Tag: gender economics

Would Electing More Women Make the U.S. Congress Less Polarized?

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With growing ideological polarization in the electorate and among U.S. Congress members, the view that electing more women would help solve partisan gridlocks has also grown especially popular. In this policy brief we review recent evidence on gender differences in cooperative behavior among legislators and argue that the prediction that a more female U.S. Congress would be less polarized does not find strong support in the data. While, in the past, Republican women have cooperated more with Democrats than their male colleagues we find evidence that this was due to higher ideological proximity between Republican women and Democrats rather than gender per se. Among Democrats, women actually appear to cooperate less with the opposite party than their male colleagues. Moreover, in recent years gender differences in ideology among Republicans have been narrowing, which also reduce gender differences in cooperation with the opposite party.

Gender Differences in Cooperative Behavior

Observers of U.S. politics have repeatedly reported increasing polarization in the U.S. electorate and Congress over the last decade, with growing concerns that the partisan gridlocks that have impaired Congress’ activities in the last two years will only grow after the 2024 elections. At the same time, it is widely believed that electing more women to the U.S. Congress would help reduce partisanship among legislators and promote cooperation across party lines. For instance, a report by the Center for American Women and Politics found that “collaboration by women across party lines is often fostered by participation in bipartisan, single-sex activities […] which can lead to policy collaboration” (Dittmar et al. 2017). These beliefs are rooted not only in anecdotal evidence but also in academic studies that, through laboratory experiments, have shown that women tend to cooperate more than men (cooperation is considered as working in a team to achieve a common good). However, this finding is not universal across settings and studies (Balliet et al. 2011), which suggests some caution in foreseeing fewer partisan gridlocks when more women are elected. Moreover, while laboratory experiments are a very important tool to discover patterns of human behavior in “ideal” conditions, testing for the robustness of experimental findings in real-world settings is a necessary step to draw definite implications for society-level outcomes.

What then is the research-based evidence on women’s willingness to cooperate with opposite parties as legislators?

Do Women in the U.S. Congress Cooperate More With the Opposite Party Than Men?

The proportion of women in Congress continues to be low, currently standing at 29 percent of the House of Representatives and 25 percent of the Senate. However, women’s representation has massively increased over time, especially since the 101st Congress, which was elected in 1989 (see Figure 1). This change has prompted researchers to investigate the effects of women’s different approaches to competitive and cooperative situations on the day-to-day working of Congress.

In examining the dynamics of legislative cooperation, contrasting viewpoints shed light on the role of gender in policymaking. Volden et al. (2013) find that women’s increased cooperativeness especially helps female lawmakers from minority parties who are able to sustain their bills throughout the legislative process, while more obstructive Congress members fail to find consensus. Offering an alternative explanation, Anzia and Berry (2011) show that female lawmakers indeed sponsor and co-sponsor more bills than male lawmakers but argue that this is due to only the best and most ambitious women entering Congress due to discrimination.

Figure 1. Women in Congress over time.

Source: Bagues et al. (2023), data from the Congressional Research Service.

This early work highlights the importance of studying gender differences in Congress overall and by party, while comparing women and men who have similar characteristics and are elected in comparable districts.

In a recent study, Gagliarducci and Paserman (2022) adopt several empirical strategies to assess the extent to which largely comparable women and men in Congress behave differently in terms of cooperativeness. Their measure of cooperation is the number of co-sponsors that women and men respectively attract on their bills, and what share of these co-sponsors that are from the opposite party. Each bill presented to the U.S. Congress has a main sponsor and can have an unlimited number of co-sponsors. These co-sponsors attract support for the bill and aid its passage through the necessary legislative steps. Gagliarducci and Paserman (2022) consider bills proposed to the U.S. Congress between 1988 and 2010 and find that among Democrats there is no significant gender gap in the number of co-sponsors recruited, but women-sponsored bills tend to have fewer co-sponsors from the opposite party. On the other hand, they establish robust evidence that Republican women recruit more co-sponsors and attract more bipartisan support on their bills than Republican men. They conclude that this pattern indicates that cooperation is mostly driven by a commonality of interest, rather than gender per se. This since during this period female Republican representatives were ideologically closer to Democrats than their male colleagues, whereas Democratic women were ideologically further away from Republicans. They proxy representatives’ ideology using information on the ideological leaning of voters in representatives’ constituency in the presidential elections. As the authors observe, these findings challenge the commonly held view that an increase in female representation in the US Congress would help solve partisan gridlock.

In a recent working paper (Bagues et al. 2023), we assess the replicability and reproducibility of these findings, given their practical relevance in the face of the upcoming 2024 Congress elections. Our work is part of a large effort promoted by the Institute for Replication to improve the credibility of social science by systematically reproducing and replicating research findings published in leading academic journals.

Using the same data and empirical strategies as in Gagliarducci and Paserman (2022), except for correcting for some data collection errors and proposing different assumptions on the empirical specifications, we virtually confirm all their original findings. Most importantly, we also extend the analysis to cover 2011-2020 to study gender differences in legislative cooperation in a context that differs in at least two relevant aspects. During this period the share of women in the House of Representatives became substantially larger and, moreover, within-party gender differences in ideology changed compared to previous decades. While Democratic female representatives are still less conservative that Democratic men, women became ideologically more similar to their male colleagues among Republicans. We reach this conclusion by proxying representatives’ ideology using information on the ideological leaning of voters in representatives’ constituency in the presidential elections, as in Gagliarducci and Paserman (2022).

Consistent with the hypothesis that gender differences in cooperation across parties are driven mainly by ideological distance, we observe that bills sponsored by female Democrats are less likely to have opposite party co-sponsors than bills sponsored by male Democrats. We also, do not observe any gender differences in bipartisan cooperative behavior among Republicans. Finally, we observe more robust evidence that during the last decade bills from both Republican and Democratic women attracted more sponsors than bills from their male colleagues.

In sum, the novel evidence from the 2011-2020 period strengthens the finding that cooperation with members of the other party is driven mainly by ideological proximity rather than gender per se.

Conclusion

We have reviewed the recent academic literature on gender differences in willingness to cooperate among legislators, considering the largely popular view that a more female U.S. Congress would be less polarized and thus face fewer partisan gridlocks. Such a view is particularly salient at a time of increased polarization in U.S. politics and growing representation of women in the U.S. Congress.

Overall, studies of the extent to which bills promoted by women and men in Congress attract co-sponsors from members of the opposite party invite caution in predicting fewer gridlocks from the election of more women. Women legislators do not appear to be inherently more willing to cooperate with the opposite party. Gender differences in cooperation noticed in the past seem to be mainly driven by Republican women being more likely to legislate with Democrats because of a higher degree of ideological proximity to the opposite party compared to their male colleagues. However, analysis of recent data also show that Republican women have become ideologically more aligned to their male colleague in the last decade. This suggests that as the share of women in Congress increases, their characteristics and ideological standing might also change, making it hard to predict patterns of future behavior based on the past.

References

  • Anzia, Sarah F., and Christopher R. Berry. (2011). The Jackie (and Jill) Robinson effect: Why do congresswomen outperform congressmen? American Journal of Political Science 55, no. 3. pp. 478-493.
  • Bagues, Manuel, Pamela Campa, and Giulian Etingin-Frati. (2022). Gender Differences in Cooperation in the US Congress? An Extension of Gagliarducci and Paserman. No. 75. I4R Discussion Paper Series, 2023.
  • Balliet, Daniel, Norman P. Li, Shane J. Macfarlan, and Mark Van Vugt. (2011). Sex differences in cooperation: a meta-analytic review of social dilemmas. Psychological Bulletin 137, no. 6. p. 881.
  • Dittmar, Kelly, Sanbonmatsu, Kira, Carroll, Susan, Walsh, Debbie, and Wineinger, Catherine. (2017). Representation Matters: Women in the U.S. Congress. Centre for American Women and Politics, Rutgers University.
  • Gagliarducci, Stefano, and M. Daniele Paserman. (2022). Gender differences in cooperative environments? Evidence from the US Congress. The Economic Journal 132, no. 641, pp. 218-257.
  • Volden, Craig, Alan E. Wiseman, and Dana E. Wittmer. (2013). When are women more effective lawmakers than men?. American Journal of Political Science 57, no. 2. pp.326-341.

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.

Widowhood in Poland: Reforming the Financial Support System

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Drawing on a recent Policy Paper, we analyse the degree to which the current system of support in widowhood in Poland limits the extent of poverty among this large and growing group of the population. The analysis is set in the context of a proposed reform discussed lately in the Polish Parliament. We present the budgetary and distributional consequences of this proposal and offer an alternative scenario which limits the overall cost of the policy and directs additional resources to low-income households.

Introduction

Losing a partner usually comes with consequences, both for mental health and psychological well-being (Adena et al., 2023; Blanner Kristiansen et al., 2019; Lee et al., 2001; Steptoe et al., 2013), and for material welfare. Economic deprivation may be particularly pronounced in cases of high-income differentials between spouses and in situations when the primary earner – often the man – dies first. Many countries have instituted survivors’ pensions, whereby the surviving spouse continues to receive some of the income of her/his deceased partner alongside other incomes. The systems of support differ substantially between countries and they often combine social security benefits and welfare support for those with lowest incomes.

In this Policy Brief we summarise the results from a recent paper (Myck et al., 2024) and discuss the material situation of widows versus married couples in Poland. We show the degree to which the ‘survivors’ pension’, i.e. the current system of support in widowhood, limits the extent of poverty among widows and compare it to a proposed reform discussed lately in the Polish Parliament, the so called ‘widows’ pension’. In light of the examined consequences from this proposal we relate it to an alternative scenario, which – as we demonstrate – brings very similar benefits to low-income widows, but, at the same time, substantially reduces the cost of the policy.

Reforming the System of Support in Widowhood

Our analysis draws on a sample of married couples aged 65 and older from the Polish Household Budget Survey – a group representing a large part of the Polish population (almost 1,7 million couples). Each of these couples is assigned to an income decile, depending on the level of their disposable income. Incomes of 9.5 percent of the sample locate them in the bottom decile, i.e. the poorest 10 percent of the population, while 4.4 percent of these older couples have incomes high enough to place them in the top income group – the richest 10 percent of the population.

Next, in order to examine the effectiveness of the different systems of support, we conduct the following exercise: incomes of these households are re-calculated assuming the husbands have passed away. This simulates the incomes of the sampled women in hypothetical scenarios of widowhood. The incomes are calculated under four different systems of support as summarized in Table 1.

Table 1. Modelled support scenarios.

Using these re-calculated household incomes, we can identify the relative position in the income distribution in the widowhood scenario as well as the poverty risk among widows under different support systems.

The change in the relative position in the income distribution following widowhood under the four support systems is presented in Figure 1. The starting point (the left-hand side of each chart) are the income groups of households with married couples aged 65+, i.e. before the simulated widowhood. The transition to the income deciles on the right-hand side of each chart is the result of a change in equivalised (i.e. adjusted for household composition) disposable income in the widowhood simulation, under different support scenarios (I – IV).

Figure 1. Change in income decile among women aged 65+, following a hypothetical death of their husbands.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using SIMPL model; graphs were created using: https://flourish.studio/

Figure 1a shows that, without any additional support, the financial situation of older women would significantly deteriorate in the event of the death of their spouses (Figure 1a). The share of women with incomes in the lowest two deciles would be as high as 54.7 percent (compared to 17.5 percent of married couples). The current survivor’s pension seems to protect a large proportion of women from experiencing large reductions in their income (Figure 1b), although the proportion of those who find themselves in the lowest two income decile groups more than doubles relative to married couples (to 38.3 percent). The widow’s pension (Figure 1c) offers much greater support and a very large share of new widows remain in the same decile or even move to a higher income group following the hypothetical death of their spouses. For example, with the widows’ pension, 8.0 percent of the widows would be in the 9th income decile group and 5.3 percent in the 10th group, while in comparison 7.0 and 4.4 percent of married couples found themselves in these groups, respectively. The proposed alternative system (Figure 1d) raises widows’ incomes compared to the current survivor’s pension system, but it is less generous than the system with the widow’s pension. At the same time 4.6 percent and 3.4 percent of widows would be found in the 9th and 10th deciles, respectively.

Importantly, the alternative support system is almost as effective in reducing the poverty risk among widows as the widow’s pension. In the latter case the share of at-risk-of poverty drops from 35.3 percent (with no support) and 20.7 percent (under the current system) to 11,0 percent, while under the alternative system, it drops to 11.8 percent. Because the alternative system limits additional support to households with higher incomes, this reduction in at-risk-of poverty would be achieved at a much lower cost to the public budget. We estimate that while the current reform proposal would result in annual cost of 24.1 bn PLN (5.6 bn EUR), the alternative design would cost only 10.5 bn PLN (2.5 bn EUR).

The distributional implications of the two reforms are presented in Figure 2 which shows the average gains in the incomes of ‘widowed’ households between the reformed versions of support and the current system with the survivor’s pension. The gains are presented by income decile of the married households. We see that the alternative system significantly limits the gains among households in the upper half of the income distribution.

Figure 2. Average gains from an implementation of the widow’s pension and the alternative system, by income decile groups.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: Change in the disposable income with respect to the current system with survivor’s pension. 1PLN~0.23EUR.

Conclusions

While subjective evaluations of the material conditions of older persons living alone in Poland have shown significant improvements, income poverty within this groups has increased since 2015. This suggests that the incomes of older individuals have not sufficiently kept up with the dynamics of earnings of and social transfers to other social groups in Poland. As shown in our simulations, the current widowhood support system substantially limits the risk of poverty following the death of one’s partner. However, while the current survivor’s pension decreases the poverty risk from 35.3 percent in a system without any support to 20.7 percent, the risk of poverty among widows is still significantly higher compared to the risk faced by married couples.

The simulations presented in this Policy Brief examine the implications of a support system reform; the widow’s pension which is currently being discussed in the Polish Parliament, as well as an alternative proposal putting more emphasis on poorer households. The impactof these two reforms on the at-risk-of poverty levels among widowed individuals would be very similar, but the design of the alternative system would come at a significantly lower cost to the public budget. The total annual cost to the public sector of the widow’s pensions would amount to 24.1 bn PLN (5.6 bn EUR) while our proposed alternative would cost only 10.5 bn PLN (2.5 bn EUR) per year.

An effective policy design allowing the government to achieve its objectives at the lowest possible costs should always be among the government main priorities. This is especially important in times of high budget pressure – due to demographic changes or other risks – as is currently the case in Poland.

References

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.

