Despite an increase in women’s representation since the beginning of the 20th century, women remain underrepresented in academia and other high-skilled professions. Academia has been prone to gender disparities both within and across fields as well as across academic ranks. In an endeavour to examine and address the underrepresentation of women in the academic profession, the Centre of Economic Analysis (CenEA), together with the Stockholm Institute of Transition Economics (SITE) and other partners of the Forum for Research on Gender Economics (FROGEE) at the FREE Network, organized the two-day conference “The playing field in academia: Why are women still underrepresented?”, in Warsaw June 21-22, 2023. This brief offers insights from the presentations and panel discussions held at the conference.
To date, there are few, if any, high-skilled professions exhibiting gender balance, and academia is no exception. Consequently, this imbalance has been subject to increased multidisciplinary research attention, exploring its origins and potential remedies. However, attaining a comprehensive understanding of gender disparities remains a challenge. For instance, much remains to be learnt about their long-run dynamics, a subject addressed by Carlo Schwarz, in one of the conference’s keynote lectures.
A Century of Progress
Carlo Schwarz (in joint work with Alessandro Iaria and Fabian Waldinger, 2022) trace the evolution of gender gaps in academia across a variety of domains at the global level throughout the 20th Century. Facilitated by an unprecedentedly large database of nearly 500,000 academics, spanning 130 countries and supplemented by publication and citation data, the authors specifically examine gender imbalances in recruitment, publishing, citation patterns, and promotions.
They find that in 1900 women constituted roughly 1 percent of all hires in academia (226 women, with only 113 hired as full professors). By 1969 the share of female academics had risen to about 6.6 percent, and by the year 2000 it had grown to approximately 17 percent. These rates varied across disciplines, institutions, and countries. For instance, teaching-centric disciplines such as pedagogy and linguistics, exhibited higher representation relative to research-oriented ones.
The research subsequently reveals a hump-shaped evolution of the gender gap in academic output – starting small before peaking at 45 percentage points fewer publications by women in 1969, thereafter declining to 20 percentage points. These publication disparities were also found to share a U-shaped relationship with the share of women in academia, indicating the interconnectedness of gender gaps.
The authors also address gender gaps in citations, identified by the use of a novel machine learning approach, forecasting a paper’s citations had it been written by a man. The results indicate a progressive reduction in the citation gap during the 20th century, decreasing from 27 percentage points (pre-WW1) to 14 percentage points (interwar) and eventually to 8 percentage points (post-WW2) fewer citations of papers by female relative to male academics. These gender gaps in academic output reiterated current evidence from Mexico, presented at the conference by Diana Terrazas-Santamaria, showing that women are associated with lower citation rates. Terrazas-Santamaria attribute the low rates to gender differences in both the number of publications and duration of academic careers.
The work by Iaria, Schwarz and Waldinger (2022) further showcase the gender disparities in career advancement in academia, which similarly decreased over the years. At the point of the greatest gender disparity, women required an approximately 6 percentage points better publication record to have the same promotion probabilities as their male counterparts.
The Leaky, Dry Pipeline
In the conference’s second keynote, Sarah Smith highlighted how academia, much like other professional occupations, exhibits a leaky pipeline. This is a phenomenon characterized by a declining representation of women as they ascend through the academic hierarchy. When examining specific fields, Smith’s results indicate that the gender disparities in economics much more closely align with those observed in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) than other social science disciplines. Furthermore, the economics’ field illustrate a significant lack of diversity among its new entrants. This phenomenon, referred to as the dry pipeline, generates future cohort implications, as they result in less demographically representative cohorts from which future professors can be recruited (see Stewart et al., 2009).
The cross-disciplinary comparison of the dry pipeline addressed in the keynote, contest the mathematical rigor of economics as a barrier to entry, as mathematics itself demonstrated higher women representation at A-level and undergraduate levels. In a following discussion panel, which focused on ensuring a fair start in academia (comprised of Yaroslava Babych, Alessandra Casarico, Federica Braccioli and Marta Gmurek, and moderated by Maria Perrotta Berlin), the panellists acknowledged that deeply engrained social expectations, gender trained behaviours and a lack of awareness constitute some of the persistent hindrances to the (early) involvement of women in specific fields, and the academic profession in general.
