with the position of the FREE Network or Sida.

Securing Women’s Safety at the Time of War

20220308 Securing Women’s Safety

On this year’s International Women’s Day, we would like to draw attention to the women impacted by the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation. Evidence from other armed conflicts suggests that women are particularly vulnerable both at the site of the war and in displacement, and that gender-based violence heightens in conflict and post-conflict societies. With this in mind, the international community should pay particular attention to protection, support and well-being of affected women in this tragic time.

The invasion of Ukraine by the Russian Federation sets a tragic background for this year’s International Women’s Day. The war has resulted in the loss of human life as well as suffering and displacement of hundreds of thousands of individuals. By March 6th 2022 over 1,5 million people fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries, while Russian forces have indiscriminately targeted Ukrainian towns and cities and failed to establish safety corridors for the civilian population and for humanitarian support. There exists extensive evidence that military conflicts put women at particular risk. This is the case both at the site of direct military confrontation, as well as a consequence of vulnerabilities generated by the need to flee their home. While one is clearly most concerned about the most direct expressions of gender-based violence, such as rape, sexual abuse or beating, we should also bear in mind that gender-based violence often takes the form of non-physical mistreatment, psychological pressure, or limitations on individual freedoms and displacement (Wirtz et al, 2014).

Indeed, the use of sexual violence during armed conflicts is by now broadly understood as a premeditated and deliberate technology of war, rather than the brutal expression of some base instinct triggered by the stress of conflict situations (Skjelsbaek, 2001), and there is evidence that aggressors from societies that are more gender-unequal are more likely to use it (Taylor, 1999; Meger, 2016, Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2020). Also, after fleeing conflict zones the spectre of sexual and gender-based violence follows displaced populations: the risk for sexual violence is heightened in refugee camps (Araujo et al, 2019). Further, it has been shown that rates of intimate partner violence during complex emergencies are much higher than rates of wartime sexual violence perpetrated outside of homes (Stark and Ager, 2011), and that domestic violence may be exacerbated by conflict and displacement (Wirtz et al, 2014).

Thus, the international community, the governments of countries which welcome families escaping the war, and the countless organised and improvised support groups, ought to pay particular attention to the risks to the welfare of women at this extraordinary time.

All agencies involved in assisting the Ukrainian population, both within and outside its borders, should be particularly aware of broad aspects of gender-based violence which the international academic community has been stressing for Securing women’s safety at the time of war the last few decades. As the war continues the international community, the governments of the host countries, and the European Union ought to ensure that:

● Women and vulnerable groups that want or need to leave conflict zones are allowed to do so in a safe way.

● All perpetrators of violence, including sexual violence, are eventually brought to justice. For this, there should be no question of impunity. For this to be possible safe spaces, infrastructure and reporting practices need to be established and enforced.

● As per UN Security Council Resolution 1820 (first applied to the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008) sexual violence ought to be used as part of the designation criteria in sanctions regimes. This implies that “targeted and graduated” measures can be imposed against warring factions who commit rape and other forms of violence against women and girls.

● Refugee women are involved in the design, management or leadership of gender-based violence protection measures in refugee camps, if such were to be established (UNHCR, 2011)

● Training programmes concerning gender-based violence, including sexual violence, and available legal mechanisms to prevent it are provided for volunteers, staff and refugees to minimize the risk for fleeing women (Spangaro et al 2013).

● In the medium and longer term, in case of an inability to return to their homes, host countries facilitate legal work among refugees to avoid a cycle of vulnerability that may lead displaced women to seek precarious means of earning income (Ray et al. 2009).

● Social support through individual or group therapy and skilled support groups is offered to reduce mental distress (Willman, 2013).

As we await the peaceful end of the invasion of Ukraine and the safe return of hundreds of thousands of families to their homes, may this year’s International Women’s Day be a day of reflection and resolution on appropriate means and strategies to prevent and combat sexual and gender-based violence, both on the scene of the the armed conflict as well as against all women who find refuge from the war in foreign countries.

On March 7th 2022 the FREE Network was planning to host a conference on “Economic and social context of domestic violence” as part of the Forum for Research on Gender Economics (FROGEE). The conference has been postponed until representatives of all the FREE Network institutes can safely participate. The FROGEE project is supported by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida).


Global Gender Gap in Unpaid Care: Why Domestic Work Still Remains a Woman’s Burden

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In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous reports point to the fact that women are mainly shouldering the burden of increased domestic care duties. But even before the pandemic struck, women performed more than two-thirds of the unpaid domestic care work in both developing and developed countries. The lack of gender parity in the distribution of domestic work is associated with significant economic inefficiencies, as well as considerable social and economic consequences for women – affecting their bargaining power within the household and their labor market outcomes in particular. In the brief, the author reviews the literature on both the economic and sociological factors which perpetuate the pattern of gender disparity in unpaid domestic care work. The author also summarizes the “recognize, reduce and redistribute” policies which could be adopted to help address the problem.

Country Reports

Armenia country report (EN) Armenian language version (AM)
Belarus country report (EN) Belarussian language version (BY)
Georgia country report (EN) Georgian language version (GE)
Latvia country report (EN) Latvian language version (LV)
Poland country report (EN) Polish language version (PL)
Russia country report (EN) Russian language version (RU)
Ukraine country report (EN) Ukrainian language version (UA)

Gender Gap in Unpaid Care: Why Domestic Work Still Remains a Woman’s Burden?

The realities of unpaid care and domestic work have received much attention lately in policy and academic circles, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic (Van Houtven et al., 2020; Craig and Churchill, 2020; Duragova, 2020). Recent surveys and reports confirm that while the unpaid household work burden increased for both genders, women around the world ended up shouldering the lions’ share of various household chores and care duties during the pandemic (UN Women, 2020). For many countries, prolonged lockdowns have put a sudden spotlight on the “hidden” side of people’s economic lives, not typically reflected in the national accounts data. Unsurprisingly, among the main issues connected with unpaid care work is the highly gendered division of labor in the “household sector” and its consequences for the emotional and economic well-being of families. In this policy brief, the author explores the current state and the evolution of gender inequalities in unpaid domestic care work worldwide, and discusses the academic literature which addresses the reasons and the consequences behind them. The author also discusses potential policy interventions which could promote greater work-life balance and help advance both social and family-level welfare.