 

Reforming Financial Support in Widowhood: The Current System in Poland and Potential Reforms

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In this policy paper, we discuss the material conditions of widows and widowers compared to married couples in Poland, and analyse the degree to which the current support system to those in widowhood in Poland limits the extent of poverty among this large and growing share of the population. The analysis is set in the context of a proposed reform recently discussed in the Polish Parliament. We present the budgetary and distributional consequences of this proposal and offer an alternative scenario which limits the overall cost of the policy and directs  additional resources to low income households.

Introduction

According to the National Census in 2021 there were about 2.2 million widows and 450 000 widowers in Poland. In the following year over 123 000 women and about 47 000 men became widowed. Apart from the severe consequences for mental health and psychological well-being, losing a partner typically has implications also for material wellbeing, in particular in cases of high income differentials between the spouses and in situations when the primary earner – often the man – dies first. Material conditions of the surviving spouse in widowhood depend on the one hand on the couple’s accumulated resources, and, on the other hand, on the available  support system. Many countries have instituted so-called survivors’ pensions, whereby the surviving spouse continues to receive some of the income of her/his deceased partner alongside other incomes. The systems of support differ substantially between countries and they often combine social security benefits and welfare support for those with the lowest incomes.

In this policy paper we discuss the material situation of widows and widowers versus married couples in Poland and analyse the degree to which the current Polish support system for  people in widowhood limits the extent of poverty within this group. We compare the current system of survivors’ pension with a proposed reform discussed lately in the Polish Parliament;the introduction of a ‘widow’s pension’. We present the budgetary and distributional consequences of the announced scheme and offer an alternative scenario which limits the overall cost of the policy and focuses additional resources on low income households. Our results show significant income gains for  widows/widowers from the implementation of the recently proposed widow’s pension. The policy however, would come at a substantial cost to the public purse, and the most significant benefits would be accrued by surviving partners at the top of the income distribution. Our proposed alternative scenario is better targeted at poorer households and achieves the objective of limiting poverty in widowhood at a substantially lower cost.

The Material Situation of Widows and Widowers in Poland

Numerous research papers show a strong impact of losing a spouse on mental health and overall well-being (Blanner Kristiansen et al., 2019; Lee et al., 2001; Ory & Huijts, 2015; Sasson & Umberson, 2014; Schaan, 2013; Siflinger, 2017; Steptoe et al., 2013). Adena et al. (2023) use a comprehensive dataset on older women observed a number of years before and after the death of their spouses. The study finds a sharp deterioration in mental health among widows after their partner’s death, displayed as a higher likelihood of crying (Figure 1a) or an increased probability of depression (Figure 1b). The authors provide evidence that, in comparison to similar women who remained partnered, widows suffer from poorer mental health and experience worsened quality of life for several years after their partners’ death.

Figure 1. Women’s mental health before and after their partners’ death.

Source: Adena et al. (2023). Notes: The control group consisted of women from statistical “twin” marriages with an identical distribution of selected characteristics; Figure 1b) Risk of depression defined as 4 or more depression symptoms according to the EURO-D scale. For methodological details see Adena et al. (2023).

While the impact of spouse’s death on widows mental health is largely undisputed, the impacts on their material situation are ambiguous (Ahn, 2005; Bíró, 2013; Bound et al., 1991; Corden et al., 2008; Hungerford, 2001).The differences across countries in the material situation of widowed versus partnered elderly people undoubtedly reflect countries’ various social security systems for those in widowhood. At the same time, these differences may also stem from variations in other factors that widows and widwers can rely on such as the prevalence of property ownership or accumulation of wealth and savings. It should be noted though, that in contrast to the immediate effects of spouse’s death on mental health, the consequences for widows’ and widowers’ material situation may unfold over a number of years. This is reflected in the results from poverty surveys which often point to the poorer material standing of widows and widowers (Panek et al., 2015; Petelczyc & Roicka, 2016; Timoszuk, 2017, 2021).

Similar conclusions can be derived from subjective evaluations of households’ material situation reflected in the Central Statistical Office’s Polish Household Budget Survey (HBS). In Figure 2a we present the percentage of people aged 65 and over who declared a ‘bad’ or ‘rather bad’ material situation of their household between 2010 and 2021, split between widows, widowers and married couples.. Throughout the analysed period, the share of both widows and widowers reporting a rather bad material situation was significantly higher than for married couples aged 65+. While in 2010 30 percent of widows and 20 percent of widowers reported a rather bad material standing, this share amounted to just above 10 percent among married couples. In all social groups the ratio of those in a rather bad material situation declined significantly over the analysed decade. A particularly significant drop was observed among widows; in 2021 the share of widows declaring a rather bad material situation declined to the level observed for married couples eleven years earlier.

Data capturing the risk of poverty from Eurostat, based on the EU Statistics on Income and Living Conditions Survey (EU-SILC), also display significantly worse material conditions of older individuals living alone compared to those living with another adult (Figure 2b). While this data does not explicitly allow us to divide the sample based on marital status, it is highly likely (and assumed hereafter) that the majority of single-person households 65+ cover widows or widowers, while two-person households aged 65+represent married couples. As compared to Figure 2a, the dynamics of the poverty levels among people aged 65+ in Figure 2b differ from the dynamics of the assessment of the overall material situation. Among two-person households, the risk of poverty in Poland declined between 2010 and 2013, and then remained relatively stable at about 15 percent until 2020. Among one-person households the poverty rate also declined during the first five years (from 33 percent in 2010 to 25 percent in 2015), however, it then increased to 37 percent in 2020. Consequently, the gap in poverty risk between two-person and one-person households increased substantially, from 8 percentage points in 2010 to 22 percentage points in 2020.

Figure 2. Material situation among households with individuals aged 65 and over.

Source: Own compilation based on: a) HBS; b) Eurostat. Notes: a) Widows and widowers aged 65+ living in one-person households; married couples living in two-person households with at least one spouse aged 65+; b) Eurostat data does not allow for division by gender or marital status. In two-person households both persons are adults, at least one is aged 65+. At-risk-of-poverty rate is defined as 60 percent of the median equivalized income of the entire population.

When analyzing poverty risk information, it should be noted that this indicator is based on income thresholds calculated separately for each year, accounting for the whole population. Poverty risk threshold may therefore increase as a result of income boosts among other groups and in consequence raise the risk of poverty of older people even if their real incomes are stable or grow. Thus the substantial increase in o the poverty risk share among Polish individuals 65+ and living alone after 2015, is related to the sharp rise in income of families with children and wage dynamics, which, in turn raised the poverty threshold considered in the analysis. Based on Figure 2b it is also worth noting that in comparison to Poland the risk of poverty among single-person households 65+ grew even faster in the Czech Republic (though the situation among two-person households 65+ was stable there). The  relative position of these households deteriorated also in Germany (the share at risk of poverty increased from 24 percent in 2010 to 31 percent in 2020). It is therefore clear that even though absolute material conditions may have improved among widowed households in Poland over the last decade, their relative position in the income distribution – as in many other countries – places them at a significantly greater risk of poverty compared to partnered older individuals. Questions regarding the level of state support directed towards widowed older individuals are therefore highly relevant for government policy.

Figure 3. The living situation of widows, widowers and married couples aged 65 and over, in Poland.

Source: Own compilation based on HBS. Notes: Widows and widowers aged 65+ living in one-person households. Married couples in two-person households with at least one spouse aged 65+.

To better understand the broader context of material conditions in widowhood, and to try to address the discrepancy between the trends in subjective evaluation and widows’ relative position in the income distribution, it is also worth examining other aspects of material well-being. In Figure 3a we present some statistics on property ownership. As we can see, the majority of individuals aged 65+ in Poland, both widowed and married, owned the house or flat they lived in. For example, in 2010 62 percent of all widows and 68 percent of all widowers owned their dwelling, and these shares increased to 72 percent for both groups by 2021. Moreover, among older owner occupiers, the size of the house or apartment per person living in it was on average two times larger for widows and widowers (50 m2) as compared to married couples (25 m2), as depicted in Figure 3b. The high share of widows and widowers owning housing assets may therefore be one of the most important explanations to the discrepancies between the dynamics of income poverty and the declarations about the overall material situation observed in recent years. Although the risk of relative income poverty among widows and widowers have increased since 2016 (after a period of decline between 2010 and 2015), widowhood in Poland is not unequivocally associated with poor material conditions. While some widowed individuals clearly face a challenging material situation, for many the current system of survivor’s pension seems to offer adequate protection against the risk of a significant financial deterioration following the loss of a spouse. This suggests that any additional support through a new social security instrument should be directed principally to a relatively narrow group of widows and widowers in order to help particularly those in a difficult financial situation.

Survivor’s Pension, Widow’s Pension and an Alternative Solution

In this part of the paper we present simulations of changes in the level of household income and the relative position in the income distribution among widows under different scenarios of support through the social security system. In the first step we use the 2021 HBS data (uprated to 2023 income levels) to calculate disposable incomes of the entire sample of nearly 31 000 households under the 2024 Polish tax-benefit system using the SIMPL tax and benefit microsimulation model (henceforth the ‘baseline’ system; more details on the SIMPL model: Myck et al., 2015, 2023a; Myck & Najsztub, 2014). Based on the baseline system, we divide the households into ten income decile groups according to their disposable income (equivalised, i.e. adjusted for household composition). In the second step we focus on the sample of 4188 married couples aged 65 and over, representing 1.7 million Polish households (almost 13 percent of the total population). 65 percent of these couples lived in two-person households and the remaining 35 percent cohabited also with other people. In the baseline system, the incomes received by these households placed 9.5 percent of them in the lowest (1st) income decile group and 4.4 percent in the highest (10th) group (see Table 1).

Table 1. Relative position of households with married couples aged 65+ in the income distribution.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: The baseline system for calculating the equivalised income thresholds was the January 2024 system; the thresholds for the income decile groups were calculated on the basis of a full sample of households.

Figure 4a shows a comparison of men’s and women’s gross retirement pensions in our sample of married couples 65+ in the baseline system. Every dot corresponds to one married couple and a combination of the spouses’ pensions. The greater concentration of combinations of these values above the 45-degree line indicates that in most marriages , the husbands’ retirement pensions are higher than the wives’. The differences are also apparent in Figure 4b, which presents the percentages of individuals receiving a pension benefit within the given value range of the pension. The share of women are greater than the share of men at lower benefit values (below 3000 PLN gross per month), and the opposite is true for higher pension amounts. Overall, for 65 percent of all couples, the husband received a higher retirement pension than his wife. There are also older people who did not receive retirement benefits – either because they continued to work or because they were not entitled to a retirement pension (this is the case for 9 percent of husbands and 10 percent of wives), as illustrated by the first column in Figure 4b. It is worth noting that for 2 percent of the couples only the husband received a retirement pension (the wife had never worked and was not eligible for retirement pension or she still worked). In the current Polish system of support for surviving spouses, the amount of own and spouse’s retirement pension is crucial for the choice of the benefit one makes when a spouse dies. A widowed person can choose to continue receiving their own full retirement pension or to receive a survivor’s pension, which is equivalent to 85 percent of the pension of the deceased spouse. Given the differences between men’s and women’s pensions, many women choose the latter option, either because their own retirement pension is significantly lower than the survivor’s pension or because they are not entitled to their own retirement pension.

Figure 4. Retirement pension amounts received by husbands and wives aged 65+

Source: Own compilation based on HBS 2021. Notes: Both spouses aged 65 and over; gross monthly retirement pensions; in less than 1 percent of the marriages at least one spouse received a retirement pension higher than 10000 PLN (not included in the Figure). 1PLN~0.23EUR.

We treat the sample of married couples aged 65 years or more as a reference sample in our analysis of consequences from the implementation of various support schemes within the social security system, in the case of widowhood. The calculations presented below reflect the financial situation of the analysed sample after a hypothetical death of husbands. We focus on widows, as they represent the vast majority of widowed individuals (due to, e.g., longer life expectancy of women and age differences between spouses). We simulate four support scenarios:

I) a system with no support for widowed individuals – this would be the situation without the current survivor’s pension, in which widows would need to rely fully on their own social security incomes (pensions);

II) the current system of survivor’s pension: in which the widow must choose between 100 percent of her own pension or the survivor’s pension (85 percent of her deceased husband’s gross pension)

III) a system with the widow’s pension (currently debated in the Polish Parliament): the widow must choose between: a) 100 percent of her own pension + 50 percent of the survivor’s pension (42,5 percent of the deceased husband’s gross pension), b) 50 percent of her own pension + 100 percent of the survivor’s pension (85 percent of her dead husband’s gross pension);

IV) an alternative system in which the widow chooses between: a) 100 percent of her own pension + 50 percent of a minimum pension if her husband received at least minimum retirement pension (50 percent of the husband’s pension if it was lower than the minimum pension), b) 100 percent of the survivor’s pension (85 percent of the husband’s pension) increased to the minimum pension if the husband received at least minimum retirement pension.

While the simulations are based on a hypothetical death of a husband, they provide a realistic picture of the financial situation of households in which women face widowhood. It is also important to note that the simulations of the financial conditions of ‘widowed’ households take into account other potential forms of public social support such as housing benefits and social assistance for low-income households. The results thus include the most relevant forms of financial support individuals might receive from the Polish government.

Figure 5 shows the results of the four aforementioned scenarios in the form of flow charts between income decile groups. The starting point (the left-hand side of each chart) are the income groups of households with married couples aged 65+, i.e. before the simulated widowhood. The transition to the income deciles on the right hand side of each chart is the result of a change in equivalised disposable income in the widowhood simulation, under different support scenarios (I – IV). Thus, on the right hand side we observe the income groups in which the women would find themselves after the death of their husbands, conditional on the assumed system of support: without the survivor’s pension (system I, Figure 5a), with the survivor’s pension (system II, figure 5b), with the widow’s pension (system III, Figure 5c) and under the alternative system (system IV, Figure 5d).

Figure 5a shows that without any additional support the financial situation of older women would significantly deteriorate in the event of the death of their spouses (Figure 5a). The share of women whose income would place them in the lowest two decile groups would be as high as 54.7 percent (compared to 17.5 percent of married couples), and 82.8 percent of the widows would be in the bottom half of the income distribution (compared to 57 percent of married couples). The current survivor’s pension seems to protect a large proportion of women (Figure 5b), although the proportion of those who find themselves in the lowest two income decile groups still more than doubles relative to the situation of married couples, to 38.3 percent. Further, 74.9 percent of the widows would find themselves in the bottom half of the distribution. The proposed widow’s pension (Figure 5c) offers much greater support with a very high share of new widows remaining in the same decile or even moving to a higher income group. For example, with the widows’ pension 8.0 percent of women would be in the 9th income decile group and 5.3 percent in the 10th group, while, in comparison, 7.0 percent and 4.4 percent of married couples found themselves in these groups, respectively. 