Additional factors influencing the gender balance in recruitment and promotion are gendered references, and the presence or absence of shared research interests between candidates and recruitment panels. These themes were extensively investigated in the work presented by Alessandra Casarico on the conference’s opening day. Specifically, results from collaborative work with Audinga Baltrunaite and Lucia Rizzica, highlight that grindstone words (e.g., “determined”, “hardworking”, etc.) are frequently used in recommendation letters to describe female candidates, while standout words (e.g., “excellent”, “strongest” etc.) typify male candidates’ references. Compared to their male counterparts, women are also shown to be more inclined to accentuate personality traits when serving as referees. This added to a broader literature demonstrating that female candidates’ recommendation letters frequently exhibit brevity, raise doubts, carry a weak tone, and emphasize candidates’ interpersonal skills and personality traits rather than their ability. Moreover, separate results from Casarico’s work (with Piera Bello and Debora Nozza) illustrate that research similarity between the recruiting committee and the candidate predict the likelihood of recruitment. The authors argue that the relationship is indicative of a bias against women if – as shown by the authors – women are less likely to be the candidates with the highest similarity.
In her presentation, Anne Sophie Lassen offered a different factor that may contribute to the attrition in the pipeline: the influence of parenthood on academic careers. Results from her work (with Ria Ivandić) indicate that while parenthood does not significantly influence graduation rates, it extends doctoral studies by an average of 7 months for women. Moreover, Lassen highlighted a declining trend of remaining in academia after becoming a parent, particularly pronounced among women.
More Areas of Imbalance
The remaining conference presentations and panel discussions explored additional domains of gender imbalances within academia. Iga Magda showcased evidence from her joint work with Jacek Bieliński, Marzena Feldy and Anna Knapińska of gender differences in remuneration during the early stages of an academic career, substantiating a gap within a year of graduation. These disparities endure throughout respondents’ careers and are contingent on the field of study – largest among engineering and technology graduates and lowest among those from the humanities and arts fields. Furthermore, it was observed that productivity plays a negligible role in the identified pay gaps, as its impact is similar for both genders.
The panel composed of Eleni Chatzichritou, Marta Łazarowicz-Kowalik, Jesper Roine and Joanna Wolszczak-Derlacz, and moderated by Michał Myck, deliberated on exposed disparities in the application for, and the success rates in attaining research funding in Poland and Europe – as seen in the National Science Centre (NCN) and the European Research Council research grants, respectively. The discussion highlighted how quantitative measures used in the allocation of research funding are riddled with subjective criteria that often benefit male academics. They also recognized how quests to allocate funds to the most successful candidate inadvertently penalize women with career breaks.
Another panel including Lev Lvovskiy, Carlo Schwarz, Sarah Smith, Marieke Bos and Joanna Tyrowicz, and moderated by Pamela Campa, lauded the growing objective data shedding light on gender inequalities in academia. The panellists discussed current challenges in identifying and quantifying aspects of gender disparities. For instance, currently used proxies do not allow to capture more subtle disparities, like microaggressions faced by female academics from students – emphasizing the need for more individual level survey data.
The panels were further enriched by personal anecdotes and filled with retrospective advice shared by both early career and established academics. To contextualize the above, a few cases from the FREE Network countries follow.
Evidence From Within the FREE Network
Yaroslava Babych shared insights concerning women in higher education in Georgia and other countries of the South Caucasus. Preliminary findings of her study confirm the presence of gender inequality in academia, evident in disparities in access to higher education as well as gender segregation across both fields and countries. Notably, women comprise a majority of the graduates in bachelor’s and master’s of art programs, whereas higher research-level programs such as doctors of science, and top echelons of the academic hierarchy remain predominantly male. Moreover, female academic output is found to be lower than that of male counterparts.
Lev Lvovskiy discussed the case of Belarus, highlighting the influence of the Soviet legacy. A significant factor linked to this legacy is exploiting university enrolment to circumvent compulsory conscription of men, allowing male university admissions to serve a secondary purpose beyond acquiring knowledge. This increases the perceived opportunity cost of enrolling a woman. Lvovskiy further documented the academic trajectories of Belarusians, revealing a majority of women at college and doctoral levels, but being underrepresented among doctoral graduates. The results further indicate significant cross-disciplinary gender disparities, with humanities having close to 80 percent women representation and engineering and information and technology (IT) fields having less than 30 percent women representation.