Gender Gaps in Unpaid Care Work

The term unpaid care and domestic work appears under many terminological guises, including “unpaid care work” “unpaid household work”, “unpaid domestic care work” and others. These terms essentially refer to the same phenomenon – unpaid care activities carried out in the household. They include cooking, cleaning, washing, water and fuel collection, shopping, maintenance, household management, taking care of children and the elderly, and others (Addati et al., 2018). For the purposes of this brief I will use the terms interchangeably, relying mainly on “unpaid care”, “domestic work”, or “unpaid domestic care” to describe these activities. While the value of unpaid care work is not included in the national income accounts, it can be tracked by time-use surveys carried out by national statistical offices in many countries. According to the most recent surveys, (Charmes, 2019) more than three quarters (76.4%) of unpaid domestic care work worldwide is done by women, while 23.6% is done by men. In developed countries, the women’s share is somewhat lower (65%), while in developing and emerging economies, women perform 80.2% of unpaid care. Thus, according to the data, even in developed countries women perform around two thirds of the unpaid domestic care work. Currently, no country in the world seems to have achieved gender parity with regard to the unpaid care distribution in households (U.N. Women., 2019).

Is There Evidence of Convergence in Domestic Care Responsibilities?

Given that the first time use surveys in many countries have been conducted only relatively recently, it may be premature to make claims about changes in the distribution of domestic work and a potential closing of the gender gap. However, evidence from countries with a longer history of time use data, in particular the United States, suggests that the way mothers and fathers allocate their time between paid and unpaid work has changed dramatically between 1965 and 2011. In particular, as can be seen from the Figure 1 (from Parker and Wang, 2013), in 2011 women spent 2.6 times (13 more hours per week) more on paid work, while men spend 5 hours less than in 1965. The time spent on childcare increased for both men and women. At the same time, domestic work hours decreased significantly for women, while somewhat increasing for men.

Figure 1. Moms and Dads, the US 1965-2011: Roles Converge, but Gaps Remain

20211221 Gender Inequalities in Unpaid Work Figure 01

Note: Based on adults aged 18-64 with own child(ren) under the age of 18 living in the household. Source: Parker and Wang (2013).

Overall, analysis of time use survey data over a 40-year span shows a degree of convergence in unpaid care work between men and women (Kan et al., 2011; Altintas and Sullivan, 2016). However, as the Kan et al. (2011) study shows, gender inequality is quite persistent over time. In particular, men concentrate their contribution in domestic work to non-routine tasks (i.e. tasks that generally require less time, have definable boundaries and allow greater discretion around the timing of performance than the more routine tasks) such as shopping and domestic travel, while women devote a bulk of their time to routine work (cooking, cleaning, care). Women’s reduction in domestic work time (especially in routine tasks) may be largely due to the advancement of household technologies and higher acceptance/demand for women’s participation in the labor market (Gershuny, 1983, 2004). Thus, it appears that the “low-hanging fruit” of gender equality within households has already been picked, and, going forward, further shifting of domestic care responsibilities will be a more difficult task, even in developed countries.

Factors That Perpetuate Unpaid Domestic Care as Primarily Women’s Responsibility

The factors responsible for perpetuating gender roles in domestic work can be grouped into economic (specialization, comparative advantage) and sociological (habits, traditions, social perceptions) aspects.

The economic arguments that have long been used to explain the unequal division of paid and unpaid care work rely on the theory of comparative advantage and gains from specialization. Starting from the seminal work of Becker (Becker, 1985), economic models of the family suggested that a division of labor within the household is driven by different experiences and choices to invest in human capital. Becker argued that efficient households require specialization and the pattern of specialization can be explained at least in part by the differences in the initial investment in human capital (market skills for men and household skills for women) (Becker, 2009). In this model, men’s advantage in paid market activities is explained by historical reasons stemming in part from the more physical nature of market work. And yet, contemporary authors point out that the nature of work has been changing over time, with less emphasis put on physical, and more on cognitive skills. Likewise, the nature of household production has been changing (Greenwood et al., 2017). Birth control gave families a better way to control the number of children (Juhn and McCue, 2017). These changes should make men and women’s productivity more equal, and consequently reduce the gender gap between men and women in both types of work. And yet, despite the fact that in developed countries women often achieve higher educational attainment then men (Goldin, Katz and Kuziemko 2006; Murphy and Topel, 2014), it has not been enough to eliminate the gender gap in wages and in the division of unpaid domestic work. Moreover, as the study based on 1992 Canadian data by McFarlane et al. (2000) points out, while the wife’s time in housework increases when the husband spends more time in paid work, the opposite is not necessarily true for men (men do not spend significantly more time on household tasks when their wives increase their employment). Alonso et al., 2019, using a sample of 18 advanced and emerging market economies, find that various factors which determine the allocation of time between paid and unpaid work affect men and women asymmetrically. For example, being employed part time vs. full time considerably increases the participation in unpaid work for women, while for men the same increase is statistically insignificant.

Thus, a purely “pragmatic” economic argument for the household division of labor is not sufficient to explain the persistence of the unpaid care gender gap. Other sociological factors, such as gender roles determined by social attitudes and cultural norms, tend to play an important role in household labor division (Coltrane, 2000; Juhn and McCue, 2017). Moreover, one can argue that educational choices of women, which contribute to their “comparative advantage” in household production, are themselves not independent of cultural norms and attitudes. These choices tend to be shaped in early childhood and reflect how much a family would invest in/encourage a girl’s education vs. that of a boy; whether boys are engaged in certain household chores – cooking, cleaning, caring for young children, etc. (UNDP, 2020). For example, the high gender gap in unpaid domestic work in the South Caucasus can be traced to family patterns. According to survey data (CRRC, 2015) in Azerbaijan, around 96% percent of women were taught in childhood how to cook, clean the house or do laundry, while only 35% of men were taught how to cook and clean. In Georgia, close to 90% of women reported being taught how to cook, clean and do laundry, while less than 30% of men on average reported being taught these skills (UNFPA, 2014).