Figure 5. Change in income decile among women aged 65+, following a hypothetical death of their husbands.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using SIMPL model; graphs were created using: https://flourish.studio/

The proposed alternative system (Figure 5d) raises widows’ incomes compared to the current survivor’s pension system, but it is less generous than the system with the widow’s pension. Importantly however, it increases the incomes of widows in the lower income groups, which means that, compared to the current system, the number of women dropping to the poorest income groups following their husband’s death would be significantly reduced (24.0 percent would be in the lowest two deciles). At the same time 4.6 percent and 3.4 percent of the widows would be placed in the 9th and the 10th decile groups, respectively.

Table 2 shows the change in the poverty risk among the women in five considered scenarios, i.e. before they become widowed and after the hypothetical death of their husband under the considered four systems of support. 10.5 percent of married couples aged 65+ had equivalised disposable incomes which placed them below the poverty line calculated in the baseline system. After the simulated death of a husband, in a scenario without the survivor’s pension, the poverty rate among widows would increase to 35.3 percent, while the current survivor’s pension limits it to 20.7 percent. Poverty would be further reduced in the two systems with considered reforms: to 11.0 percent the widow’s pension system and to 11.8 percent in the alternative system.

Table 2. At-risk-of-poverty rates in the analysed scenarios.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: The at-risk-of-poverty threshold is set at 60 percent of median equivalised disposable income in the baseline system.

Total Costs of the Considered Schemes

As mentioned above, the presented simulations take into account the conditions of current older couples. Therefore, we cannot directly calculate the consequences of the two suggested systems (the widow’s pension system and the alternative system) for those who are already widowed. This applies in particular to the present-day cost from the suggested changes to the widowhood support schemes to the public budget . In order to accurately estimate the changes in already widowed people’s incomes, we would have to have the information on the values of widow’s pensions and of pensions that their deceased spouses received when they were still alive, information that is not available in the HBS.

Nevertheless, our simulations allow us to compare the aggregated costs of support for women in the simulated widowhood scenarios under different support systems. Such calculations suggest that an implementation of the widow’s pension would increase the gross benefits received by widows by 34.2 percent compared to the current survivor’s pension system., while the alternative system would raise them by 14.7 percent. Applying these growth rates to the social security benefits currently received by widows and widowers (from the HBS data) implies additional annual costs of 24.1 bn PLN (5.6 bn EUR) under the widow’s pension system, and 10.5 bn PLN (2.5 bn EUR) under the alternative system.

Who Gains the Most?

From a distributional perspective, the simulated outcomes of the two suggested systems of support in widowhood can be compared to the baseline situation. In Figure 6 we show average changes in widowed women’s disposable income resulting from a change from the current system with survivor’s pension to the system with widow’s pension, and to our alternative design. Gross monthly survivor’s pensions of the widows are divided into seven groups, starting from 0-500 PLN up to 5501 PLN and more. One can clearly see that women who would, on average, gain the most from the implementation of the widow’s pension are those who already have a relatively high survivor’s pension in the current system. The average rise in disposable income (net) among those with gross monthly pensions between 4501 and 5500 PLN would be 1200 PLN, if widow’s pension was implemented. In contrast, women who receive 501-1500 PLN (gross) per month under the current survivor’s pension, would see a net monthly gain of about 350 PLN. These women would benefit slightly more under the alternative system – on average about 390 PLN, while much lower increases (on average about 220 PLN per month) would be faced by women in the 4501-5500 PLN group. Women in the last group, with gross monthly pensions of 5501 PLN and more under the current survivor’s pension system, would additionally gain even less in the alternative system – on average about 170 PLN. Thus overall, greater gains would accrue to those with lower current benefits in the alternative system.

Figure 6. Average increase in disposable income among widows by current survivor’s pensions’ value group.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: Change in the disposable income with respect to the current system with survivor’s pension. 1PLN~0.23EUR.

In Figure 7 we categorise the sample of widows in terms of the range of their gains resulting from the two analysed reforms. The gains are calculated as changes in disposable income between the current system of support and the modelled reforms. We see that 20 percent of widows would gain over 1000 PLN extra per month as a result of the widow’s pension’s reform, while a further 24 percent would gain between 801 to 1000 PLN and 28 percent could expect to see a gain of between 601-800 PLN per month. The reform would leave the incomes of only about 12 percent of the widows unchanged – most of them are women who are not eligible for their own retirement pensions. In the alternative system the incomes of 34 percent of the analysed widows would remain unaffected. This group of women includes not only those without their own retirement pensions, but also those whose husbands received much higher pensions than themselves. This means that even if a widow’s retirement pension were to increase by 50 percent of the minimum pension, it would still be lower than 85 percent of her spouse’s retirement pension (see Figure 4a). In the alternative system about 17 percent of women in the sample would increase their disposable income by less than 400 PLN per month. For 28 percent, the increase would be in the range of between 400 and 600 PLN per month. While 21 percent would receive increased benefits under the alternative system, none of the hypothetical widows would receive more than 800 PLN per month.

Figure 7. Share of women by ranges of increases from the widow’s pension and the alternative scenario.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: Change in the disposable income with respect to the current system with survivor’s pension. 1PLN~0.23EUR.

Figure 8 presents the average effect of the modelled reforms on disposable incomes of women in the sample, divided by income decile groups. Households were assigned to one of ten income groups based on their equivalised disposable income in the baseline system (i.e. according to the joint income of the couples). Figure 8 reflects the distribution of gains from the implementation of the widow’s pension or the alternative system. In the first case, the highest gains would be concentrated among the richest households. While women in the 8th and 9th income decile would, on average, receive an increase in their disposable income of about 1100 PLN per month, those in the 2nd decile group would, on average, receive only an additional 470 PLN per month. The distribution under the alternative system is far more concentrated on low income households. The highest average additional gain of about 420 PLN per month would be granted to widows from the 3rd income decile group, and benefits to women in the upper half of the income distribution would be significantly lower. Women in the top decile would gain, on average, only about 280 PLN per month. In many of the poorest households in our sample of couples, neither partner qualifies for a retirement pension. As a result, widows in this group would experience significantly lower average gains under both analyzed systems compared to those in higher income brackets.

Figure 8. Average gains due to the implementation of widow’s pension and the alternative system, by income decile group.

Source: Own calculations based on HBS 2021 using the SIMPL model. Notes: Change in the disposable income with respect to the current system with survivor’s pension. 1PLN~0.23EUR. Assignment to the income group was done prior to the hypothetical death of husbands.

Conclusion

In 2021 only 10 percent of the Polish widows and 8 percent of the Polish widowers aged 65 and more evaluated their material situation as rather bad, percentages that had dropped significantly since 2010. According to the HBS the majority of widowed individuals in Poland are also owners of the dwelling they live in. At the same time, income poverty among older persons living alone has increased in Poland since 2015, suggesting that despite the subjective evaluations, incomes of these older individuals – many of whom are widowed – have not managed to keep up with the dynamics of earnings and social transfers aimed at other demographic groups in Poland. As showed in our simulations, the current widowhood support system in Poland substantially limits the risk of poverty following the death of one’s partner. However, while the current survivor’s pension decreases the poverty risk from 35.3 percent (in a system without any support) to 20.7 percent, the risk of poverty among widows is still significantly higher compared to the risk faced by married couples.

The simulations analysed in this Policy Paper has covered the proposal of a support system reform, thewidow’s pension, which is currently discussed in the Polish Parliament. The simulations also covered an alternative alternative proposal putting more emphasis on poorer households. Both of these reforms would provide additional support to individuals affected by widowhood. In the case of the widow’s pension the average value of social security benefits would increase by 34.2 percent, whereas the alternative scenario would increase these benefits by 14.7 percent. If the pensions of current widows and widowers were to be increase by these proportions, the total annual cost to the public sector would amount to 24.1 bn PLN (5.6 bn EUR) and 10.5 bn PLN (2.5 bn EUR) per year, respectively. As shown above, the impact of these two reforms on poverty levels among widowed individuals would be very similar – the reforms would reduce it to 11.0 and 11.8 percent, respectively. The substantial difference in the total cost of these two alternatives is mainly due to the fact that the bulk of the additional benefits from the implementation of the widow’s pension is concentrated among high-income widows and widowers, while the highest profits in the modelled alternative system are targeted at households at the bottom of the income distribution.

If the aim of the potential legislative changes is to support widows and widowers in a difficult material situation and to reduce the extent of poverty, the widow’s pension currently discussed in the Polish Parliament seems to be far from ideal. As demonstrated in this Policy Paper, additional support addressed to widows and widowers in Poland can be designed in a way that substantially reduces the risk of poverty, with limitations on benefit increases to those already in a favourable financial situation. Our proposed alternative system would generate higher incomes for the poorest widows and widowers similar to the widow’s pension, while its cost to the public budget would be less than half of the cost of the discussed widow’s pension reform.

References

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  • Ahn, N. (2005). Financial consequences of widowhood in Europe: Cross-country and gender differences.
  • Bíró, A. (2013). Adverse effects of widowhood in Europe. Advances in Life Course Research, 18(1), 68–82. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.alcr.2012.10.005
  • Blanner Kristiansen, C., Kjær, J. N., Hjorth, P., Andersen, K., & Prina, A. M. (2019). Prevalence of common mental disorders in widowhood: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of Affective Disorders, 245, 1016–1023. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2018.11.088
  • Bound, J., Duncan, G. J., Laren, D. S., & Oleinick, L. (1991). Poverty Dynamics in Widowhood. Journal of Gerontology, 46(3), S115–S124. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronj/46.3.S115
  • Corden, A., Hirst, M., Nice, K., University of York, & Social Policy Research Unit. (2008). Financial implications of death of a partner. Social Policy Research Unit, University of York.
  • Hungerford, T. L. (2001). The Economic Consequences of Widowhood on Elderly Women in the United States and Germany. The Gerontologist, 41(1), 103–110. https://doi.org/10.1093/geront/41.1.103
  • Lee, G. R., DeMaris, A., Bavin, S., & Sullivan, R. (2001). Gender Differences in the Depressive Effect of Widowhood in Later Life. The Journals of Gerontology: Series B, 56(1), S56–S61. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/56.1.S56
  • Myck, M., Król, A., Oczkowska, M., & Trzciński, K. (2023a). Komentarze Przedwyborcze CenEA 2023: Druga kadencja rządów Zjednoczonej Prawicy: Wsparcie rodzin w czasach wysokiej inflacji. https://cenea.org.pl/2023/09/13/wybory-parlamentarne-2023-w-polsce-komentarze-przedwyborcze-cenea/
  • Myck, M., Król, A., Oczkowska, M., & Trzciński, K. (2023b). Komentarze Przedwyborcze CenEA 2023: Materiały metodyczne. https://cenea.org.pl/2023/09/13/wybory-parlamentarne-2023-w-polsce-komentarze-przedwyborcze-cenea/
  • Myck, M., Michał Kundera, Najsztub, M., & Oczkowska, M. (2015). Przedwyborcze miliardy: Jak je wydać i skąd je wziąć (II; Raport Przedwyborczy CenEA 2015). CenEA. http://cenea.org.pl/Badania/Research/raportvat.html
  • Myck, M., & Najsztub, M. (2014). Data and Model Cross-validation to Improve Accuracy ofMicrosimulation Results: Estimates for the Polish Household Budget Survey. International Journal of Microsimulation, 8(1), 33–66. https://doi.org/10.34196/ijm.00111
  • Myck, M., Najsztub, M., Oczkowska, M., & Trzciński, K. (2019). Pakiet podatkowo-świadczeniowych rozwiązań rządu Zjednoczonej Prawicy. Raport Przedwyborczy CenEA 12/04/2019. https://cenea.org.pl/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/raportcenea12042019.pdf
  • Ory, B., & Huijts, T. (2015). Widowhood and Well-being in Europe: The Role of National and Regional Context. Journal of Marriage and Family, 77(3), 730–746. https://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12187
  • Panek, T., Kotowska, I., & Sączewska-Piotrowska, A. (2015). Sytuacja materialna gospodarstw domowych osób starszych. W Rynek pracy i wykluczenie społeczne w kontekście percepcji Polaków. Diagnoza Społeczna 2015. Raport tematyczny. (s. 107–137).
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  • Sasson, I., & Umberson, D. J. (2014). Widowhood and Depression: New Light on Gender Differences, Selection, and Psychological Adjustment. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 69B(1), 135–145. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbt058
  • Schaan, B. (2013). Widowhood and Depression Among Older Europeans—The Role of Gender, Caregiving, Marital Quality, and Regional Context. The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 68(3), 431–442. https://doi.org/10.1093/geronb/gbt015
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  • Steptoe, A., Shankar, A., Demakakos, P., & Wardle, J. (2013). Social isolation, loneliness, and all-cause mortality in older men and women. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(15), 5797–5801. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1219686110
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  • Timoszuk, S. (2021). Wdowieństwo w starszym wieku. O sytuacji finansowej wdów w Polsce.

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.

Closing the Gender Data Gap

20240306 Closing the Gender Data Gap Image 01

High-quality data plays a crucial role in enhancing our comprehension of evolving social phenomena, and in designing effective policies to address existing and future challenges. This particularly applies to the gender dimension of data, given the profound impact of the pervasive so-called “gender data gap”. In recent decades, data recovered from archives, high quality surveys, and census and administrative data, combined with innovative approaches to data analysis and identification, has become pivotal for the progress of documenting structural gender differences. Nonetheless, before we can close the gender gaps on the labour market, within households, in politics, academia and other areas, researchers and policy-makers must first ensure a closure of the gender data gap.

Policy Brief | EN langauge version

Policy Brief | GE language version

Introduction

Any progress in our understanding of social phenomena hinges on the availability of data, and there is no doubt that recent advances in economics and other social sciences would not have been possible without countless high quality data sources. As we argue in this policy brief, this applies also, and perhaps particularly, to the documentation of different dimensions of gender inequalities and the analysis to identify their causes. Over the last few decades innovative ways to document historical developments, combined with improvements in the access to existing data, as well as new approaches to data collection, have become cornerstones in the progress made in our understanding of the various expressions of gender inequality. In the economic sphere this has covered themes such as labor market status,  earning and income levels, wealth accumulation over the life course, education investments, pensions, as well as consumption patterns and time allocation – in particular caregiving and household work. Researchers have also been able to empirically study gender inequalities in politics, culture, crime, the justice system and in academia itself.