Monika Oczkowska provided evidence of gender disparities in Poland. Findings from the country reveal an overrepresentation of women graduates from bachelor through doctoral levels, and relative parity at post-doctoral level, but lower proportions at habilitation, associate professor, and professor levels. These general results confirm the higher detail findings presented by Karolina Goraus-Tanska on the first day of the conference. Results from Goraus-Tanska’s work (with Jacek Lewkowicz and Krzysztof Szczygielski) suggest that the drop-off among female academics from habilitation levels is not attributed to higher output expectations for women, but rather stems from the impact of parenthood.
Oczkowska further demonstrated that female academics in Poland are characterized by fewer international collaborations and lower levels of international output. Polish female academics were also showcased to engage in more international mobility during their doctoral studies relative to men, with the converse holding true after obtaining a doctoral degree. A potential explanation for this mobility decline among female academics, could be the increased burden of familial responsibilities at the post-doctoral and higher levels. Moreover, fewer women were reported to have applied for NCN grants and were underrepresented among the beneficiaries of these calls. Lastly, female academics in Poland record significantly lower total project costs relative to their male counterparts.
‘Plugging’ the Leak
In light of the aforementioned, what measures can be taken to address the gender imbalances in academia? As summarized by Sarah Smith, early initiatives have involved tracking women representation (e.g., in admissions, progression, hiring, etc.) within departments and/or institutions to identify where in the pipeline their progress is impeded. Attempted initiatives include formulation of seminar guidelines to overcome unfair experiences, as well as using gender-blind recruiting and objective hiring criteria to equalize hiring opportunities. Some other efforts, such as diverse recruitment panels have been unsuccessfully adopted, as they seem to embolden hostile male recruiters and load female panellists with unrewarded administration tasks. Conversely, mentoring has helped women build networks, publish more, and advance professionally. Awareness raising campaigns have reduced disparities in teaching evaluations and remain vital in addressing the dry pipeline and both transparent workload allocation and rewarding of administrative tasks have been shown to reduce promotion gaps in academia. In addition to the above, initiatives such as fostering gender-neutral networking opportunities, collaborations and a more diverse faculty were also deliberated during the conference.
The conference advanced dialogue on societal and structural constraints to gender equality in academia and provided a platform to exchange ideas on how the shared objective of a more inclusive and equitable academic environment can be achieved. While the challenges remain abundant, and the costs associated not always negligible, it remains crucial to assess achievements, such as those resulting from mentoring and awareness intervention initiatives and recognize that further opportunities to enhance equity within the profession exist.
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 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.
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
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)
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
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
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.
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.
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.
- Ahmed, Tanima; Muzi, Silvia; Ueda Kohei. 2020. “Do Crises Hit Female-Managed and Male-Managed Firms Differently?” Evidence from the 2008 Financial Crisis, Enterprise Note Series, 39.
- Albanesi, Stefania; and Jiyeon Kim, 2021. “The Gendered Impact of the COVID-19 Recession on the US Labor Market”, NBER Working Paper Series, 28505.
- Alon, Titan; Coskun, Sena; Doepke, Matthias; Koll, David; and Michèle Tertilt, 2021. “From Mancession to Shecession: Women’s Employment in Regular and Pandemic Recessions”, NBER Working Paper Series, 28632.
- Alon, Titan; Doepke, Matthias; Olmstead-Rumsey, Jane; and Michèle Tertilt, 2020. “This Time It’s Different: The Role of Women’s Employment in a Pandemic Recession”, NBER Working Paper Series, 27660.
- Amin, Mohammad, 2011. ” Labor Productivity, Firm-size and Gender: The Case of Informal Firms in Argentina and Peru”, World Bank Group Enterprise Note, 22.
- Babych, Yaroslava, 2021. “Global Gender Gap in Unpaid Care: Why Domestic Work Still Remains a Woman’s Burden”, FROGEE Policy Brief Series, 4.
- Bardasi, Elena; and Shwetlena Sabarwai, 2011. ” How do female entrepreneurs perform? evidence from three developing regions”, Small Business Economics, 37, 417–441.
- Bluedorn, John C.; Caselli, Francesca G.; Hansen, Niels-Jakob H.; Shibata, Ippei; and Marina Mendes Tavares, 2021. “Gender and Employment in the COVID-19 Recession: Evidence on “She-cessions””, IMF Working Papers, 21/095.
- Boeri, Tito; Caiumi, Alessandro; and Marco Paccagnella, 2020. “Mitigating the work-safety trade-off”, COVID Economics, 2, 60-66.