The Social Cost of Gender Inequality in the Unpaid Care Work Allocation

Gender inequality is not just an issue of fairness. Inequality results in considerable resource misallocation, where women’s productive potential is not fully realized. The study by Alonso et al., 2019 estimates the GDP gains associated with a potential reduction in gender inequality in domestic work to the level observed currently in Norway. Countries like Pakistan and Japan, where the initial gender gap is quite sizeable, would gain around 3 to 4 percent of GDP. Another source of inefficiency is occupational downgrading, a situation where women take jobs below their level of qualification (Connolly and Gregory, 2007; Garnero et al., 2013) in order to better balance their home and work responsibilities. The perception of women as being primarily responsible for childcare and domestic labor drives statistical discrimination in the workplace and affects the “unexplained” portion of the gender pay gap (Blau and Kahn, 2017). The pay gap, in turn, perpetuates inequality in the division of domestic labor. Moreover, perception of unequal domestic work allocation is found to be associated with lower relationship satisfaction, depression, and divorce (Ruppaner et al, 2017). In addition, earlier sociological studies found that inequity in the distribution, rather than the amount of work, causes greater psychological distress (Bird, 1999).

Policies to Address the Gender Gap

Given the sizeable economic and social costs associated with the gender gap in unpaid care work, policy makers are paying greater attention to gender equality and ways to promote work-life balance for men and women. Currently, most solutions center around “recognize, reduce and redistribute” types of policies (Elson, 2017).

The “recognize” policies acknowledge the value of unpaid care work done by women through cash payments linked to raising young children (i.e. maternity leave policies). Most countries in the world adopt publicly funded paid maternity leave policies, although the adequacy of maternity leave payments and the duration of such leaves is still a stumbling block for many countries (Addati et al., 2014). Data suggests that maternity leave of no longer than 12 months has a positive effect on maternal employment, while long leaves (over two years) increase career costs for women (Kunze, 2016; Ruhm, 1998; Kleven et al., 2019)

The “reduce” policies, aim at the provision of public services that would reduce the burden of childcare and other forms of unpaid work on women and free up their time for participation in the labor force. Among such policies are investments in publicly funded childcare services (quality pre-schools and kindergartens) and physical infrastructure to support the provision of clean water, sanitation, energy, and public transport. Empirical studies generally find a positive effect of affordable childcare on female employment rates (Vuri, 2016; Lefebvre et al., 2009;  Geyer et al., 2014), but with some caveats – in particular, the subsidies may be less effective for female labor supply if affordable childcare just crowds out other forms of non-parental care (such as informal help from family members) (Vuri, 2016; Havnes and Mogstad, 2011).

Finally, the “redistribute” policies aim to promote the redistribution of household chores and childcare among men and women. Among such policies are initiatives aimed at making flexible and reduced-hour work arrangement attractive and equally available for men and women. (e.g. shifting standard weekly hours to a more family friendly 35 hours per week, as for example in France); active labor market programs aimed at retaining women in the labor market can also help reduce hours devoted to unpaid work (Alonso et al. 2019). Moreover, better labor market regulations (e.g. legislation to regulate vacation time, maximum work hours, etc.) would discourage the long working hours and the breadwinner-caretaker gendered specialization patterns within families (Hook, 2006). Other examples include work-life balance policies recently adopted by the EU (EU Directive 2019/1158), and are aimed at providing paid paternity leave and reserving non-transferrable portions of family childcare leave for men. These policies were found to be effective for both increasing father’s participation in unpaid care and for reducing the gender wage gap within families in a number of country studies (Fernández-Cornejo et al., 2018; Andersen, 2018).

It is important to recognize that more research is needed to identify exactly how and why specific policies may benefit families, and to adapt them to the specific country context. While many of the policies outlined above will not solve the problem of the gender gap overnight, they can be an important first step towards greater global gender equality in the workplace and inside the household.

About FROGEE Policy Briefs

FROGEE Policy Briefs is a special series aimed at providing overviews and the popularization of economic research related to gender equality issues. Debates around policies related to gender equality are often highly politicized. We believe that using arguments derived from the most up to date research-based knowledge would help us build a more fruitful discussion of policy proposals and in the end achieve better outcomes.

The aim of the briefs is to improve the understanding of research-based arguments and their implications, by covering the key theories and the most important findings in areas of special interest to the current debate. The briefs start with short general overviews of a given theme, which are followed by a presentation of country-specific contexts, specific policy challenges, implemented reforms and a discussion of other policy options.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Women in Politics: Why Are They Under-represented?

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Women are generally under-represented in political offices worldwide, and their under-representation becomes larger in more senior positions. In this brief, some recent academic literature in economics and political science on the likely causes of women’s under-representation is reviewed. Broadly speaking, the literature has divided such causes into “supply-side” and “demand-side” factors: the former include women’s potentially lower willingness to run for political office, whereas the latter include voters’ and party leaders’ prejudices against women in politics. Understanding the underlying causes of women’s under-representation in political institutions is crucial in order to design the most effective policies to address the existing gender gaps. In conclusion, some of the policies that have been proposed or used to empower women in politics are summarized and evidence on their effectiveness is reviewed when available.

Country Reports

Belarus country report (EN) Belarussian language version (BY)
Georgia country report (EN) Georgian language version (GE)
Latvia country report (EN) Latvian language version (LV)
Poland country report (EN) Polish language version (PL)
Russia country report (EN) Russian language version (RU)
Ukraine country report (EN) Ukrainian language version (UA)

Women in Politics: Why Are They Under-represented?

Women are generally under-represented in political offices worldwide, and their under-representation becomes larger in more senior positions. Of the four dimensions considered in the World Economic Forum’s Gender Equality Index (namely, Economic Opportunity and Participation, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment), the dimension called Political Empowerment, which measures the extent to which women are represented in political office, records the poorest performance, with only 25% of an hypothetical 100% gap having been closed to date.

Importantly, although there is large variation across countries, gender inequality in political empowerment is documented in every region worldwide, including in those countries that are most socially and economically advanced. Sweden, for instance, while having a good record of women’s representation in most institutions (women currently represent 47.5% of the Parliament members, 54.5% of the ministers, and about 43% of the municipal councilors), has never had a woman as Prime minister, and only one-third of its mayors are female. Countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have only closed 15% of a hypothetical 100% gender gap in political empowerment, according to the World Economic Forum, by far their worst performance among the four sub-indexes that compose the overall Gender Equality Index.