Groundbreaking studies in gender economics, including those by Claudia Goldin, the recent Nobel Prize laureate, would not have been possible without high quality data and innovative ways aimed at closing the “gender data gap”, a term coined by Caroline Criado Perez, in her bestseller “Invisible women” (Criado Perez, 2020). In the introduction to the book she notes that “(…) the chronicles of the past have left little space for women’s role in the evolution of humanity, whether cultural or biological. Instead, the lives of men have been taken to represent those of humans overall.” (p. XI). The gender data gap is the result of deficits of informative data sources on women, which has been augmented by frequent lack of differentiation of information by sex/gender in available sources. Closing the gender gaps along the dimensions already identified in existing studies will require a continuous monitoring of evidence, thus closing the gender data gap in the first place. New studies focused on greater equality and on the effectiveness of various implemented policies will continue to rely on good data. Thankfully, few new datasets currently ignore the gender of the respondents. However  as our understanding of the biological and cultural aspects of sex and gender grows, the way data is collected will need to be modified.

As we prepare for the new challenges ahead of those designing data collection efforts and examining the data, we believe it is important to give credit to the authors of some of the groundbreaking studies that paved the way to the current pool of evidence on gender inequality. Around the time of the International Women’s Day, we recall several empirical studies in gender economics that, in our opinion, merit special attention due to either their innovative approaches to data collection, their unique access to original data sources, or their methodological novelty. These studies bring valuable insights into specific dimensions of gender inequality. This short list is naturally a subjective choice, but we believe that all of these studies deserve credit not only among researchers within gender economics, but also among those more broadly interested in the recent progress in the understanding of different aspects of gender inequality.

From Data to Policy Recommendations

Over the last few decades substantial efforts have been made to provide empirical evidence concerning historical trends in inequalities between men and women on the labor market. Seminal work in this field was conducted by Claudia Goldin in the 1970s and 80s, culminating in the publication of the path-breaking book Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women (Goldin, 1990). The book fundamentally changed the view of women’s role in the labor market. Empirically Goldin shows that female labor force participation has been significantly higher in historical times than previously believed. Before Goldin, researchers mainly studied twentieth century data. Based on this it looked as if women’s participation in the labour market is positively correlated with economic growth. Goldin’s work showed instead that women were more likely to participate in the labour force prior to industrialization, and that early expansion of factories made it more difficult to combine work and family. Seen over the full 200 year period, from before industrialization to today, the pattern of women’s labour market participation is in fact U-shaped, pointing to the importance of various societal changes that alter incentives and possibilities for women’s work. Goldin’s contribution is however not just about getting the empirical picture right. At least equally important is the recognition of women as individual economic agents, who make forward looking decisions under various institutional constraints and limitations related to social norms about identity and family, as well as education opportunities and labor market options. While some decision can be modeled as taken by “the economic man”, others by households, it may seem surprising that studying women’s decisions was for so long neglected.

Institutional, cultural and economic factors behind historical trends have become the focus of much of the literature trying to identify the forces driving gender disparities. Some of the most original work considers the role that “chance” plays in determining individual decisions related to gender – how having a first-born son (e.g. Dahl and Moretti, 2008) or having twins (Angrist and Evans, 1998), both of which can be considered random, – affect choices related to partnership, future fertility and the labor market. Others examin the influence of gender imbalances caused by major historical events. Brainerd (2017) investigates the consequences of extremely unbalanced sex ratios in cohorts particularly affected by the massive loss of lives during World War II in the Soviet Union. By exploiting a unique historical data source derived from the first postwar census, combined with statistics registry records from archives, Brainerd provides evidence that the war-induced scarcity of men profoundly affected women’s outcomes on the marriage market. Women were more likely to never get married, give birth out of wedlock and get divorced. On top of that, unbalanced sex ratios affected married women’s intrahousehold bargaining power and resulted in lower fertility rates and a higher rate of marriages with a large age gap between spouses. The post-war institutional setup increased the cost of divorce and withdrew legal obligations to support children fathered out of wedlock, which exacerbated the consequences from the shortage of men by further reducing the rates of registered marriages and increasing marital instability.

The examples above highlight how conditions beyond individuals’ control can contribute to social gender imbalances, or shed light on existing gender biases. How these ‘exogenous’ circumstances translate into economic inequalities and what additional factors drive disparities has been the focus of much academic work on gender inequalities. One of the most challenging questions has been that of demonstrating that discrimination of women, rather than women’s characteristics or choices, are behind the growing body of evidence on economic gender inequality. In this respect Black and Strahan (2001) provide important convincing conclusions by using significant changes in the level of regulation in the US banking sector. Increasing competition between banks lowered banks’ profits, and led to a reduced ability of managers to ‘divide the spoils’, and thus to discriminate between different types of employees. The authors used information on wages within specific industries (including banking) from one of the oldest ongoing surveys in the world – the US Current Population Survey (CPS). By exploiting detailed individual data covering a period of several decades the authors show that higher levels of banking sector regulations (prior to deregulation) facilitated greater premia paid out to male compared to female employees. Thus, increased competition in the banking sector brought favorable changes to women’s pay conditions as well as their position in banks’ management.

While long running surveys such as the CPS continue to serve as invaluable sources of information on the relative conditions of men and women, the growing availability of administrative data has opened new opportunities for documentation of inequalities and identification of the reasons behind these. For instance, the ability to track individuals throughout their work history before and after the arrival of their first child has allowed researchers to compare the trajectories of women’s and men’s earnings, wages and working hours. This comparison has revealed the existence of the so-called “child penalty”, with women experiencing a drop in their labor market position relative to their male partners after the birth of their first child, and with the gap persisting for many years. Strikingly, this penalty has been estimated in some of the most gender-equal countries in the world, such as Sweden (Angelov et al., 2016) and Denmark (Kleven et al., 2019), two countries which have spearheaded collecting and making rich administrative data available to researchers.

Another area where individual register data has proven invaluable is in the study of the so-called “glass ceiling”, i.e., the sharply increasing differences between men and women when it comes to pay as well as representation in the very top of the income distribution. In a seminal study by Albrecht et al. (2003), individual earnings for men and women were compared and differences were found to be markedly higher (with men earning much more) when comparing men in the top of the male income distribution with women in the top of the female income distribution. Also making use of Swedish registry data, Boschini et al. (2020) study a related question, namely the evolution of the share of women in the top of the income distribution. In line with other glass-ceiling results, they demonstrate that the share of women in the top is small, and that it gets smaller the higher one looks, , although it has increased over time. Decomposing incomes into labor earnings and capital income they also show that while women seem to be catching up in the labor income distribution, they clearly lag in the capital income distribution. Also, the income profile of the partners of high-income men and high-income women are strikingly different. Most high-income women have high-income partners, while the opposite is not true for high-income men.

Differences in the economic position of men and women reflected in the above examples can have their origin much before the time individuals enter the labor market. They can be driven by differences in schooling opportunities, as well as other forms of early life investments, to the extent that even much of what is perceived as choices or preferences later in life are in fact results of these subtle early life disadvantages for women. While these have largely diminished in the global North, there is a growing number of studies documenting these differences in the global South. Jayachandran and Pande (2017) examine the impact of son preference, a widespread cultural practice for example in India, on child health and development. The study leverages a simple, standardized, and broadly available indicator – the height of children – which is measured at routine health checks and included in many population surveys, such as the Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS). Additionally, their use of a natural experiment, based on the birth order of children, helps to establish a causal relationship between eldest son preference and nutritional disparities that have long-term developmental consequences among subsequent children, not only for girls but for Indian children on average. Findings like these underscore the importance of gender equality not only as a fundamental value but also as a crucial factor in promoting growth and development at the societal level.

The social costs of gender inequality have also motivated the growing research interest in gender-based violence and crime. Given the specific challenges associated with these topics – such as the clandestine and underreported nature of these acts but also the consideration for victims’ confidentiality and safety – studies in this area has required researchers to develop and apply innovative tools and data collection methods. In this framework list experiments have emerged as a methodology allowing respondents to disclose sensitive or socially undesirable attitudes indirectly, reducing the likelihood of the so-called social desirability bias in survey reporting. In a list experiment, respondents are presented with a set of statements or behaviors and asked to indicate their agreement or engagement with these. Among listed items, one is considered “sensitive” and is included only for a randomly selected subset of respondents. By comparing the average number of items agreed with by the entire sample to a control group that did not get the sensitive item, researchers can estimate the proportion of respondents who agreed with or engaged in the sensitive behavior or opinion. Kuklinski et al. (1997) is one of the pioneering contributions in this area, estimating the proportion of voters who harbored racial prejudices but who may have been unwilling to admit it in a direct survey question. List experiments have since become a widely used tool in political science and economics and have helped in the advancement of our understanding of gender-based violence (Peterman et al., 2018). Given the strong assumptions underlying the analysis the method has not become the ”statistical truth serum” it was at some point considered to be. However, list experiments have broadened the analytical opportunities in an area plagued by significant informational and data challenges.

While worldwide gender gaps in economic opportunities and especially in education and health have rapidly declined (and sometimes reversed) in the last decades, larger differences remain in political empowerment (see e.g., WEF Gender Gap Report 2023). Another Nobel Prize laureate in economics, Esther Duflo, in her joint work with Raghabendra Chattopahyay (2004), have pioneered a highly prolific area of research on the impacts of women as policymakers. In their study, they leverage a unique policy experiment in India  that randomized the gender of the leader of Village Councils, and a detailed dataset based on extensive surveys administered to both Village Council leaders and villagers. The surveys allowed for estimation of the investments in different public goods in 265 Village Councils, as well as the preferences over each of these public goods among female and male villagers. Combining the randomization and this rich dataset, the authors establish that political leaders prioritize public goods that are more relevant to the needs of their own gender, suggesting that women’s under-representation in politics might result in women’s and men’s preferences being unequally represented in policy decisions.

Conclusions and Recommendations

The narrowing gender gap in political representation across various levels of government, the growing influence of women in other areas such as public institutions, administration etc., and the heightened awareness of the crucial role gender equality plays in socio-economic progress all bode well for improvements in access to high-quality gender-differentiated data sources. Before we can recognize and close gender gaps identified from high-quality data, the gender data gap needs to firstly be closed. Governments and public institutions should make their  increasing amounts of digitized information available for research purposes. Funding should be available to collect data through surveys, and these could in turn be combined with details available in administrative sources to take advantage of the breadth of survey data and the precision of official statistics. Information needs to be collected on a frequent and regular basis to make sure that the consequences of various major developments, such as legal changes, conflicts or natural disasters, can be identified. Innovative data sources, for instance information from mobile apps or social media, can provide additional useful insights into socio-economic trends, old and new dimensions of inequalities and regular timely updates on different aspects of gender disparities. These new data sources can become the basis for future innovative studies on gender inequalities, contributing to a better understanding of the mechanisms behind these inequalities, and providing evidence for policies and other efforts to effectively close the remaining gaps. Already now there is enough evidence to conclude that closing these gaps is not only just but that it also constitutes a fundamental basis for continued inclusive economic development.

Post Scriptum

Contributing to the existing pool of data sources we are happy to share a regional dataset with information on gender norms and gender-based violence: the FROGEE Survey 2021. The data was collected using the CATI method (phone interviews) in autumn 2021 in Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. In each country interviews were conducted with between 925 and 1000 adults. The survey covered areas such as: basic demographics, material conditions, labor market status, gender norms, attitudes towards harassment and violence, awareness of violence against women and awareness of legal protection for gender violence victims.

The data collection was funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) as part of the FREE Network’s FROGEE project. The dataset and supporting materials are freely available for research purposes. For more information see: FROGEE Survey on Gender Equality.

References

  • Angrist, D. J., and Evans, N. W. (1998). Children and their parents’ labor supply: Evidence from exogenous variation in family size. American Economic Review, 88(2), 450-477.
  • Albrecht, J., Björklund, A., and Vroman, S. (2003). Is there a glass ceiling in Sweden? Journal of Labor Economics, 21(1), 145-177.
  • Angelov, N., Johansson, P., and Lindahl, E. (2016). Parenthood and the gender gap in pay. Journal of Labor Economics, 34(3), 545-579.
  • Black, S. E., and Strahan, P. E. (2001). The division of spoils: Rent-sharing and discrimination in a regulated industry. American Economic Review, 91(4), 814-831.
  • Boschini, A., Gunnarsson, K., and Roine, J. (2020). Women in top incomes: Evidence from Sweden 1971–2017. Journal of Public Economics, 181, 104-115.
  • Brainerd, E. (2017). The lasting effect of sex ratio imbalance on marriage and family: Evidence from World War II in Russia. The Review of Economics and Statistics, 99(2), 229-242.
  • Chattopadhyay, R., and Duflo, E. (2004). Women as policymakers: Evidence from a randomized policy experiment in India. Econometrica, 72(5), 1409-1443.
  • Criado Perez, C. (2020). Invisible women. Vintage, London.
  • Dahl, G. B., and Moretti, E. (2008). The demand for sons. Review of Economic Studies, 75(4), 1085-1120.
  • Goldin, C. (1990). Understanding the Gender Gap: An Economic History of American Women. Oxford University Press.
  • Kleven, H., Landais, C., and Søgaard, J. E. (2019). Children and gender inequality: Evidence from Denmark. American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 11(4), 181-209.
  • Kuklinski, J. H., Sniderman, P. M., Knight, K., Piazza, T., Tetlock, P. E., Lawrence, G. R., & Mellers, B. (1997). Racial prejudice and attitudes toward affirmative action. American Journal of Political Science, 402-419.
  • Jayachandran, S., and Pande, R. (2017). Why are Indian children so short? The role of birth order and son preference. American Economic Review, 107(9), 2600-2629.
  • Peterman, A., Palermo, T. M., Handa, S., Seidenfeld, D., and Zambia Child Grant Program Evaluation Team (2018). List randomization for soliciting experience of intimate partner violence: Application to the evaluation of Zambia’s unconditional child grant program. Health Economics, 27(3), 622-628.

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.

FROGEE Survey on Gender Equality in Eastern Europe: Dataset

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This dataset provides a broad set of indicators on dimensions of gender inequality based on the FROGEE Gender Equality in Eastern Europe survey. The survey was designed jointly by researchers in the FREE Network with a long time involvement in the FROGEE collaboration, and administered at the end of 2021 to representative samples in the 8 countries of the network – Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Latvia, Poland, Russia, Sweden and Ukraine. The survey covers many domains of everyday life, including socio-economic conditions, demographics, material situation, family, and housing. It also explores domestic and gender-based violence through questions centered on individual evaluations and perceptions rather than personal experiences of violence. Additionally, the survey examines respondents’ attitudes towards violence and harassment as well as perceived inequalities, and their perspectives on the existing legal framework.