- Campa, Pamela; Roine, Jesper; and Svante Strömberg, 2021. “Unequal Labour Market Impacts of COVID-19 in Sweden – But Not Between Women and Men”, Intereconomics, 56.
- CARE, 2020. “Rapid Gender Assessment”.
- Caselli, Francesca G.; Grigoli, Francesco; Sandri, Damiano; and Antonio Spilimbergo, 2020. “Mobility under the COVID-19 Pandemic: Asymmetric Effects across Gender and Age”, IMF Working Papers, 20/282.
- Dingel, Jonathan I.; and Brent Neiman, 2020. “How Many Jobs Can be Done at Home?”, NBER Working Paper Series, 26948.
- Eurofound, 2016. “The gender employment gap: Challenges and solutions”, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- Eurofound, 2021. “COVID-19: Implications for employment and working life”, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.
- Fabrizio, Stefania; Gomes, Diego B. P.; and Marina Mendes Tavares, 2021. “COVID-19 She-Cession: The Employment Penalty of Taking Care of Young Children”, IMF Working Papers, 21/058.
- Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, 2021, “Women’s Entrepreneurship 2020/21 – Thriving Through Crisis.”
- Grimm, Michael; Knorringa, Peter; and Jann Lay, 2012. “Constrained Gazelles: High Potentials in West Africa’s Informal Economy”, World Development, 40(7), 1352–1368.
- Hilbrecht, Margo; Shaw, Susan M.; Johnson, Laura C.; and Jean Andrey, 2008. “‘I’m Home for the Kids’: Contradictory Implications for Work–Life Balance of Teleworking Mothers”, Gender, Work and Organization, 15, 454-476.
- ILO, 2020. “Survey of Women Leading Micro, Small and Medium Businesses About the Main Challenges They Face as a Result of the Coronavirus Crisis.”
- Julakidze, Mery; and Gocha Kardava, 2021. “Five Ways Covid-19 Affected the Georgian Labor Market in 2020”, ISET Economist Blog.
- Liu, Yu; Wei, Siqi; and Jian Xu, 2021. “COVID-19 and Women-Led Businesses around the World”, Finance Research letters, 43.
- Mongey, Simon; Pilossoph, Laura; and Alex Weinberg, 2020. “Which Workers Bear the Burden of Social Distancing?”, NBER Working Paper Series, 27085.
- Moran, Jessica; and Alison Koslowski, 2019.“Making use of work–family balance entitlements: how to support fathers with combining employment and caregiving”, Community, Work and Family, 22, 111-128.
- Nordman, Christophe, Jalil; and Julia Vaillant, 2014.“ Inputs, Gender Roles or Sharing Norms? Assessing the Gender Performance Gap Among Informal Entrepreneurs in Madagascar”, IZA Discussion Paper.
- Peters, Pascale; Tijdens, Kea G.; and Cécile Wetzels, 2004. “Employees’ opportunities, preferences, and practices in telecommuting adoption”, Information and Management, 41,469-482.
- Ransome, Paul, 2007. “Conceptualizing boundaries between ‘life’ and ‘work’”, The International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18, 374-386.
- Sostero, Matteo; Milasi, Santo; Hurley, John; Fernancez Macias, Enrique; and Martina Bisello, 2020. “Teleworkability and the COVID-19 crisis: a new digital divide?”, JRC Working Papers Series on Labour, Education and Technology, 2020/05.
- Torres, Jesica; Maduko, Franklin; Gaddis, Isis; Iacovone, Leonardo; and Kathleen Beegle, 2021. “The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on Women-Led Businesses”, The World Bank Policy Research Working Paper, 9817.
- UN Women, 2020. “Rapid Gender Assessment of the Covid-19 Situation in Georgia”.
- UN Women, 2021. “Women’s Entrepreneurship Expo 2021 report”.
- UNIDO, 2020. “Assessment of the impact of Covid-19 outbreak on Women and youth entrepreneurs in the manufacturing sector and manufacturing-related services.
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.