Given the persistent under-representation of women in political institutions, where important decisions that shape societies are taken, economists and political scientists, among others, are increasingly interested in understanding the causes of the gender gap in political representation. In this brief, some of the recent academic literature on this question is summarized, and some policies that may help to close the gender gaps in political representation are reviewed.

Table 1. World Economic Forum Gender Equality Index. Regional Performance in 2020, by Sub-index

Table 1. World Economic Forum Gender Equality Index. Regional Performance in 2020, by Sub-index

Why Are Women Under-represented in Political Office?

Broadly speaking, three main reasons are most often explored, namely women’s unwillingness to become politicians, voters’ bias, and parties’ bias.  Below an overview of some of the work that has addressed each of these three factors is provided.

Gender Gaps in Political Ambition

Large-scale surveys have documented that women who, based on their professional and economic credentials, are potential political candidates, report lower ambition to occupy executive offices than comparable men (Fox and Lawless, 2004). The main reasons for the gender gap in ambition appear to be that

  • (a) women are less encouraged to run for office than men and
  • (b) women are less likely to believe that they are qualified for office than men.

Women’s tendency to shy away from competition (Niederle and Vesterlund, 2007) may also play a role since the political selection process is likely perceived as highly competitive. As Preece and Stoddard (2015) find by using two experiments, priming individuals to consider the competitive nature of politics lowers women’s interest in running for political office, whereas it has no effect on the interest of men.

Women’s willingness to advance in their political careers can also be influenced by family and relational considerations. Recent work from Folke and Rickne (2020) shows that in Sweden female politicians who are promoted to mayor (i.e. the highest office in municipal politics) experience a significant increase in the likelihood of divorcing their partner, whereas this is not the case for men. If women face higher costs for their career achievements, as the evidence in Folke and Rickne (2020) suggests, they may be discouraged from pursuing such objectives.

While there is evidence that women may on average be less willing to advance to top positions than men, it is not clear how quantitatively relevant this factor is to account for the lack of women in power. The introduction of gender quotas in candidate lists in different countries worldwide can be informative in this sense. If women’s under-representation in electoral lists is mostly due to the lack of qualified female politicians, some electoral lists (in most cases representing specific political parties)  may not be able to run due to the introduction of a quota, and the average “quality” of lists, measured by some relevant (to voters) characteristics of their members, would decrease. The literature finds no evidence of either of these two responses to quotas (see Baltrunaite et al., 2014, Besley et al., 2017, Bagues and Campa, 2020). On the contrary, in Italy (Baltrunaite et al., 2014) and Sweden (Besley et al., 2017) quotas appear to have improved the “quality” of the elected politicians.

Voters’ Bias

Krook (2018) observes that the existing work in political science regarding the importance of voters’ bias in explaining women’s underrepresentation in politics leads to ambivalent conclusions. Results in the most recent economics literature confirm this assessment. Barbanchon and Sauvagnat (2019) compare votes received by the same female candidate in French parliamentary elections across different polling stations within an electoral district and find that votes for women are lower in municipalities with more traditional gender-role attitudes. They interpret this pattern as evidence of voters’ discrimination and conclude that voters’ bias matters quantitatively in explaining women’s under-representation among politicians. Conversely, Bagues and Campa (2020) find no evidence of voters’ bias against women, based on voters’ reaction to the introduction of a gender quota for electoral lists in Spain. Specifically, they study how the quota impacts the electoral performance of lists that were more affected by the quota – i.e. that were forced to increase their share of female candidates by a larger extent, due to their lower level of feminization pre-quota. They do not find evidence that such lists have worsened their relative electoral performance due to the quota. Put differently, there is no evidence that voters lower their electoral support of a list when its share of female candidates increases for exogenous reasons.

Survey data on voters’ attitudes can also help in gauging the extent to which voters discriminate against women. Based on data from the latest wave of the World Value Survey (WVS, 2017-2020), in Western Europe typically less than 20% of survey respondents express agreement with the statement “Men make better political leaders than women do” (e.g. 5% in Sweden, 9% in Denmark and Germany, 12% in Finland and France, 19% in Italy; only in Greece the share of the agreement is higher than 20%, at 26%). As shown in Figure 1, these percentages are substantially higher in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.).

Figure 1. Share of survey respondents who report to “Agree” or “Strongly Agree” with the statement “Men make better political leaders than women do”.

Notes: Data are based on the latest wave of the World Value Survey, 2017-2020. The countries selected were either part of the former Soviet Union or under direct Soviet influence before 1990.

It bears noting, however, that answers to the WVS are not always informative about the extent to which voters’ bias prevails in a country. Where the percentage of respondents who think that men make better political leaders than women is close to or above 50%, as e.g. in Armenia, Georgia, or Russia, voters’ bias is likely to be an important factor. However, in countries with lower levels of agreement, such as for instance Poland, drawing conclusions is harder, since the WVS does not measure the share of respondents who think that women make better political leaders than men do.

Parties’ Bias

Party leaders, who often are key players in the selection of politicians, may prefer to promote male rather than female candidates. If they are aware of voters’ bias against women, preferring male candidates is consistent with a votes-maximizing strategy. However, party leaders may also act as gate-keepers and hold women back even in absence of voters’ bias. Esteve-Volart and Bagues (2012) find evidence of an agency problem between voters and parties by looking at Spanish elections. While parties tend to nominate women in worse positions on the ballot, there is no evidence that women attract fewer votes than men; moreover, when the competition is stiffer, women’s position on the ballot improves. These two facts lead the authors to conclude that the disadvantage women face can likely be attributed to parties’ rather than voters’ bias.

When considering all these factors, it is also important to note that the systematic under-representation of women in political institutions is likely self-reinforcing, due to gendered group dynamics.  In the laboratory, women in male-majority teams appear significantly less likely to put their name forward as team-leaders than women in female-majority teams; they anticipate, correctly, lower support from team members (see Born et al., 2019). Female mayors in Italy are significantly more likely to be removed by their municipal councils than their comparable male colleagues; importantly, this is especially true when the share of male councilors is particularly large (Gagliarducci and Paserman, 2011). These studies suggest that, since the political arena has been historically male-dominated, gendered group dynamics can create vicious cycles of women’s under-representation.

Which Policies Can Be Used to Increase Women’s Representation in Political Institutions?