(DATASET AVAILABLE HERE)

Data Policy

This page provides the dataset for scientific use. Researchers can freely use the data in its unchanged form or after any transformation for scientific purposes, provided that proper attribution is made to the source, but not in any way that suggests that FREE NETWORK endorses the user or their use of the data. The data for this study were gathered through interviews, conducted on a voluntary and confidential basis, ensuring that participants’ responses are kept confidential.

Suggested citation: FREE Network. (2024). FROGEE Gender Equality in Eastern Europe Survey Data [Data set]. Zenodo. https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.10777928

Explore the Dataset

Observing Experiences: Gender Bias and Treatment of Women in Daily Life

Witnessing Violence and Harassment Against Women in Everyday Situations

Attitudes Toward Gender-based Abuse

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.

Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence: Research Shared at the 2022 FROGEE Conference

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This brief summarizes the research papers presented at the 2022 FROGEE conference “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence”, which took place on May 11, 2022. It was organized by the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) together with the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) and the FREE Network. Two additional briefs related to the conference are published on the FREE policy briefs website – a brief on gender-based violence in conflict based on the panel discussion, and another sharing preliminary results from the recent FROGEE survey.

While the concerns about domestic violence (DV) and intimate partner violence (IPV) have been gaining prominence since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, they were further exacerbated by the devastating events happening in Ukraine. Times of crisis or conflict makes the issue more severe, however, gender-based violence is sadly prevalent at normal times too, and a major portion of it is DV and IPV. Limiting violence towards women requires understanding the determinants of DV and IPV and the channels through which they take effect. With this in mind, the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) together with the Centre for Economic Analysis (CenEA) and the FREE Network invited researchers to present their work relating to the economic and social context of domestic violence. This brief provides an account of what was shared at the conference.

Prevention of Domestic Violence: What Works and What Doesn’t?

Three presented studies geared toward evaluating policies aimed to limit violence against women.

Dick Durevall shared his findings on IPV and national policy programs in Colombia, focusing on the laws and policies implemented based on the UN campaign “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women” between 2010 and 2015. To evaluate the effect of these policies, he adopts a differences-in-differences design and compares provinces that had a gender policy before this renewed effort with those that did not. This builds on the idea that provinces that had an IPV policy strategy before UN recommendations were adopted are more efficient in implementing new such policies. It is found that self-reported physical violence falls from 20% to 16% between 2010 and 2015 in provinces that had IPV policies while this number remained at 18% in those that did not. While sexual violence decreased in both groups, provinces with IPV policies experienced a stronger reduction.

Accurate reporting is a key issue when it comes to IPV since it makes up the foundation for designing effective policy. Due to long-lasting and tiresome judicial procedures, threats, social barriers, or emotional costs, victims might choose not to report. Looking at the introduction of specialized IPV courts in Spain, Marta Martínez-Matute presented her paper on how institutions shape reporting. Bestowed with specialized staff, victim-oriented resources, and a swifter judicial process, these courts are specifically designed to deal with IPV cases. Martínez-Matute and co-author investigate if these resources make women more prone to report IPV by exploiting the sequential rollout of specialized courts. They use yearly court-level data on individual IPV cases between 2005 and 2018 in a staggered difference-in-differences framework with matched control districts. The results show that the introduction of an IPV court in a judicial district reduces the length of the judiciary process by 61% and increases the reported number of IPV cases by 22%. Ensuring that this increase is not fully driven by a rise in false reports, it is found that the share of dismissed IPV cases remains unchanged. Further, it is shown that the increase is driven by less severe IPV cases and not aggravated IPV offenses or homicides.

A distinctive feature of DV crimes is that there is a high degree of recidivism, with many women experiencing repeated violence from the same partner. However, little is known about how police should respond to such crimes to ensure safety to those victimized. From one perspective police arrests deter repeated DV crimes since they incapacitate perpetrators and allow police to investigate while offering safety to victims. However, some argue that this safety is merely temporary and that DV arrests might trigger offenders to retaliate against victims, leading to increased long-term DV. Against this reasoning, Victoria Endl-Geyer presented a study on the relationship between police arrests and DV dynamics in the UK. It uses highly granular administrative data on the population of DV incidents in the West Midlands which allows the researchers to observe the detailed information on the incidents’ timing and location as well as on police officers and their crime scene responses. It adopts an instrumental variables approach using the dispatch team’s previous propensity to arrest (measured as the weighted average arrest rate of officers in the team) as an instrument. The results provide evidence consistent with a deterrence effect. While regular OLS estimates show an insignificant impact, the IV results indicate that an on-scene arrest decreases repeat DV incidents by 25-26 percentage points. They find that the effect is the same when restricting the sample to incidents reported by a third party, supporting that this effect is not driven by a change in reporting behavior.

Factors of Domestic Violence and its Mechanisms

Other studies presented at the conference focused less on policy assessment and more on identifying the determinants of IPV and DV.

Losing or obtaining a job causes a shock in the intra-relationship dynamics and changes the economic power balance between spouses. Deniz Sanin presented her paper on the DV effect of women’s employment in the context of Rwanda. Following the government-initiated National Coffee Strategy in 2002, the number of coffee mills in Rwanda increased from 5 to 213 over the course of ten years. This natural experiment allows studying the effect of having a paid job as it captures the shift from unpaid labor on a family farm to paid work on a mill, keeping job-related skills constant. Using survey data on both DV and labor market outcomes along with administrative data on DV hospitalizations, the study adopts a staggered difference-in-differences strategy and compares women before and after mill opening as well as within and outside of the catchment area (a buffer zone surrounding the mill). The results show that upon mill opening, the probability of working for cash increases and that of self-reporting domestic violence in the past 12 months decreases by 26% (relative to the baseline of 0.35). During the harvest months, the only period of the year in which the mills operate, hospitals are significantly less likely to admit DV patients compared to the month before the harvest season, suggesting that the initial results are not driven by reporting bias. Looking at the mechanisms, she finds evidence supporting an increased bargaining power explanation – women in catchment areas who are exposed to mill opening are more likely to have a bigger say in household decisions such as larger household purchases and contraception usage. Increases in husbands’ earnings and decreased exposure are also ruled out as possible channels since a decline in DV is also found among spouses where the husband works in a different occupation with no change in earnings.

Rather than studying the impact of women’s employment status, Cristina Clerici shared a related paper that focuses on male unemployment. To investigate its effect on IPV, the study exploits the exogenous shock to employment caused by COVID-19 containment measures in Uganda. The authors collect individual-level data via phone surveys on the incidence of IPV among food vendors, including information on husbands’ sector of employment. To identify a causal DV effect of male employment exit, the authors distinguish between two groups of women with similar pre-lockdown experiences of abuse: those with spouses employed in sectors where operations were halted by COVID-19 lockdowns (construction workers, taxi drivers, etc.) and those with spouses who were unaffected (food vendors, farmers, etc.). The results show that male unemployment increases the probability of experiencing physical violence by 4.9 percentage points, corresponding to a 45% increase relative to the average likelihood. The effect cannot be explained by increased exposure (the man being more at home) – affected and unaffected women spend on average an equal number of nights in the market, which could be used as a coping mechanism. This suggests it is the change in unemployment status itself that drives the increase in DV.

While most of the literature on domestic abuse has documented that its drivers often come from changing life conditions of the victim or perpetrator, there is broad anecdotal evidence that exogenous events can lead to exacerbations in domestic violence as well. Ria Ivandic presented her paper that documents a causal link between major football games and domestic violence in England. The authors use a dataset on the universe of calls and crimes in the Greater Manchester area. The data provides a time series on the incidence of different types of domestic abuse with information on the timing, relationship to the accused, and individual characteristics of the victim and perpetrator, including whether the perpetrator was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the incident. They adopt an event study approach focusing on the hours surrounding a game and document a substitution effect in that the two-hour duration of a football game is associated with a 5% decline in DV incidents. However, following the game, the initial decrease is offset as DV incidents start increasing and culminate after 10-12 hours, eventually leading to an aggregate positive effect which constitutes a 2.8% hourly increase on days when games are played.

The authors argue that alcohol consumption, rather than emotions, is the main mechanism through which domestic violence is affected by sporting events. Supporting this hypothesis, they first find that the outcome of the game or the associated element of surprise (measured using the ex-ante probability of winning a game through betting markets) does not affect the probability of DV occurring. Second, they show that the increase in DV following a game is solely driven by an increase in alcohol-related DV incidents, while those committed by non-alcoholized men remain constant. Further strengthening this finding, it is shown that for games scheduled early in the day, when perpetrators can start drinking sooner and continue throughout the day, they find a significant increase in DV incidents committed by alcoholized perpetrators while this is not the case for late-scheduled games.

The Role of Women’s Empowerment

In the literature on gender-based violence, there is a common disposition to think about women’s empowerment as a central element of DV mitigation. However, theories point in opposite directions making the effect of women’s economic empowerment rather unclear. On one end of the spectrum, there are bargaining theories indicating that an increase in women’s employment opportunities or income should have a negative effect on DV by creating outside options or increasing the bargaining power in a relationship. At the other end, there are backslash theories arguing that enhancing women’s financial empowerment may further exacerbate violence by undermining the role of the breadwinner, triggering male partners to retaliate with the use of violence in order to restore the power balance. Going in the same direction, theories of instrumental violence point towards that the male partner might also use violence to extract resources.

In her keynote lecture, Bilge Erten outlined the evidence relating to DV and women’s empowerment and discussed to what extent and in which contexts these theories are supported.

The evidence of a positive or negative effect of empowerment may depend on which aspect of it is studied. Education is seen as an important one because it has the potential to raise women’s self-awareness of IPV, increase the likelihood of matching with a well-educated partner (which is negatively correlated to abusive behavior), and improve labor market outcomes. Although evidence is scarce in this area, Erten shared her own findings on the causal effect of education reform on IPV in Turkey. In line with instrumental violence theories, it is found that, while women in cohorts affected by the reform performed better in the labor market, they experienced more psychological violence and financial control behavior, and there was no sign of an effect on DV attitudes, partner-match quality or marriage decisions.

What we know about women’s empowerment and DV is also different across countries. When it comes to the effect of employment, findings from developed countries are generally consistent with bargaining theory explanations while what is found in the developing world is more mixed. This is also the case for studies on unilateral divorce laws – while a negative effect on IPV has been documented in the United States, a positive effect of these laws is found in Mexico.

Assessing the literature on the income effect leads to a somewhat ambiguous verdict too. Although generally, most studies confirm that overall violence declines with women’s income, there is often heterogeneity in the effect. It has for instance been found that the sign of the income effect from cash transfers on DV changes from negative to positive as the size of the transfer increases.

Finally, Erten provided some important policy considerations. There is evidently a widespread backlash problem that can arise after a policy intervention of the types discussed above. Policymakers need to think more about monitoring and protecting victims from more violence when implementing such a policy. Further research assessing post-intervention is also needed to identify interventions that are the most effective in minimizing domestic violence. In particular, a change in broad social norms around gender roles should be a desirable outcome, to the effect that a new, improved status of women in society and in the household becomes more culturally acceptable and needs not lead to backlash. In the case of expressive violence (that is not a rational, calculated response but rather a compulsion in the heat of the moment), mental health interventions should also be considered.

Concluding Remarks

As highlighted by the 2022 FROGEE conference, domestic violence not only has been put in the spotlight following the pandemic or the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, but is widespread across the globe in regular conditions too. The mixed findings shared at the conference suggested that policies limiting gender-based violence should be designed with respect to the cultural and social setting where they are to be implemented as the heterogeneity is very high across contexts. Although research has come a long way, the conference stressed that there is much more to be done, in terms of not only knowledge but also the political will and commitment to seriously address the issue of gender-based violence.

The presentations held at the conference can be viewed at this link and a separate policy brief based on the panel discussion on gender-based violence in times of conflict can be found here.

List of Speakers

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.

Gender-Based Violence in Conflict

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The eruption of war exposes women to increased gender-based violence, in the immediate conflict area as well as in the countries where they seek refuge. Acknowledging the specific conflict-related risks that women face is important, in order to target interventions, especially considering that the actors that sit at peace negotiation tables are predominantly or exclusively men. In this policy brief, we discuss the implications of conflict for gender-based violence, with a special focus on the ongoing war in Ukraine. We also outline some policy interventions that might help mitigate the risks that women face, holding those responsible to account, and building a more gender-equal society from the reconstruction efforts. Our discussion draws from existing academic literature and inputs from the special panel session on conflict during the FROGEE conference “Economic and Social Context of Domestic Violence”.

Gender-Based Violence During Conflicts

During war, as in peacetime, women are exposed to different forms of violence, and to a different extent, as compared to men. In other words, there are gender-specific aspects of conflict-related violence, both in immediate conflict areas and in the places where affected populations might seek refuge.

One form of violence against women in conflict areas is sexual violence and rapes perpetrated by combatants. Scholars and policy analysts tend to portray this violence as a weapon of war (Eriksson and Stern, 2013), meaning that it is a way of humiliating and demoralizing the enemy as individuals and as communities. Differently put, the narrative that portrays sexual violence as, for instance, the consequence of unmet sexual needs among soldiers is increasingly less accepted. Sexual violence against women perpetrated by armed forces in conflict areas is tragically prevalent. While proper quantification of the phenomenon is hard for obvious reasons, it is estimated for example that at least 500,000 women were raped during the Rwandan genocide, and 50,000 during the war in Bosnia (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022).

Another form of gender-based violence in conflict is that women who are uprooted by war tend to confront a high risk of sexual violence during their journey away from home and in the places where they seek refuge. Vu et al. (2014) estimate, through meta-analysis, that approximately one in five refugees or displaced women in complex humanitarian settings experienced sexual violence. The study also highlights the need for more data to shed light on the characteristics of perpetrators. The presence of aid workers among them appears to persist through several humanitarian crises (Reis, 2021).

Further, women and children fleeing war areas are vulnerable to the risk of trafficking and exploitation for sexual or other work (as highlighted in the FROGEE conference panel). Traffickers and criminal organizations tend to exploit the combination of a mass movement of people in precarious economic situations and the decreased scrutiny generated by the humanitarian emergency.