This policy brief presents the evidence on gender biased sex selection (GBSS) in Georgia, giving an overview of the so-called “sex ratio transition” process, and discussing the determinants of GBSS using a demand and supply-side approach. After its independence from the Soviet Union, Georgia started experiencing a significant rise of the sex ratio at birth (SRB) and in 2004 the country had reached one of the highest SRB rates in the world. A traditionally pronounced son preference was further strengthened by deteriorated economic conditions, decrease in fertility and relatively easy and cheap access to technologies for early sex determination and abortion. However, Georgia has managed to reverse and stabilize a skewed SRB rate. Among the factors that might have contributed are the strengthening of the social security system, improved economic conditions, a rise in fertility rates, economic empowerment of women, and the increased cultural influence of Western values. This trend reversal places Georgia in a unique position and may provide valuable insights for other countries who struggle with the same problem.
It is widely recognized that the Caucasus has traditionally been a “male-dominated region,” with a particularly strong son preference. However, before the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, sex ratios at birth in the Caucasus countries were very close to normal levels.
After independence from the Soviet Union, the SRB started rising immediately in Georgia, reaching 114.1 male births per 100 female births by 1999 (while the biologically normal SRB level is 105 male births per 100 female births). In the early 2000s, SRB peaked and stabilized between 112 and 115 male births per 100 female births for several years. As Figure 1 shows, after reaching historically high levels in 2004, SRB started to decline and finally returned to a normal level by 2016.
Figure 1. Estimated sex ratio at birth in 1990-2016
Source: UNFPA, 2017.
The sex selection here is not discussed as “an archaic practice” in Georgia, but rather a modern reproductive behavior, a rational strategy responding to the surrounding environment – demand and supply factors. Demand-side factors include socio-economic and cultural factors that make having a boy more beneficial for a family and lower the value of girls – leading to son preference. The fertility rate is also accounted as a demand-side factor since low or decreasing fertility can increase incentives to perform selective abortions. As for the supply-side factors, they cover the ease of access to technologies for early sex determination and selective abortion and its cost, as well as the content of the legislation regulating abortion.
Demand side factors
Factors increasing demand
Son preference and a patrilineal system. The traditional Georgian family is patrilineal. Patrilineality, also known as the male line, is a common kinship system in which an individual’s family membership derives from and is recorded through his or her father’s lineage. It generally involves the inheritance of property, rights, names, or titles by persons related through male kin. In such systems, women join their husbands’ families after marriage and are expected to care for their in-laws rather than their parents. Sons are expected to stay with their parents and take care of them. Thus, patrilineal systems make daughters less beneficial and desirable to their parents compared to sons. UNFPA (2017) concludes that the practice of post-marital co-residence with parents is still quite widespread in Georgian society, and this pattern is biased towards the male kin line, downplaying the role of women and their kin. The patrilocal residence (the situation in which a married couple resides with or near the husband’s parents) is more common in villages (more than 90%) than in urban areas (75%). The incidence of patrilocal residence is the lowest in Tbilisi (69%). In general, patrilocal residence decreases with improving economic conditions.
Demographic change – changes in fertility rates. Low or decreased fertility rates (when other factors favorable for GBSS are in place) mean that families are no longer able to ensure the birth of a son through repeated pregnancies. In societies characterized by strong son preference, and with increasing availability of sex detection technologies, couples start to opt for sex selection because they want to avoid additional births of girls, something that contraception cannot alone ensure. Therefore, low fertility acts as a “squeeze factor,” forcing parents to make choices ensuring the desired gender composition of their family.
An inverse relationship between fertility and SRB is observed in Georgia. The first decade of transition to market economy was severe for the country. Reducing household size was one strategy chosen by Georgian families to cope with increased rates of unemployment, deterioration of the social security system and deprivation of basic needs such as water and electricity. The decline of fertility during the years 1990-2003 coincided with increased SRB levels. When fertility started to rebound in 2003, the “squeeze factor” began to vanish, removing pressure on the SRB. At the same time, the SRB started to decline.
The low value of women. In Georgia, women are stereotypically perceived as natural caretakers, whose core responsibilities involve child care and household duties. They are also expected be obedient to their husbands and let them have leading positions in various activities (UNDP 2013). The majority of the population in the country thinks that men should be the ones who are the family’s decision-makers and that they should also be the main breadwinners. According to a 2010 study, 83% of respondents think that men should be the main breadwinners in the family, and 63% believe that they should also be the family’s decision-makers (CRRC, 2010). It is evident that such attitudes and values contribute to decrease the perceived value of girls in society, compared to boys, and add additional stimulus to GBSS.
