Why the world needs more working women


 Women have more job prospects than ever before, with surging global employment rates and shrinking pay gaps — and this progress looks set to continue, according to a new Goldman Sachs report.

 Working-age populations around the world are growing at a slower rate than in years past, if not declining in some nations — risking forever labor shortages that may limit growth.

  • That sets up fresh hurdles for the global economy.
  • Before, "only Japan was seeing the problem of an aging population to the extent we are seeing it everywhere today," Sharon Bell, a Goldman Sachs senior equity strategist who co-authored the report, tells Axios.

There has been a little-noticed "quiet revolution" among working women in the last 25 years, the report — an update to one produced in 1999 — says.

  • Unless workers become more productive, the world needs higher rates of women in the labor force to fill the gap. In some cases, that's already underway.
  • "[I]f economies aren't to shrink we need higher participation by women," per the report.

 In the U.S., a near-record share of women aged 25-54 are in the workforce. There's a similar trend in the UK.

  • In Italy, overall labor force growth would have been flat or shrunk since the 1970s if not for the higher rates of working women, according to the Goldman report.
  • In Japan, women are working at the highest rates ever, largely thanks to family-friendly policies put in place over a decade ago to help jolt an economy with an aging population.

In the U.S., there are concerns about how much higher women's participation rates can rise.

  • "There's further to go," Bell says. "In the U.S., it may be near its peak, but it has not gone up rapidly in recent years."
  •  Economic growth might be more crucial now than ever, given high debt levels around the world.
  • "How are you going to afford that high level of debt? Countries have to keep growing," Bell says.
  • "You can do that with higher productivity, but if you don't have any workforce growth that's going to be tricky," Bell adds. "We have to use everyone's resources in the economy."

"Pay gaps have fallen more or less everywhere," according to the report — including in Japan, where men made 33% more than women in 1999. Now, the gap has shrunk to a (still-high) 21%.

  • Gaps are widest in the highest-paid jobs, a function of fewer women in tech and financial services, Goldman says.
  • In the U.S. and UK, the share of women employees in tech and finance has declined steadily since the 2008 financial crisis.

 "Women's contribution to the economy has changed a lot in the last quarter century," Bell says. "The gains have been great, but the distance to cover is still big."

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