Finally, war heightens the risk of intimate partner violence (IPV) in conflict areas as well as among refugees and displaced individuals, by causing stress, trauma, economic hardship and increased substance abuse, all of which lead to deterioration in mental health and the quality of relationships (Conference panel). An actual or perceived sense of impunity can also undermine victims’ propensity to report IPV at such a time. A systematic review of the published literature on gender-based violence in conflict finds that estimated rates of IPV across most studies are much higher than the rates of rape and sexual violence perpetrated outside the home (Stark and Ager, 2011).

The consequences of conflict on IPV can be long-lasting. Evidence from post-genocide Rwanda shows that women who married after the conflict were more likely to be victims of spousal abuse; skewed sex ratios that reduced women’s bargaining power in the marriage market appear to be the relevant channel (La Mattina 2017). Another important factor is posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among veterans: a study of US military personnel shows that assignment to combat in the Global War on Terrorism is associated with higher incidence of domestic violence and lower relationship quality (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). The increased availability of small weapons can also lead to more frequent or more violent instances of domestic abuse (Conference panel).

The War in Ukraine

Reports from the US State Department and Amnesty international document episodes of sexual violence from armed conflict actors in Donetsk and Luhansk since the start of the conflict in 2014 (Amnesty International, 2020). Both Russian and Ukrainian military were involved, speaking to the tragedy that the population close to the “contact area” have witnessed since 2014.

At present, growing evidence is emerging that Ukrainians, especially but not exclusively women and girls, are victims of rape, gang-rape and forced nudity perpetrated by Russian military troops invading the country (United Nations). It is notoriously difficult to collect and verify data and facts on sexual violence during wartime, but these early accounts, and the experience from previous conflicts, call for a high level of scrutiny and readiness to help. Research also suggests some potential factors that aggravate the prevalence of sexual violence in conflict. Guarnieri and Tur-Prats (2020) show that armed actors who hold more gender-unequal norms are more likely to be perpetrators of sexual violence, and that the incidence of sexual violence is highest when the parts in conflict hold gender norms that differ substantially (Guarnieri and Tur-Prats, 2022). Survey data show that the share of people who appear to hold gender-unequal norms in Russia remained high over the years, based on questions on the effectiveness of women and men as political or business leaders (Figures 1 and 2), or the desirability of women earning more than their husbands (not shown).

Figure 1. Men make better political leaders than women do, % agreement

Source: World Value Survey

Figure 2. Men make better business executives than women do, % agreement

Source: World Value Survey

Evidence on the evolution of norms in Ukraine is more mixed (see Figures 1 and 2). All in all, surveys of gender-role attitudes suggest that gender stereotypes persist in Russian society, but it is not obvious that the prevailing gender norms are starkly different between Russia and Ukraine. On the other hand, attitudes toward IPV in the two countries might be evolving differently, at least among the respective elites, based on the fact that legislation on domestic violence recently changed in opposite direction in the two countries. Specifically, Russia decriminalized minor forms of domestic violence in early 2017. Conversely, Ukraine strengthened the legal response to domestic violence in early 2019, in particular making minor but systematic domestic violence criminally punishable, and extending criminal punishment beyond physical violence to include emotional and economic violence.

As a consequence of the war, almost 13 million Ukrainians have left their homes since Russia invaded on Feb. 24, 2022, according to the United Nations. Almost all of them are women and children, since men and boys aged 18 to 60 are required to stay in Ukraine to defend the country. Women traveling alone with their children, especially when fleeing to foreign countries where they often have no connections, are clearly at risk of assault and exploitation. Such risk is heightened by the exceptional speed of the refugee influx, whereby an impromptu response from the host countries is by necessity reliant on individual independent participation. Private hosts have spontaneously been opening their homes to accommodate for days or even weeks Ukrainians fleeing the war. Proper vetting of these offers is made difficult by the sheer number of people who are being welcomed in bordering countries, for instance Poland, as well as by the exceptional response from private individuals. Within a little more than a month from the start of this crisis there had already been a few episodes of sexual violence against Ukrainian refugees in their host countries (specifically in Poland and Germany).

While the current death toll in the war in Ukraine is unlikely to lead to dramatically skewed sex-ratios, this aspect might become more relevant as events evolve, in light also of the fact that nearly the universe of those who fled the country so far consists of women and children.

Finally, in the post-conflict period, the presence of small weapons, which have been made available to civilians to defend the country, is an additional risk factor for IPV (Conference panel).

What Can Be Done?

Academics, international organizations, activists and female politicians from Ukraine have made specific requests to improve the system of protection and accountability in the face of sexual violence against women living in or fleeing from conflict zones. These suggestions include ensuring that the system of transitional justice that will govern the post-conflict period establishes proper investigation and punishment of every form of sexual violence performed by armed actors during the war. To this end, some steps have already been taken. The UN Resolution in favor of the creation of an International Commission of Inquiry refers explicitly to the need to recognize the gender dimension of violations and abuses.

Beyond the horizon of the war, the safety of Ukrainian women in their homes relies on the protection offered by State legislation against domestic violence. In this respect, the Ukrainian government has recently taken a few measures in what the international community deems to be the “right direction”. A very important reform taken in the summer of 2021 allows for the military to be prosecuted for domestic violence on a general basis rather than on the basis of the disciplinary statute as it was before. This is especially important in light of the findings of increased risk of domestic violence in families of veterans (Cesur and Sabia, 2016). However, some critical aspects remain. In the current context, a crucial factor might be the limit of 6 months to prosecute the crime from the occurrence of the violence. An extension of such a period at a time when the normal functioning of many institutions is suspended or subject to delays can attenuate the perception of impunity that the exceptionality of the circumstances creates.

When it comes to refugees, there is as mentioned a need for better vetting of private hosts, although the urgency of action that the current circumstances require makes this a particularly challenging task. State effort in this direction has been complemented by civil society initiatives. For example, in Sweden, Facebook groups that lined up to coordinate the offer of housing are now organizing themselves to create a system for verifying housing and hosts.

Ukrainian politicians have also asked Western countries to be prepared to offer expertise on how to support survivors of rape and other sexual violence in conflict.

Other experts recommend reliance on cultural and linguistic mediators to help refugee women access services for victims of IPV that are already offered by local actors in their temporary host country (Conference panel).

In the longer term, guaranteeing economic safety for refugees is also an effective measure to reduce their vulnerability to exploitation from sex-traffickers and criminal organizations.

Finally, yet importantly, the involvement of women in peace negotiation processes should be sought after. Echoing the discussion on women’s scarcity in leadership positions in peacetime, the gender-unequal composition of peace delegations poses an issue of equality, representativeness, and efficiency (Bertrand 2018). Interestingly, it has been noted that a more truthful narrative of war, which recognizes women’s role not only as victims but also as perpetrators (and the converse for men, although proportions are clearly unbalanced in both cases), might help pave the way for higher female representation at negotiation tables (Conference panel). Relatedly, the European Institute for Gender Equality proposes gender mainstreaming of all policies and programs involved in conflict resolution processes (EIGE). The international community should also consider gender mainstreaming of reconstruction programs, to help build a more gender-equal post-conflict Ukraine.

References

  • Amnesty International. (2020). Not a Private Matter. Domestic and Sexual Violence against Women in Eastern Ukraine.
  • Baaz, M. E., and Stern, M. (2013). Sexual violence as a weapon of war?: Perceptions, prescriptions, problems in the Congo and beyond. Bloomsbury Publishing.
  • Bertrand, M. (2018). Coase lecture–the glass ceiling. Economica85(338), 205-231.
  • Cesur, R., and Sabia, J. J. (2016). When war comes home: The effect of combat service on domestic violence. Review of Economics and Statistics98(2), 209-225.
  • Guarnieri, E., and Tur-Prats, A. (2022). Cultural distance and conflict-related sexual violence. Mimeo
  • Reis, C. (2021). Sexual abuse during humanitarian operations still happens. What must be done to end it. The Conversation, October 5 2021. https://theconversation.com/sexual-abuse-during-humanitarian-operations-still-happens-what-must-be-done-to-end-it-169223
  • Stark, L. and Ager, A. (2011). A systematic review of prevalence studies of gender-based violence in complex emergencies. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse12(3), pp.127-134.
  • Vu, A., Adam, A., Wirtz, A., Pham, K., Rubenstein, L., Glass, N., Beyrer, C. and Singh, S. (2014). The prevalence of sexual violence among female refugees in complex humanitarian emergencies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS currents6.

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

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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.

Gender Gap Widens During COVID-19: The Case of Georgia

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Gender inequality has been a persistent (albeit steadily improving) problem for years. The COVID-induced crisis put women in a disproportionately disadvantaged position, jeopardizing decades of progress achieved towards equality between men and women. However, these effects of the pandemic were not universal across countries. This policy brief aims to evaluate the gender-specific effects of the COVID-19 crisis in Georgia, looking at labor market outcomes and entrepreneurial activities. As expected, the impact of the pandemic was not gender-neutral in this regard, being especially harmful for women. As the Georgian economy rebounds after the crisis, we show that the widened gender gaps are partially offset only in certain aspects. In order to countervail the disproportionate effects of the pandemic, targeted policy measures are needed to stimulate women’s economic activity.

Introduction

Past economic recessions, including the COVID-induced crisis, have never been gender-neutral (e.g., Liu et al., 2021; Ahmed et al., 2020). While economic crises are usually associated with disproportionate negative impacts on labor market outcomes of men compared to women, the impact of the crisis is, debatably, more severe for women-led businesses as compared to their male-led counterparts (e.g., Torres, 2021; Nordman and Vaillant, 2014; Grimm et al.,2012).

The disproportionate labor market outcomes of economic crises are claimed to be due to the fact that men are predominantly employed in cyclical sectors such as construction or manufacturing; therefore, women have to increase their employment during economic downturns as a means of within-family insurance (Alon et al., 2021). The recent COVID-induced crisis, due to its unique nature, turns out to be an exception in this regard. The pandemic and the subsequently-adopted measures primarily adversely affected contact-intensive sectors (where the worker is required to perform tasks in close physical proximity to other people) that predominantly employ women (Mongey, Pilossoph, and Weinberg 2020; Albanesi and Kim 2021). Moreover, large-scale lockdowns increased the burden of unpaid care, which is generally shouldered by women disproportionately (Babych, 2021), leaving less available time for them to work. It should be noted that gender gaps in the labor market were a persistent (albeit steadily improving) problem even before the pandemic (Eurofound, 2016). Therefore, COVID-19 poses a threat jeopardizing the progress achieved in this direction and worsening gender inequality.

COVID-19 brought unprecedented adverse consequences for not only employed workers but entrepreneurs as well. Increased unpaid care and housework pose additional burdens on female top managers, making women-led businesses more vulnerable to the crisis.

The unequal gender implications of the COVID-19 crisis have been widely debated. Growing evidence (Albanesi and Kim 2021; Torres et al., 2021; Alon et al., 2020; Caselli et al., 2020, Fabrizio et al., 2021) attests that, on average, the effects of the pandemic put women in a disproportionately disadvantaged economic position. However, the extent of this effect varies across countries and is absent in some cases (Campa et al., 2021; Torres et al., 2021).

This policy brief aims to examine the gender-specific nature of the COVID-19 crisis in Georgia. With this aim, we study the differential effects of the pandemic on the economic activity of women in terms of labor market outcomes and entrepreneurship. First, we contrast labor market outcomes for Georgian men and women during the COVID-19 crisis. Secondly, we try to assess the magnitude of the disproportionate impact on women-led businesses compared to men-led ones. We calculate gender gaps across different measures of firm-level performance, such as sales revenue, liquidity and owners’ expectations of falling into arrears. Finally, we examine whether there are any signs of recovery yet in 2021 and draw policymakers’ attention to emerging issues.

Labor market highlights

The adverse effects of the pandemic on female employment were conditioned by both supply and demand-side factors. The latter include decreased economic activity, mainly in service-related sectors (hospitality, personal care, etc.) that are dominated by women (Eurofound, 2021). In Georgia, as of 2019, women constituted the majority of workers in sectors such as hospitality (56%), education (83%) and activities of households as employers of domestic personnel (99%) that experienced some of the sharpest declines in employment during 2020. Moreover, women are more likely to be employed in part-time and temporary jobs (14% of women, as opposed to 11% of men, were employed part-time as of 2019, Geostat Labor Force Survey 2019), leaving them more vulnerable during times of crisis.  Supply-side factors were triggered by the unequal burden of unpaid work generally undertaken by women in Georgia, mainly due to cultural reasons as well as the higher opportunity cost of time for men (women in Georgia on average earned 64% of men’s salaries in 2019, Geostat). School and daycare closures and decreased childcare involvement of grandparents increased household responsibilities for women. A UN Women survey-based study showed that in the midst of the pandemic in Georgia, around 42% of women reported spending more time on at least one extra domestic task as opposed to 35% of men (UN Women, 2020). This would naturally lead to more women than men leaving the labor force. Indeed, looking at the data, we see that in one year after the COVID-19 outbreak, women contributed to 98% (48,000 individuals) of the decrease in the Georgian labor force in 2020 (Geostat). Moreover, a close look at the percentage point difference between the labor force participation rates of Georgian men and women reveals a notable growth in the gender gap starting from 2020. The same can be said about employment rates (Figure 2).

Figure 1. Difference between male and female labor force participation and employment rates

Source: Geostat

To further elaborate on the tendencies in employment, Bluedorn et al. (2021) look at the differences between employment rate changes among male and female workers in 38 advanced and emerging economies. Replicating the exercise with the Georgian data, we can observe results similar to those obtained in Bluedorn et al. (2021). In Figure 2, we see differences between female and male employment rate changes. For each gender group, the latter is computed as an absolute difference between the quarterly employment rate and its annual average level from the previous year. Once the difference takes a negative value, implying that the drop in employment was sharper for women, one could say that we observe a “She-cession” phenomenon as termed by Bluedorn et al. (2021). As we can see, in 2020, the employment rate of women fell more than that of men. This widened gender gap was partially offset in 2021.

Figure 2. Employment rate changes by gender (deviation from the previous year average)

Source: Geostat

Remote work: a burden or a blessing for women?

One important aspect of the COVID-19 crisis was a wide-scale switch to remote work. This development had some gender-specific implications as well. The evidence shows that the prevalence of the switch to remote work was higher among women compared to men (41% vs. 37%) in the EU (Sostero et al., 2020). This tendency also holds in Georgia, where 11% of women as opposed to only 3% of men reported usually working from home in the last three quarters of 2020 (Julakidze and Kardava, 2021). It is not clear whether this tendency can be explained by gender-related occupational differences of male and female jobs (Dingel and Neiman, 2020; Boeri and Paccagnella, 2020; Sostero et al., 2020) or, rather, different personal choices of men and women working in the same occupations. Interestingly, across different countries, we observe a positive correlation between gender inequality (as measured by the Gender Inequality Index) and gender differences in the switch to remote work (measured by the ratio of the share of remote workers among female and male workers). To account for this observation, we can stipulate that gender differences in switching to remote work might be explained by differing gender roles in households, and in society at large, across countries (as proxied by the gender inequality index).