Factors decreasing demand
The strengthening of state institutions and the social security system. Georgia has experienced a deep transformation of its social, economic and political systems in the last fifteen years. Reforms were carried out in all sectors. Most importantly, the country totally restructured its social security system, which was practically non-existent in Georgia at the beginning of the 1990’s. Currently, Georgian citizens are offered: a) universal pension system, above the subsistence minimum, which provides a flat rate benefit to all elderly; b) social assistance, which represents a monthly subsidy to poor families, is well targeted, and has contributed to reducing poverty (Kits et al. 2015), and (c) a universal health insurance system which covers all people who are uninsured by private companies and softens the burden of health care expenditures for households.
These changes, together with the improved general economic situation in the country, have decreased the role of the family as a buffer institution offering protection and stability (notably through sons), and provided more formal alternatives for social security, bank loans, contractual employment, etc. Due to this, the (large) intergenerational family is no longer perceived as the only strategy for coping with social and financial uncertainty.
New cultural influence of Western values. From the early 2000s, Georgia has been increasingly exposed to Western norms and culture through media, migration, increased tourism, and the process of economic integration with the European Union. According to experts, this process was accompanied by “media support and an enthusiastic, quasi-propagandistic hail. The general spirit was to promote an image of Georgia as a country open to the world with West-European views and lifestyles” (UNFPA 2017).
Supply side factors
While the availability of technologies for the early determination of sex and for abortion is not the root cause of GBSS, it constitutes a facilitating supply factor. Without prenatal diagnostics and accessibility of abortion, parents would not be able to resort to selective abortions even if they had a pronounced preference for boys.
Currently, Georgia is among the countries offering high-tech reproductive services. Private clinics, hospitals, and special reproductive medicine centers compete to supply reproductive services, and one can easily see the most recent ultrasound technologies in the great majority of the urban facilities. In addition, the cost of an ultrasound test is extremely low, depending on the service provider. This represents only 1.9%-4.8% of the average monthly incomes per Georgian household. In this context, the GBSS-related demand for prenatal diagnostics can easily be accommodated, when it arises.
Georgia has had a unique experience of “sex ratio transition” in the region, which was an integral part of its overall transformation process. The deteriorated social and economic conditions of households following the beginning of the transition process, coupled with easier and cheaper access to prenatal diagnostics were reflected in a skewed SRB and manifested son preference. Only when socio-economic conditions improved, and the country accelerated its institutional strengthening and modernization process, did the SRB returned to its normal level.
It is too early to conclusively state that Georgia is back to normal SRB levels for good. Birth masculinity still remains at a high level i) for third-order births, as the most of the couples are reluctant to have more than three children, and giving birth to a third child is the last chance for families to have a boy; ii) there is a significant urban-rural divide in the context of birth order. For three or higher order births, SRB is significantly distant from normal levels for almost all regions, reaching beyond 145, while in Tbilisi the bias remains moderate; iii) gender-biased sex selection remains high among poor people and ethnic minorities.
If Georgia is to minimize the incidence of GBSS in the future, it needs to act on several fronts: enhance gender equality through qualitative research and civic activism; increase the perceived value of girls and women in the society through policies and initiatives addressing cultural stereotypes, as well as by publicizing illuminated stories of success of girls and women that provide positive role models; monitor SRB trends; support advocacy actions and awareness-raising campaigns on GBSS and encourage the ethical use of sex detection technologies.
- CRRC, 2010. “Caucasus Barometer”. CRRC, Tbilisi
- Kits, Barbara Viony; Santos, Indhira Vanessa; Isik-Dikmelik, Aylin; Smith, Owen K.. 2015. “The impact of targeted social assistance on labor market in Georgia: a regression discontinuity approach”. Washington, D.C. World Bank Group.
- UNDP, 2013. ”Public Perceptions on Gender Equality in Politics and Business”. UNDP, Tbilisi.
- UNFPA, 2017. “Trends in the Sex Ratio at Birth in Georgia – An Overview Based on the 2014 General Population Census Data”. Tbilisi, Georgia: Geostat; UNFPA.
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.
In this policy brief, I discuss the reversal of the gender education gap in many countries around the world – a fact that is still not widely known, although is increasingly gaining attention. I describe recent studies that have documented this fact for both developed and developing countries and have provided evidence on the trend. As there has not been much analysis of the education gap in the former Soviet Union countries, I present some measures of the education gap in the USSR and FSU countries, and compare them to other countries around the world. Finally, I discuss the potential causes of the reversal identified in the literature and how the reversal of the gap is related to other gender disparities.