Different policies can be considered to address the various factors accounting for women’s under-representation in politics. In an attempt to address the ”supply-side’’ aspect of women’s under-representation, various non-profit organizations have offered training programs aimed at providing women with knowledge, skills, and networks to build political careers (see, for instance, NDI 2013). While reviewing the existing literature on these programs is beyond the scope of this brief, to the best of the author’s knowledge, there is little to no research-based evidence on the quantitative impact of training on women’s advancements in politics. Non-profit organizations, political parties, and researchers may fruitfully collaborate to implement and systematically test training programs.

Gender quotas are the most commonly used policy intervention, especially those regulating the composition of candidate lists, and they have been extensively studied; overall the literature suggests that quotas are more or less effective in empowering women depending on their design and the context where they are used (see Campa and Hauser, 2020 for a more comprehensive review of the economics literature on gender quotas and related policy implications). Given the nuances in the functioning of quotas, countries or regions that consider their adoption should consult with experts who know the ins and outs of such policies and combine their expertise with local knowledge of the relevant context.

The structure and distribution of power within parties are likely crucial for improving women’s political representation. Some scholars have devoted attention to the role of women’s organizations within parties. Theoretically, such organizations should favour the creation of networks and offer mentorship services, which are likely crucial to climb the career ladder in politics. In Sweden, a coalition of women from both the right and the left is credited for having pressed the Social Democrats’ into adopting their internal zipper quota by threatening to form a feminist party (see Besley et al., 2017). Women’s wings within political parties could play a similar role. Kantola (2018) notes that women’s organizations seem to be currently deemed as outdated, at least in European parties; Childs and Kittilson (2016), on the other hand, find that their presence does not seem to harm women’s promotion to executive roles within parties, a concern that has been associated with the existence of such organizations. In countries with public funding of political parties, specific funds could be directed to women’s organizations within parties.

Folke and Rickne (2020) also note that, since women in top jobs appear to face more relational and family constraints than men, policies that improve the distribution of economic roles within couples could help address the under-representation of women in positions of political power; their observation underlines the crucial role of gender-role attitudes in affecting women’s empowerment in any area of society. How can these attitudes change? An increasing amount of research is being devoted to answering this question. Campa and Serafinelli (2019), for instance, show that a politico-economic regime that puts emphasis on women’s inclusion in the labor market can change some of these attitudes. More research from different contexts and on specific policies will hopefully provide more guidance for policy makers on this important aspect, but the message from the existing research is that gender-role attitudes can be changed, and therefore policy-makers should devote attention to interventions that can influence the formation of such attitudes.

In many Western democracies, the rate of progress in women’s access to top political positions has proven especially slow. This history of Western democracies and the existence of the self-reinforcing mechanisms described above can serve as a lesson for countries in transitions, where new political organizations and institutions are emerging. In absence of specific policies that address women’s under-representation at lower levels very early on, it would likely take a very long time before gender gaps are closed at higher levels of the political hierarchy.

In conclusion, the authors observe that constant monitoring of the gender gaps in political institutions is important, even in presence of clear upward trends, since progress is rarely linear and therefore needs continuous nurturing.

About FROGEE Policy Briefs

FROGEE Policy Briefs is a special series aimed at providing overviews and the popularization of economic research related to gender equality issues. Debates around policies related to gender equality are often highly politicized. We believe that using arguments derived from the most up to date research-based knowledge would help us build a more fruitful discussion of policy proposals and in the end achieve better outcomes.

The aim of the briefs is to improve the understanding of research-based arguments and their implications, by covering the key theories and the most important findings in areas of special interest to the current debate. The briefs start with short general overviews of a given theme, which are followed by a presentation of country-specific contexts, specific policy challenges, implemented reforms and a discussion of other policy options.

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.

Transition and Beyond: Women on the Labour Market in the Context of Changing Social Norms

20201001 FROGEE 2nd brief Policy Brief Image 02

As countries brace themselves for a severe economic slowdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, earlier crises, such as that which followed the political transformation of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the 1990s, may serve as important points of reference. While of course different in many ways, the changes that accompanied the transition affected society as a whole, but also had heterogenous effects across different groups. One particular dimension – also discussed in relation to the current COVID-19 crises – is that of relative costs and benefits for men and women respectively. In this brief, we re-examine one specific element of this, namely the developments of gender gaps in the labour market and social norms related to labour market activity.

The starting point is the fact that, at least nominally, women had a relatively strong position before the onset of transition, especially conditioning on the level of economic development of transition countries (see e.g. Campa et al. 2018). This background gives rise to several possible mechanisms and potential developments in the transition period and beyond. On the one hand, the legacy of relative gender equality creates conditions for path-dependency toward further gender equality, and the high levels of education should favour women in more competitive labour markets. On the other hand, the “centrally imposed” gender equality under state-socialism was not accompanied by actual changes of patriarchal values with respect to obligations for the household and children, and women remained responsible for these. The end of central planning could thus mean a setback for most common gender equality indicators, especially in countries with traditional divisions of family roles. In this brief, we give a quick overview of what has happened in some of these dimensions over time and across countries, starting in the years before transition.

The brief gives a short background for the specific country reviews that follow this introduction. It seems clear that the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath may also differently affect the lives of women and men. The experience of the post-communist transition of the 1990s shows that adopted policies may prevent gender gaps in various dimensions from growing as a consequence.

Country Reports

Belarus country report (EN) Belarussian language version (BY)
Georgia country report (EN) Georgian language version (GE)
Latvia country report (EN) Latvian language version (LV)
Poland country report (EN) Polish language version (PL)
Russia country report (EN) Russian language version (RU)

Expectations and Starting Conditions Around 1990

It is a well-established fact that the socialist economies of Central and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union had much higher rates of female labour force participation than the OECD in the decades before the 1990s. Many reasons for this have been considered, ranging from the near political obligation to have a job, to the economic necessity for a family to have two wage earners, to the relatively well-developed support structures, such as child-care, for enabling female economic activities (e.g. Atkinson and Mickelwright, 1992). It is also the case that women were well-represented in higher education earlier than in the OECD.