Figure 3. Relative prevalence of remote work among female and male workers

Source: Eurostat, Statistics Sweden, Statista, Geostat, UNDP Human Development Reports

Regardless of the reason, remote work is likely to have some important implications on gender roles. However, the directionality of these implications is not straightforward. On the one hand, remote work offers flexibility for women to juggle household and work responsibilities. On the other hand, since women compared to men have been shown to be more likely to use the time saved from commuting to engage in housework, the switch to remote work might increase their “total responsibility burden” (Ransome, 2007) and lead to time poverty (Peters et al., 2004; Hilbrecht, Shaw, Johnson and Andrey, 2008). Indeed, according to CARE International South Caucasus (2020), around 48% of female survey participants in Georgia placed additional effort into housework and childcare in the midst of the pandemic. Moreover, as women are more likely and expected to use remote working as a means of balancing work-life responsibilities (Moran and Koslowski, 2019) their bargaining power at work decreases relative to their male counterparts. This could have some adverse career implications for female workers. Recent enforced lockdowns might pose an opportunity in this regard, as once-remote work becomes something close to a “new normal” employers will likely decrease the penalty for remote workers.

Spotlight on women-led business performance during the COVID-19 crisis

Calamities brought by the pandemic worsened financial outcomes for enterprises, affecting their ability to operate and have stable financial income. Similar to other crises, the pandemic has not been gender-neutral (Liu et al., 2021; Ahmed et al., 2020) in terms of the effect on business performance.

Gaps in the performance of women- and men-led businesses have been prevalent beyond any economic crisis as well, and have been documented in a number of studies (e.g., Amin, 2011; Bardasi et al., 2011), registering gender differences in sales and productivity in favor of men-owned enterprises. As suggested by Campos et al. (2019), these performance gaps may be due to lower levels of capital owned by women as opposed to men, a smaller number of employees hired by women-owned firms, as well as different practices in using advanced business tools and innovation. In addition, the existence of these gender gaps has also been explained as stemming from the prevailing social norms that assign certain obligations to women. Nordman and Vaillant (2014) and Grimm et al. (2012) suggest that unpaid housework and family-care led to a constrained number of hours women could afford to spend on the work and management of firms, negatively affecting their productivity.

According to the Women Entrepreneurship Report (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), 2021), the pandemic imposed an additional burden in terms of increasing family-care duties on women. The GEM survey (2021) conducted in 43 countries worldwide shows that the likelihood of enterprise closure is 20% higher for women-led compared to men-led businesses. The higher likelihood of closure reflects the adverse factors that may have hindered the operating capacity of firms. For example, a survey conducted by UNIDO (2020) suggests that, as a result of the Coronavirus crisis, African and Middle Eastern women-led firms experienced diminished revenues. In addition, 41% of women-led firms were short of cash flow and unable to fulfill financial obligations, while only 32% of male entrepreneurs were exposed to the same problem.

More rigorous analysis on this matter has been conducted by Torres et al. (2021) and Liu et al. (2021). They try to examine the asymmetric effects of the COVID-19 crisis on women-led firms in several dimensions utilizing new datasets from the World Bank: COVID-19 Follow-up Enterprise Survey and the World Bank Business Pulse Survey. The findings of Liu et al. (2021) for 24 countries from Central Europe & Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa confirm that during the pandemic women-led businesses are subject to a higher likelihood of closure than men-led businesses and that female top managers are more pessimistic about the future than their male counterparts. Finance and labor factors were mentioned to be the major contributors to these disadvantages; for example, women-led businesses were found to be less likely to receive bank loans compared to men-led businesses. Lastly, the disadvantages experienced by women-led firms were claimed to widen in highly gender-unequal economies and developing countries. Torres et al. (2021) study the impact of the early phase of the COVID-crisis on gender gaps in firm performance for 49 mostly low- and middle-income countries. The results demonstrate that women-led businesses experienced a greater reduction in sales and lower liquidity compared to their male counterparts, which has been reflected in a higher likelihood for women-led companies in several sectors to fall into arrears. On the other hand, as a response to changing circumstances, women-led firms were found to be more likely to increase the utilization of online platforms and make product innovations. Nevertheless, they struggled to obtain any form of public support.

The impact of the pandemic on firms was not gender-neutral in Georgia

The pandemic-induced fragile environment had an adverse impact on entrepreneurs in Georgia– the effects of the shock were significantly more severe for female entrepreneurs than for their male counterparts. In order to assess the gender differences in the impact of the pandemic on firms, we utilize firm-level data on Georgian enterprises from the second round of the World Bank COVID-19 Follow-up Enterprise Survey, conducted in October – November 2020.

Following the methodology as presented in Torres et al. (2021), we assess whether there are differences in the magnitude of reduction in sales revenue (self-reported percentage change in sales revenue one month before the interview as compared to the same period of 2019) and available liquidity for women- and men-led businesses, and whether falling into arrears in any outstanding liabilities is more expected by female top managers (in the next six months from the interview).

Depending on the type of dependent variable, continuous or binary, either Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) or Probit models are estimated, respectively. Along with the gender of the top manager of firms, we also control for sector and firm size. The Georgian database contains a total of 701 enterprises (581 SMEs and 120 micro-businesses).

Table 1. Magnitude of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women-led businesses in Georgia, October-November 2020

Source: The World Bank COVID-19 Follow-up Enterprise Survey, Second Round. Author’s calculations. ***Significant at the 1% significance level; ** significant at the 5% significance level.

Table 1 presents the results of the regression analysis of gender differences among Georgian enterprises in terms of the impact of the pandemic. As observed, women-led businesses reported larger declines in sales, revenues, and liquidity. The predicted drop in sales was 18 percentage points (pp) higher for enterprises with a female top manager than for men-led firms. The larger drop in sales should have been reflected in the reduced cash flow availability and in hardship to cover operating costs. Indeed, as the results demonstrate, women-led enterprises are on average 12.9 pp more likely to have reduced availability of liquidity. This may explain women’s negative future expectations. Moreover, the average predicted probability of expecting to fall into arrears is 11.3 pp higher for women-led firms in Georgia as compared to men-led businesses.

The unequal effect of the COVID-19 crisis on women-led businesses might have been fueled by the disproportionate burden of unpaid care and housework shouldered by women in Georgia, leaving less time available for work and managing enterprises. On the other hand, as Torres et al. (2021) claim, female business owners tend to employ more female workers (the social group more exposed to the unequal burden of the pandemic) than male owners. This, in turn, could further hamper the productivity of women-led businesses and increase their vulnerability to economic shocks.

On the road to recovery

2021 has been characterized by a rather rapid recovery for the Georgian economy, as evidenced by the 10.6% (preliminary estimate) annual growth rate of real GDP. Signs of recovery can also be observed in the labor market – the labor force increased by 4% (YoY) in the 3rd quarter of 2021, while employment was also characterized by a growing trend (1%, YoY).

Along the lines of economic recovery, the gender gap in the labor market also seems to be narrowing. For instance, the steadily growing gap between male and female labor force participation rates seems to stagnate over 2021 (Figure 1). Moreover, as is illustrated in Figure 2 above, the difference between women’s and men’s employment rate changes is positive in 2021, meaning that the employment rate was increasing more (or decreasing less) for women. If this tendency persists, we might stipulate that the disproportionate effects of the COVID-19 crisis on female employment are on the way to recovery.

To examine whether Georgian firms have experienced concurrent movement in their performance along with the economic recovery, we utilize third-round data (from September 2021) of the World Bank COVID-19 Follow-up Enterprise Survey and scrutinize whether the gender differences have narrowed since the previous round of the survey (Table 2).

Table 2. Magnitude of the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on women-led businesses in Georgia, September 2021.

Source: The World Bank COVID-19 Follow-up Enterprise Survey, Third Round. Author’s calculations. ***Significant at the 1% significance level.

Although the third-round survey data suggests that the predicted percentage drop in sales sharply declined for both men- and women-led businesses, the findings are not statistically significant and therefore cannot claim any signs of recovery in the gender gap in this respect. No signs of recovery are observed in terms of average predicted probability of reduced liquidity of firms and expectations of falling into arrears, either. Gender gaps in these two indicators still persist and are as strong in magnitude as in the second-round survey estimates (from October-November 2020). It seems that despite the economic rebound, not all traces of the pandemic crisis for firms have been eradicated from a gender perspective.

Conclusion

The pandemic came with high economic costs. It hit women disproportionately harder, adversely affecting their employment and entrepreneurial prospects. The unequal burden of the COVID-crisis shouldered by women in Georgia could be one of the reasons for the massive labor force dropouts among female workers and poor performance of women-led businesses. Georgian enterprises with female owners experienced a significantly larger decline in sales compared to their male-owned counterparts, consequently suffering from a shortage of cash flow and fears of falling into arrears.

Despite the great rebound in growth after the initial COVID-19 shock, the pandemic-associated increase in the gender gap seems to have been only partially offset in Georgia. In particular, there is a larger positive upsurge in women’s employment rate, as well as a diminishing difference between male and female labor force participation and employment rates. Following the ongoing recovery in sales revenue of Georgian enterprises (though the predicted gender difference was statistically insignificant), the gender gap in sales is shrinking too. But, in spite of the economic rebound, differences in available liquidity and expectations of falling into arrears have not yet been eradicated, indicating that the adverse influence of the pandemic on women still persists. It leaves female entrepreneurs a still more vulnerable group, which could be of special interest to policymakers to ease their liquidity problems.

Policies should also be directed towards encouraging women to become more economically active. In this regard, remote work seems to pose an opportunity if coupled with affordable childcare support policies.

References

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.

Female Representativeness and Covid-19 Policy Responses: Political Representation and Social Representativeness

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There is anecdotal evidence that countries with female leadership in policymaking are more efficient in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. This paper studies whether countries with high female representativeness in political and social layers respond differently to the Covid-19 outbreak. We explore patterns at a cross-country level, which enables us to consider the variation of gender implicated institutions. Our findings indicate that it is women’s social representation, rather than female political leadership, that has the potential to capture cross-country variation in Covid-19 policy responses. Our study confirms that well-functioning and effective institutions are not established from the top-down but rather from the bottom-up.

Introduction

In light of the Covid-19 outbreak and the resulting actions developed and implemented by countries worldwide, questions have been raised about government policy responses and what can trigger them. The pandemic brought forward the need for measures that help mitigate the spread of the virus such as hand washing, reduced face touching, face mask policies, and physical distancing. In many countries, the implementation of lockdowns and social distancing measures had a large impact on employment, including reductions in working hours, furloughs, and work from home arrangements (Brodeur et al., 2020; Coibion et al., 2020; Gupta et al., 2020). There are notable concerns about the potential damage non-pharmaceutical interventions can inflict on economies and labor markets (Andersen et al., 2020; Kong and Prinz, 2020). Further, the implementation of these measures requires certain institutional and individual behavioral changes. While some countries were successful in developing and implementing policy responses that addressed the challenges of the pandemic, others have experienced considerable difficulties.

There is anecdotal evidence suggesting that countries with female leadership in governmental policies are more efficient in combating the Covid-19 pandemic. Several articles from prominent media outlets, such as CNN, The Conversation and Forbes, hypothesize that female leaders are systematically better at managing the pandemic and that this divergence can be attributed to gender differences in management style and risk-taking behavior.

This policy paper explores whether countries distinguished by higher female representation in government policies, both in development and implementation, responded differently to the Covid-19 outbreak, and if so, how the response differed from other countries. For this purpose, we identify two layers of female representation: political representation and social representativeness. The layer of political representation considers the role of women’s representation in public policy design and implementation at the top level of executive and legislative institutions. Social representativeness captures women’s representativeness in different layers of society and spheres of life. It reflects social norms, legal inequality between men and women in different spheres of private, economic, and business life, as well as realized gender inequality, e.g., in labor market participation, education, or local leadership.

With respect to political representation, we address the question of whether countries distinguished by a higher female representation at top executive and legislative levels differ in terms of policy responses to Covid-19. With respect to social representativeness, we aim to capture the variation in these responses that may originate from differences in the expected reaction of the public, which in turn is driven by women’s representativeness in different layers of society. We derive evidence-based conclusions capturing the role of female leadership at the country’s executive and legislative level, as well as the role of gender representativeness in other layers and institutions of society.

The motivation for this research stems from the extensive literature on differences in values and social attitudes between men and women. For example, women have been shown to be more trustworthy, public-spirited, and likely to exhibit ‘helping’ behavior (Eagly and Crowley, 1986), vote based on social issues (Goertzel, 1983), score better on ‘integrity tests’ (Ones and Viswesvaran, 1998), take stronger stances on ethical behavior (Glover et al., 1997; Reiss and Mitra, 1998) and behave more generously when faced with economic decisions (Eckel and Grossman, 1998). Thereby, one may ask to which extent these differences transmit to public policies in societies where women are better represented, either politically or socially. While our study primarily concerns Covid-19 policy responses, we discuss other related literature on the relationship between women’s representativeness and public policy in the next section.

Our analysis shows that it is the women’s social representativeness layer, which can explain government reactions to the Covid-19 pandemic. This goes in line with the institutionalist literature, suggesting that more a gender-balanced character of institutions translates into policy measures and related outcomes. With this finding, our study suggests further evidence on the central role of institutions. Consistent with the existing evidence, we claim that well-functioning and effective institutions are not established from the top-down, but rather from the bottom-up (Easterly, 2008; Dixit, 2011; Greif, 2006). In such institutions, women’s participation in labor markets, businesses, and other spheres is essential as these are factors that distinguish countries in their response to the pandemic. While the evidence provided is suggestive, it opens further avenues for studies to assess causal relationships.

Covid-19 Policy Measurements

To conduct our analysis, we collect data from a number of different sources. For data on the Covid-19 situation and government policy responses, we use the Our World in Data portal. This online platform compiles a number of data sources, most of them updated on a daily basis. Statistics on female participation and leadership is retrieved from the World Bank and UNDP. Summary statistics of the variables are reported in Table A1 of the Appendix.

The policy response variables are based on a number of different measures implemented by national governments. These are aggregated into three composite indices: Stringency, Containment & health, and Economic support. (The index methodology can be found here.) We present the components of the three indices in Table 1 and a detailed description of the policy measures and their scoring in Appendix C.

