Document Type

Discussion Paper

Date of Paper

Spring 5-15-2024


Does economic growth close labor market-linked gender gaps that disadvantage women? Conversely, do gender inequalities in the labor market impede growth? To inform these questions, we conduct two analyses. First, we estimate regressions using data on gender gaps in a range of labor market outcomes from 153 countries spanning two decades (1998-2018). Second, we conduct a systematic review of the recent economics literature on gender gaps in labor markets, examining 16 journals over 21 years. Our empirical analysis demonstrates that growth is not a panacea. While economic gender gaps have narrowed and growth is associated with gender gap closures specifically in incidence of paid work, the relationship between growth and labor market gaps is otherwise mixed, and results vary by specification. This result reflects, in part, the gendered nature of structural transformation, in which growth leads men to transition from agriculture to industry and services while many women exit the labor force. Disparities in hours worked and wages persist despite growth, and heterogeneity in trends and levels between regions highlight the importance of local institutions. To better understand whether gender inequalities impeded growth, we explore a nascent literature that shows that reducing gender gaps in labor markets increases aggregate productivity. Our broader review highlights how traditional explanations for gender differences do not adequately explain existing gaps and how policy responses need to be sensitive to the changing nature of economic growth. We conclude by posing open questions for future research.


We thank Akash Uppal and Carmen Arbaizar Mazas for excellent research assistance on this project. We thank Kathleen Beegle at the World Bank for pointing us to the World Bank JOIN database. We are grateful to the Development Policy and Finance team at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for funding. Corresponding authors are Patrick Agte ( and Aishwarya Lakshmi Ratan (

Previous Versions

May 16 2024
May 15 2024