In the very beginning of transition arguments in favour of women playing a central role in economic development were put forward based on their favourable starting position. As Fong, 1993 (p. 31) put it for the case of Russia: “Women in Russia have the capacity to play a positive role in the economic reform process, notwithstanding the tradition of concessions to women as the weaker half of the population. Women are the majority of the labor force and of the voting population. The female labor force is more highly educated than the male labor force; retraining women can take less time and be more cost−effective. Women are under−represented in declining heavy industries, and are concentrated in sectors of potential growth − commerce and trade, banking, and social services. […] In many ways, women have a clear potential of becoming leading elements in reform and a pro−active stance on women in social policy reform is called for.”

At the same time, there was awareness early on that some of the consequences of transition could be particularly negative for women unless counter measures were taken. For example, it was feared that radical cuts in the bureaucracy’s support staff, consisting almost entirely of women, would especially increase female unemployment, and also that an increased profit-motive would put higher demands on longer working hours making it particularly difficult for women to work (Moghadam, 1990, p. 29). That women’s status would be additionally affected by cutbacks in family related policies (state-provided or subsidized childcare, long maternity leaves, guaranteed return to work after maternity, and other systems that made it possible to re-concile women’s roles as workers and mothers) was also very clear; the following passage from Fong (1993), p. 31 illustrates this point: “The near−exclusive dependence on women’s domestic labor for maintaining the material well−being and comfort of the household, means that much of the cost of social protection of the young, the old and the disabled is borne by women in the context of the family, through a system of labor market concessions. The transformation to a market economy has made these labor market concessions incompatible with the efficient operation of the enterprise, and necessitates a re−examination of family policy in the interest of the free movement of labor.” In short, in some dimensions, women were clearly in a favourable position, at least when compared to most OECD countries. They had been active and comparatively well represented in the labour market, often in sectors that were viewed as growing; they also had comparatively high levels of education.

So What Happened?

The economic turmoil in the first half of the 1990s has been well documented and it has been well known that the economic recovery and further development in the region has been very uneven across countries (see, e.g. Svejnar 2002; Campos and Coricelli, 2002, special issue of Economics of Transition, Vol 26:4). This heterogeneity has also been reflected in the pattern of relative changes in socio-economic outcomes for men and women (see e.g. Brainerd 2000, Fong 1996, Razzu 2015, and UNICEF 1999). The female/male labour force participation (LFP) rates have in many cases dropped relative to the early 1990s, but the changes in most countries have not been as dramatic as some expected. In many countries relative female participation rates over 25 years after the start of the transition are higher or similar to those in the early 1990s (see Figure 1A). Looking at the country rates in 2017 and comparing them to the – growing – relative average OECD values it must be noted that it is generally the developed Western countries which in terms of the relative employment rates have been catching up with those of the “Eastern block”.  Such a trend has also been noted in the comparison between the former East and West Germany – with the female/male participation ratio falling in the East from 61.2% in 1991 to 54.3% in 2010, at a time when the ratio in the former Western regions of the country grew from 45.4% to 52.0% (Statistisches Bundesamt, 2019).

Data on childcare suggests that the negative scenario of significant reductions in enrolment in nurseries and kindergartens did not universally materialise in the region. Although reductions in nursery enrolment were substantial in countries where the rates were high prior to transition (esp. in the countries of the former Soviet Union), drops in nursery enrolment in the countries of Central Europe, in which they in any case were lower prior to 1990s, were modest. Comparing rates of kindergarten enrollment in 1989 and 1997 in countries such as Poland, Bulgaria or Hungary, shows that they remained essentially unchanged, while they dropped from 78% to 65% in Russia (data from UNICEF 1999). From this point of view, transition brought more substantial changes in this regard in countries further to the East with kindergarten enrolment falling from 44% to 19% in Georgia and from 52% to 12% in Kazakhstan. Thus, while certainly not uniform across the region, the withdrawal of the state from the provision of care services in several countries certainly played a role in changing the relative position of women on the labour market. The implications of these developments may have been further corroborated by the fact that it is in these countries where social norms have been strongly skewed towards the home and family rather than professional life as the key responsibilities of women.

With regard to the relative dynamics of wages in Figure 1B we show a long-term series of averages of the female-male wage ratio for a subset of “old” EU members and some “new” post-transition EU countries. These are set against the ratios from the US, Russia and Ukraine. One clearly needs to be cautious concerning the possible effect of labour market selection which can affect these averages, but the overall picture for the years available is rather positive for the group of the Soviet-block countries which joined the EU.

Figure 1A. Female-male labour force participation

Figure 1A. Female-male labour force participation

Source: OECD database, 2019. Notes: Czech Republic (CZ), Estonia (EE), Hungary (HU), Latvia (LV), Lithuania (LT), Poland (PL), Slovak Republic (SK), Slovenia (SI), Russian Federation (RU).  “Old EU” includes the following countries:  Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.

Figure 1B. Female-male wage ratios

Figure 1B. Female-male wage ratios

Source: OECD database, 2019.
Notes: Due to data availability grouped countries include: “New EU” members: Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Poland (even years only), Czech Republic (except for 2000); “Old EU” members: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom.

The EU group averages show a generally growing trend in relative wages, but for a significant part of the analysed period the “new” EU countries have outperformed the “old” EU average, while both groups have had significantly higher rates than the US. In the years after 2010 it looks like the ratio in the “old” and “new” EU countries have converged. The figures show, however, that in countries further to the East, such as Russia and Ukraine, significant challenges remain with regard to wage inequality despite the very high participation of women.

The Changing Context of Social Norms

While labour demand conditions, as well as the available pay offer and labour market constraints, are crucial determinants of relative labour market participation rates and the gender pay gap, the prevailing social norms create the context for all of these forces, determine the supply of labour and play a significant role in determining the relative importance of constraints such as childcare for men and women. As data from the European Values Survey suggests, social norms in the region have been changing along many dimensions, and by 2017 attitudes regarding female labour market participation have become significantly less traditional. For example (see Figure 2A) while in Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland and Lithuania the range of people agreeing with the statement that  “When jobs are scarce men should be given priority” was between 42.4% and 66.3%  in 1990, by 2017 it dropped to less than 23% in all four countries.

In 1990, in Estonia, Lithuania and Poland over 90% of individuals believed that “A preschool child suffers if his/her mother works”. By 2017 this ratio fell to around 50% in Lithuania and Poland and to ca. 24% in Estonia. The numbers are still very high in comparison to Sweden – considered as one of the champions of gender equality – where in 2017 only 14.2% of individuals agreed with the first statement and only 2.3% agreed with the second, yet changes towards a less traditional division of responsibilities regarding home and market are evident across nearly the entire region.