As seen in Table 1, the Stringency and Containment & health indices have some common dimensions; containment & closure policies (C1 – C8) and public information campaign (H1). Both are rescaled to a value from 0 to 100 (100 = strictest). The Economic support index records measures such as income support and debt/contract relief and does not share any common dimensions with the other two policy response indices. The scale of the index also ranges from 0 to 100 (100 = full support). The extent of heterogeneity in government policy responses across countries is illustrated in Figures 1 – 3. While containment and closure policies are stricter in many Asian and Latin American countries, economic support is more extensive in many European countries, Canada, New Zeeland, and few other countries.

 Table 1. The structure of the Covid-19 policy measurements.

Note: Categories and assigned values of policy measurements are in Appendix C.

Figure 1. Stringency Index

Note: A choropleth map shows countries/territories by their Stringency index score, based on data collected from the portal of https://ourworldindata.org/policy-responses-covid. Countries are grouped into five groups (quantiles), from the lowest to the highest values of the index.

Figure 2. Economic support index.

Note: A choropleth map shows countries/territories by their economic support index score, based on data collected from the portal of https://ourworldindata.org/policy-responses-covid. Countries are grouped into five groups (quantiles), from the lowest to the highest values of the index.

Figure 3. Containment & health index.

Note: A choropleth map shows countries/territories by their Containment and health index scores, based on data collected from the portal of https://ourworldindata.org/policy-responses-covid. Countries are grouped into five groups (quantiles), from the lowest to the highest values of the index.

Female Representativeness: Layers and Indicators

Multiple studies in economics and political science suggest that the gender of public officials shapes policy outcomes (Chattopadhyay and Duflo, 2004; Iyer et al., 2012; Svaleryd, 2009). Evidence suggests that increasing the number of women in higher ranks of public administration (legislative bodies and ministries) has a substantial impact on the political office and policymaking (Borrelli, 2002; Davis, 1997; Reynolds, 1999). On the other hand, a number of studies demonstrate that gender has no association with policy outcomes (Besley et al., 2007; Besley and Case, 2003; Bagues and Campa, 2021). The role of the institutional setting and environment can, thus, be decisive in this regard. Women are also found to be more concerned about social policy issues and prefer higher social spending than men (Lott and Kenny, 1999; Abrams and Settle, 1999; Aidt and Dallal, 2008). Further, women are more likely to use a collective or consensual approach to problem and conflict resolution rather than an approach founded on unilateral imposition (Rosenthal, 2000; Gidengil, 1995).

In our study, the political representation layer is measured as female leadership at a country’s executive level (representation in government cabinets) and participation at the legislative institution (parliament) level. To assess this, we consider the following indicators: 1) the presence of a female president or prime minister and proportion of women in ministerial positions, and 2) women’s representativeness in legislative bodies measured as the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. The variation of these indicators across countries is illustrated in Figures B4 – B6 in the Appendix.

Our approach to social representativeness is in line with social role theory. This framework provides a theoretical explanation of a structural approach to gender differences (Eagly, 1987; Eagly and Karau, 2002; Wood and Eagly, 2009). It claims that men and women behave according to stereotypes associated with the social roles they occupy, and these differences can, in turn, influence the role of women in local governance and leadership. In line with other research on gender, the social role theory proposes a rigorous framework for analyzing the gendered aspect of government organizations. For instance, evidence shows that women tend to be more collaborative and democratic, hence demonstrating a more caring and community-oriented behavior (Eagly and Johannesen-Schmidt, 2001).

The gender aspect of local governance indicates that the personal preferences and opinions of leaders predominate and shape policymaking (Besley and Coate, 1997). Female leaders (including municipality heads) are more inclined to favor the inclusion of citizens in the decision-making process (Fox and Schuhmann, 1999; Rodriguez-Garcia, 2015), implying that the society is a more informed and engaged stakeholder in the public policymaking (Ball, 2009).  Given that municipalities are taking on a greater and more interactive role in citizens’ well-being, they become a key channel in reinforcing trust in government. Furthermore, the literature finds an interrelationship between female voters and government outcomes, whereby women’s enfranchisement affects government size and spending (Lott and Kenny, 1999; Miller, 2008, Aidt and Dallal, 2008). As such, this can lead to improvements in government outcomes and policy effectiveness. The evidence from Bloomberg’s Covid-19 Resilience Ranking suggests that success in containing Covid-19 while minimizing disruption appears to rely more on governments fostering a high degree of trust and societal compliance.

Furthermore, the patterns of gender relations in societies reflect formal and informal institutional rules and policies. Gender equality enhances good governance and helps to further improve relationships between government and citizens (OECD 2014). Similarly, Elson (1999) argues that labor markets are structured by practices, norms, and networks that are “bearers of gender”. Societies with better legal frameworks for women have more balanced gender participation in labor markets, governance, and leadership, along with more equal gender roles and less gender-biased stereotypes. We anticipate that better representation of women in policymaking in such societies is also reflected in the choice and effectiveness of Covid-19 policy measures.

Building on the above theories explaining the relevance of women’s representativeness in diverse societal layers for policy development and implementation, we identify three indices that have the potential to capture the effect of social representativeness – Women, Business and the Law index (WBLI), Gender Development Index (GDI) and Gender Inequality Index (GII). The WBLI is composed of eight indicators, covering different areas of the law related to the decisions women make at various stages of their career and life. These indicators include mobility, workplace, salary, marriage, parenthood, entrepreneurship, assets, and pension. Hyland et al. (2020) show that, globally, the largest gender inequalities are observed in the areas of pay and parenthood. That is, women are most disadvantaged by the legal system when it comes to compensation and how they are treated once they have children. The index scales from 0 to 100 (100 = equal opportunities). The diagram in Figure 4 illustrates how the components of the WBLI index measure key activities of economic agents throughout their life.

Figure 4. The linkages of 8 indicators in Women, Business and the Law index (WBLI)

Source. Women, Business and Law, 2020. World Bank Group.

The second index, the GDI, measures gender inequality in the achievements in three basic dimensions of human development: Health, measured by life expectancy at birth; Education, measured by expected years of schooling for children and mean years of schooling for adults aged above 25; and Command over economic resources, measured by estimated earned income.  The same dimensions are included in the Human Development Index (HDI), and the GDI is defined as the female-to-male HDI ratio (i.e. perfect gender equality corresponds to a GDI equal to one).

Turning to the third index measuring social representativeness, the GII reflects gender-based disadvantages in the following dimensions—reproductive health, empowerment, and the labor market. The index measures the loss in potential human development due to gender inequality in achievements across these dimensions. It ranges from zero, where women and men fare equally, to one, where one gender fares as poorly as possible in all measured dimensions. One of the dimensions of the GII, women’s empowerment, has a sub-dimension – “Female and male shares of parliamentary seats”, one of our indicators measuring political representation. Generally, we do not consider the two layers being as mutually exclusive, but intersections are expected to be minimal.

Central to our study, the three indices capturing social representativeness in a country encompass the institutional quality of its society from a gender development perspective. The distribution of each index across countries is shown in Figures B1 – B3 (See Appendix B).

Women’s Representativeness and Covid-19 Policy Responses: Partial Correlation Analysis

In this section, we explore the relationship between Covid-19 policy responses and the measures of political representation and social representativeness. For this purpose, we explore (i) correlations between the indicators and indices of the political and social representation layers and (ii) partial correlations between these measures and policy response indices.

We start with a correlation analysis of the different indicators in the layers. It shows that the WBLI is in high correlation with other representativeness variables. This index captures the legal equality between women and men which has been shown to be “associated with a range of better outcomes for women, such as more entrepreneurship, better access to finance, more abundant female labor supply, and reductions in the gender wage gap”. (WB, 2021). One can think of the GDI and GII indices, as well as the political representativeness indicators, as reflections of a broad policy framework in diverse areas of social, business, and legal activities. A legal environment that promotes gender equality, even if not sufficient by itself, is likely to lead to progress in these areas. Indeed, Hyland et al. (2020) show that greater legal equality between men and women is associated with a lower gender gap in opportunities and outcomes, fewer female workers in vulnerable positions, and greater political representation of women. This way, the WBLI may capture key predispositions for women’s representativeness in society. Further, Hyland et al. (2021) show that the WBLI index is in high (partial) correlation with country GDP per capita, polity score, legal origin, religion and geographic characteristics. This evidence suggests that the WBLI may have the capacity to reflect important country characteristics which ultimately shape cross-country institutional variation.

Table 2. Scatterplot table for GDI, GII and Women, Business and the Law Index, Proportion of seats in parliament held by women and Proportion of ministerial seats held by women.

Note: Scatterplots are constructed for 149 countries. Fitted lines are based on a quadratic function, shaded areas indicate 95 percent confidence intervals and country population is used for weights applied for fitted lines and bubbles. For each scatterplot, correlation coefficients and their significance are reported. *** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1.

Next, we explore partial correlations of these indicators with Covid-19 policy responses (Table 3). In this analysis, we control for a number of factors that potentially confound the relationship between a particular policy response and representation layer. Specifically, we control for (i) the number of infected cases per million inhabitants, (ii) the number of deaths per million, (iii) GDP per capita, and (iv) life expectancy. The number of infected cases and deaths enter the model in order to control for country differences in the spread and consequences of the virus. GDP per capita captures the stage of country development, accounting for cross-country differences in resource capacities and constraints. Both of these control variables are claimed to have an important role in Covid-19 related research (Coscieme et al., 2020; Aldrich and Lotito, 2020; Elgar, Stefaniak and Wohl, 2020; Gibson, 2020; Conyon and Thomsen, 2020). Life expectancy is an important proxy for country inhabitants’ resilience against the virus, conditioned by health and health infrastructures.

Significant correlations are observed between the WBLI and the three policy response indices. The correlation between the WBLI and Stringency (and Containment & health) index is negative, implying that lighter restrictions have been imposed in countries with better business and legal conditions for women. A positive correlation is observed between the WBLI and the economic support index, suggesting that countries with better conditions for women in diverse business and societal areas have provided more extensive economic support in the pandemic. This finding is in line with existing evidence showing that women are more concerned about social policy issues and prefer higher social spending than men (Lott and Kenny, 1999; Abrams and Settle, 1999; Aidt and Dallal, 2008). Also, lighter restrictions and more generous economic support do not presume any trade-off in terms of the allocation of financial resources constrained by a state budget.

Interestingly, we do not observe significant correlations between policy responses and other indicators of women’s representativeness. The only exception is a correlation between GDI and the Containment & health index, which is significant at the 10% level and hinges heavily on two outliers (if we drop the two outliers, the P-value of the correlation increases from 0.0931 to 0.2735).

Table 3. Scatterplots of policy responses and social representativeness and political representation variables.

Note: Scatterplots are constructed for 133 countries. Fitted lines are based on a quadratic function, shaded areas indicate 95 percent confidence intervals and country population is used for weights applied for fitted lines and bubbles. Correlation coefficients are reported with significance levels: *** p<0.01, ** p<0.05, * p<0.1.

In our partial correlation analysis, we do not control for the direct effects of the gender dimension of social norms and practices. Social norms, practices, as well as informal and formal rules can, however, explain a substantial part of the gender gap (Hawkesworth, 2003; Mackay, 2009; Franceschet, 2011; Elson, 1999; Froehlich et al., 2020) relevant for making decisions. Our measures of women’s political and social representativeness do not fully cover gender differences in norms and practices. As Hyland et al. (2020) point out, de-jure female empowerment does not necessarily translate into de-facto empowerment, especially in countries with social norms and informal rules that result in low representation of women in diverse societal spheres. The authors indicate that laws are actionable in a short period, while more time is needed to bring changes in social norms.  In our paper (Grigoryan and Khachatryan, 2021), we attempt to address this issue by incorporating the Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI) into the model and evaluating the confounding effect on the covariates of the model. We show that the WBLI captures the effect of the gender gap owing to social norms and practices on Covid-19 policy responses as measured by SIGI. This result suggests that the endogeneity arising from the omission of a measure of such a gender gap is likely to be minimal.

Discussion and Conclusions

Our correlation analysis suggests that it is the layer of women’s social representativeness that can explain the policy reactions of governments in times of the Covid-19 pandemic. This result is in line with the institutionalist literature on gender inequality and social role theory, which suggests that a more gender-balanced character of institutions translates into policy measures and related outcomes. Among the three indices constituting the social representativeness layer, the WBLI is, by construction, more inclusive in terms of capturing women’s role in diversified societal areas. From Table 2, we observe that the WBLI is the only index that is in strong correlation with all other indicators. We also identify strong dominance of the WBLI in correlations with policy responses: it is the only indicator that is significantly correlated with all three policy response measurements (Table 3).

To conclude, our results establish an association between female social representativeness, as measured by the (legal) equality of opportunities between men and women, and Covid-19 related policies. One potential interpretation of these findings concerns the central role of the gender balance in different institutions and layers of society in understanding policy responses to the Covid-19 pandemic. While it was parliaments and governments that implemented policies, we find that the measures undertaken correlate more strongly with factors related to the social representativeness of women rather than those related to their political representation. This suggests a dominant role of gender-balanced institutions at the ‘grass root’ level in terms of the scale and scope of the crisis response. Naturally, these institutions may result (or be correlated) with more gender-balanced political representation, but the latter alone is not helpful in explaining the variation in the reaction to the pandemic.  These results underline the importance of balanced gender representation in the labor market, business, and other spheres of social life.  Further investment and development of ‘grass root’ institutions that improve women’s socioeconomic opportunities, could provide a fundamental foundation for policy development in a crisis situation.

There could also be alternative interpretations of our findings. There is rich evidence that the gender dimension is deeply implicated in institutions (Acker, 1992; Chappell and Waylen, 2013; Lovenduski, 2005). Gender norms and gender practices have been shown to have an influence on the operation and interaction between formal and informal institutions (see, for instance, Chappell, 2010; Krook and Mackay, 2011; Chappell and Waylen, 2013) and the gender dimension of political institutions is reflected in their practices and values, hence affecting their outcomes (such as laws and policies), formation, and implementation (for instance, Acker, 1992). In turn, governmental policies and rules shape societal norms and expectations. These considerations imply that our results could be driven by the overall values, culture, and institutions of respective societies. These factors would both result in a more gender-neutral legal environment and ‘grass-root’ institutions, and ultimately, distinguish countries in their response to the Covid-19 pandemic. In this way, our results open an avenue for future studies in this important domain to better understand the causality of observed relationships.

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(The Appendix can be found in the PDF version of the brief)

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