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Economic gains from closing gender gap far outweigh cost - McKinsey

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 17 May 2016 15:33 GMT

Sunisa Hongaroon, a 67-year-old accountant, works in a transportation company in Bangkok, Thailand, February 3, 2016. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

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World could add $12 trillion to annual GDP in 2025 if every nation bridged gender gap

By Emma Batha

COPENHAGEN, May 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The economic returns from investing in closing the gender gap are six to eight times greater than the spending required on areas like health, education and financial inclusion, analysts told a global women's rights conference on Tuesday.

Recent research by McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) showed the world could add $12 trillion to annual GDP in 2025 if every nation bridged its gender gap at the same pace as the best performing country in its region.

A new study, unveiled at the Women Deliver conference in Copenhagen, shows the cost of achieving this return would be $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion.

"Narrowing the gender gap can unleash massive growth. But in order to realise the $12 trillion opportunity that comes from advancing gender equality in the world of work, we have to tackle gender gaps in society more broadly," said MGI partner Anu Madgavkar.

The research outlines six areas where improved access to services could unlock economic opportunities for women: education, family planning, maternal health, financial inclusion, digital inclusion and assistance with unpaid care work.

But Melinda Gates, co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, told the conference it would be impossible to know exactly where to make the right investments without collecting data to identify what works best, the main barriers holding women back and who is falling through the cracks.

"We can't close the gender gap without first closing the data gap," she said, announcing $80 million in funding over the next three years to help rectify "vast blind spots" in global health and development data.

More than 5,500 delegates from over 160 countries are attending the conference which puts women and girls at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals - a set of U.N. targets aimed at fighting inequality and extreme poverty.

"The hard reality is that in too many areas, data still doesn't exist - and often where it does exist, it's sexist," said Gates.

"It misses women and girls entirely, or undercounts and undervalues their economic and social contributions to their families, communities and countries."


Vivian Hunt, a director with McKinsey, said women accounted for half the working age population but only contributed 37 percent of GDP.

She said there was a particular need to free up women to participate in the economy by addressing the burden of unpaid care which prevents them reaching their potential.

Three quarters of the world's unpaid care is undertaken by women, McKinsey said.

In many developing countries girls and women also spend hours every day collecting water and firewood on top of housework and childcare.

Hunt said the $12 trillion prize for narrowing the gender gap would be similar to adding a U.S. or Chinese economy.

To reach that goal some 445 million more people would need improved access to safe water supplies and 880 million more would need access to energy, McKinsey said in its study.

Up to 57 million more women in the global labour force, and the same number of men, would need to be covered by paid family leave, and some 224 million more women would need a bank account.

"The correlation between gender equality in work and gender equality in society is very strong - the two go hand in hand," Hunt added.

(Reporting by Emma Batha; Editing by Alex Whiting; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories.)

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