Figure 2A.Social norms: women at work, 1990-2017

Figure 2A. Social norms: women at work, 1990-2017

Source: European Values Survey. Notes: Full statements were: “When jobs are scarce men should be given priority”; “A preschool child is likely to suffer if his/her mother works”.

Figure 2B. Social norms: what most women really want: 1999-2017

Figure 2B. Social norms: what most women really want: 1999-2017

Source: European Values Survey. Notes: Full statement was: “A job is allright but what most women really want is a home and children.”

Social norms have also been changing with regard to the perception of women’s aspirations. In this dimension, again, the countries of Central and Eastern Europe still remain behind Sweden, but recognition of women’s professional aspirations is apparent in nearly all countries. While in 1999 85.9% of Russians believed that “A job is alright but what most women really want is a home and children”, the number dropped to 59.8% by 2017. In Poland, the proportions dropped from 74.9% to 56.7% while in Lithuania, which appears to be the most conservative country along this dimension, from 92.7% to 82.5%. Taking Sweden as the yardstick – with only 17.8% agreeing with this statement in 2017 – the countries of the region are still some distance away from recognizing the role of female professional aspirations, but the direction of changes in social norms is clearly towards a more balanced perception of women’s role on the labour market.

Prospects for the Future and the Role for Policy

At the onset of transition, many of the countries in the region were doing relatively well in terms of gender gaps in a number of dimensions. The developments thereafter show great diversity,  with some front-runners as well as some laggards. This is true both in terms of overall economic development, as well as for the relative developments on the labour market for men and women. Gender gaps in employment and wages in the countries of Central Europe which have joined the European Union have generally been low, and conditions for women in many of these countries did not worsen to a greater extent than they did for men, and they have been improving for both in recent years. The situation seems much more challenging in the republics of the former Soviet Union which remain outside of the EU. Despite high female employment levels in countries such as Russia or Ukraine, female wages continue to be much lower than those of men, and labour market constraints tend to concern women much more than men. Social norms with regard to female labour market participation and women’s aspirations may hamper the continued progress of women on the labour market in many countries of the region.

Several broad policy areas could be helpful in assisting the change towards more inclusive and equal labour markets. Governments should take a more active role in reducing constraints related to care – both for the youngest children and for older people, and policies should put further emphasis on enforcing equal pay between men and women. Rebalancing of family responsibilities through care policies can directly influence female employment and can have an indirect effect through changes in social norms (Unterhofer and Wrohlich 2017). Governments could also support dual-earner families through tax and benefit policies. As countries in the region prepare to address the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, the implemented policies should seriously consider their relative implications for men and women in order to use the expected wave of reforms to support greater equality of opportunities as well as of social and economic outcomes.

About FROGEE Policy Briefs

FROGEE Policy Briefs is a special series aimed at providing overviews and the popularization of economic research related to gender equality issues. Debates around policies related to gender equality are often highly politicized. We believe that using arguments derived from the most up to date research-based knowledge would help us build a more fruitful discussion of policy proposals and in the end achieve better outcomes.

The aim of the briefs is to improve the understanding of research-based arguments and their implications, by covering the key theories and the most important findings in areas of special interest to the current debate. The briefs start with short general overviews of a given theme, which are followed by a presentation of country-specific contexts, specific policy challenges, implemented reforms and a discussion of other policy options.

Economics of Childbearing and Pronatalist Policies

Shadow on the wall with a family of three people representing current economics of childbearing

The brief opens a series of FROGEE Policy Briefs aimed at providing overviews and the popularization of economic research related to gender equality issues. The current brief introduces the general rationale behind fertility decisions and policy interventions. It summarizes the economic literature on the effects of different types of policy interventions on enhancing childbearing. The brief is followed by country reports presenting country-specific contexts, various policy challenges, implemented reforms and a discussion of other policy options covering childbearing.

Country Reports

Belarus country report (EN) Belarussian language version (BY)
Georgia country report (EN) Georgian language version (GE)
Latvia country report (EN) Latvian language version (LV)
Poland country report (EN) Polish language version (PL)
Russia country report (EN) Russian language version (RU)
Ukraine country report (EN) Ukrainian language version (UA)

Introduction to Economics of Childbearing

From an economic point of view, there are several potential reasons why public policy interventions concerning fertility may be beneficial for society and why – when left without support – decisions of parents might be suboptimal from the social point of view. In order to better understand these, one must first consider the intuition behind the theoretical economic approach to family relations in general and to fertility decisions in particular, much of which draws on the seminal contributions of Gary Becker (Becker & Lewis 1973; Becker & Tomes 1976).

In economics, goods are any real objects that satisfy people’s needs and typically come at some cost. Becker’s approach to the family extends this reasoning to human relations and presents decisions on partnership, divorce and family formation in the context of ‘economic’ trade-offs between costs and benefits. Since having children is associated with considerable costs (both in terms of money and time) as well as gains in a number of dimensions, the decision to have a child can be formulated as an economic decision. However, viewed from this perspective, the choice to have children turns out to be special in several dimensions.

Negative Income-Fertility Relationship and Low Fertility

One of the most robust observations regarding fertility is that – in contrast to many other types of expenditures – there is a strong negative association between earnings and the number of children (Figure 1). This negative income-fertility relationship has been observed in every developed nation, both when examined over time in relation to income growth and when looked at in a cross- country comparisons (see Jones et al. 2011). Figure 2 shows this relationship in a broad macro perspective: historically, as the world’s per capita GDP has grown fertility rates have tended to decline.

There are several potential drivers behind the above relationship. Two of the most established explanations are opportunity cost and quality- quantity trade-off, and they relate to several special features of the costs and benefits of having a child and the very nature of the family.

Figure 1. The relationship between total fertility rate and GDP per capita

Figure 1. The relationship between total fertility rate and GDP per capita

Source: World Bank.

Figure 2. Trends in total fertility rate by region, 1950-2050.

Figure 2. Trends in total fertility rate by region, 1950-2050.

Source: World Bank.

Money and Time Costs

A rather unique property of family formation is that costs related to childbearing are expressed both in terms of money and time. Because of the latter, high-earning parents face higher opportunity costs of the time necessary to raise a child. This might not only contribute to the aforementioned negative fertility-income relationship but has also been shown as one of the main reasons behind low fertility in developed countries. One of the most common policies used to increase fertility is money transfers which come in the form of family allowances, baby bonuses or tax credits. According to the UN Population Facts, at least 96% of developed nations have this type of policy. OECD countries, on average, spend around 4% of their GDP on this kind of assistance and the average effect of such interventions has been estimated to increase the total fertility rate (TFR) by 0.08 – 0.35 (Luci-Greulich & Thevenon 2011). The main reason why one needs to spend a lot of money to gain a relatively small increase in TFR is that low fertility is a «first world» problem, i.e. most of the targeted individuals are not bounded by the monetary costs of a child.

Policies that take the time-cost of children into account promise a higher potential effect in developed countries. For example, Raute (2019) uses German data to find an 18% increase in fertility among women with earnings above the median after the introduction of earnings- dependent paid maternity leave policy.

Quality — Quantity Trade-off

In economics, the idea that education, health and other factors increase human productivity and potential is conceptualized in a notion of “quality of human capital”. As the return on investment in human capital rises, parents may choose to have fewer children and focus their time and financial ‘investments’ in their quality. Some of the most convincing evidence on the strength of the quality- quantity trade-off was revealed using the data on twin births and on family sizes by Hanushek (1992) and Li et al. (2008).

Cultural Norms

Relatively recent research on the determinants of fertility has documented the substantial and persistent influence of cultural norms on fertility. This is reflected in the variation of fertility levels within countries among people of similar financial status, but coming from different cultural backgrounds. For example fertility levels among immigrants in the developed world tend to resemble those in their countries of origin (see, e.g. Beach & Hanlon 2019, Families and Societies 2015), and while cultural norms change and can also be affected by the policy environment (Bassi & Rasul 2017), there tends to be a substantial degree of time-dependence in how norms evolve and adjust.

Internal Costs and External Benefits

The last special feature of childbearing from an economic perspective is that although most of the costs in terms of time and money related to children are borne by parents, a large portion of future economic gains of an additional person is external to the family and benefits the wider society. When an adult enters the labor force, begins to produce goods and services for other people and pays taxes to the government, his or her parents would not be able to capture any significant portion of these benefits (Schoonbroodt & Tertilt 2014). From an economic perspective this suggests that the social value of children is higher than the private (parental) one. This situation is one of the main arguments for public policy intervention with regard to fertility. Whenever social benefits outweigh private benefits, subsidizing private choices may result in overall welfare improvements.

Fertility Enhancing Policies: What Works and What Doesn’t?

From the perspective of encouraging fertility, there is a wide range of options available to policymakers. On the one hand paid parental leave and subsidized childcare can mitigate the conflict between career and parenthood, while the introduction of paternal leave attempts at balancing out the time out of work between the two parents and at changing their allocation of time to childcare. On the other hand, child-related money transfers are aimed at reducing financial constraints on families who limit or postpone fertility because of their financial status.

In practice it is often hard to measure the effects of particular fertility-enhancing policies due to the lack of data and an absence of specific policy implementation designs, which would allow policy evaluation. However, there is evidence that fertility-enhancing policies can be successful in stimulating fertility. Luci-Greulich & Thevenon (2011) find that the most effective cash transfers are those targeted at the youngest children (aged 0-3), while those that are paid out around the birth appear to be less efficient. A number of studies prove the positive impact of transfers to families with children on fertility rates (d’Addio & d’Ercole 2005, Ermisch 1998, Milligan 2005, Whittington 1992, Whittington et al. 1990). Developments over the recent decades in Sweden are often used as an example of a successful family focused package, although given the multitude of different schemes running at the same time it is difficult to disentangle their specific implications (see Björklund 2006 for the evidence from Swedish policy reforms and Luci-Greulich & Thévenon 2013 for a broader overview of the existing research on fertility-enhancing policies).

Kalwij (2010) and Raute (2019) focus their attention on policies which alleviate career — parenthood trade-offs. Raute (2019) finds especially large effects of the adequate compensation of forgone earnings of high earning women (the author also contributes a comprehensive literature review of studies on the effects of alleviating the opportunity cost of children). Doepke and Kindermann (2016) complement these findings by providing evidence that fertility is especially responsive to policies that specifically reduce the childcare burden for women.

The evidence on the effects on fertility of another popular type of family policy, maternity leave, is less clear. Since most of the developed nations nowadays do have paid maternity leave, it is hard to measure the effect of its availability on the decision to have children. However, different durations of maternity leave across countries and changes in those durations allow economists to draw some conclusions. Although some researchers do find a positive effect of maternity leave duration (Adserà 2004), others fail to support this conclusion using different sources of data and experimental designs (d’Addio and d’Ercole 2005, Olivetti and Petrongolo 2017).

Concluding Remarks

A better understanding of the economic approach towards family formation and fertility can be helpful in thinking of a re-design of family-focused policy packages. It is beyond the scope of this brief to provide a full overview of the extensive body of economics research on this topic, but the evidence tends to suggest that a set of successful policy tools to encourage fertility is available. The basic concepts presented here can hopefully serve as background to a systematic and evidence-based discussion on public policy in this field. It should be noted that since parenthood is one of the most important choices in the life of many people, it is inherently related to many other individual choices and outcomes. Therefore, any policy aimed at increasing fertility will inevitably affect other important dimensions such as income inequality, taxation, gender equality, health and child development, among others. This means that any public intervention should always carefully consider its potential positive and negative side effects.

About FROGEE Policy Briefs

FROGEE Policy Briefs is a special series aimed at providing overviews and the popularization of economic research related to gender equality issues. Debates around policies related to gender equality are often highly politicized. We believe that using arguments derived from the most up to date research-based knowledge would help us build a more fruitful discussion of policy proposals and in the end achieve better outcomes.

The aim of the briefs is to improve the understanding of research-based arguments and their implications, by covering the key theories and the most important findings in areas of special interest to the current debate. The briefs start with short general overviews of a given theme, which are followed by a presentation of country-specific contexts, specific policy challenges, implemented reforms and a discussion of other policy options.