7 January 2016 | Report

Women at Work Trends 2016


The Women at Work Trends 2016 report from the International Labour Organization provides the latest data on women’s position in labour markets, examines the factors behind these trends and explores the policy drivers for transformative change.

The report explains that, throughout their working lives, women continue to face significant obstacles in gaining access to decent work. Only marginal improvements have been achieved since the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, leaving large gaps to be covered in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, adopted by the United Nations in 2015. Inequality between women and men persists in global labour markets, in respect of opportunities, treatment and outcomes.

Over the last two decades, women’s significant progress in educational achievements has not translated into a comparable improvement in their position at work. In many regions in the world, in comparison to men, women are more likely to become and remain unemployed, have fewer chances to participate in the labour force and – when they do – often have to accept lower quality jobs. Progress in surmounting these obstacles has been slow and is limited to a few regions across the world. Even in many of those countries where gaps in labour force participation and employment have narrowed and where women are shifting away from contributing family work and moving to the services sector, the quality of women’s jobs remains a matter of concern. The unequal distribution of unpaid care and household work between women and men and between families and the society is an important determinant of gender inequalities at work.

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development reaffirmed the universal consensus on the crucial importance of gender equality and its contribution to the achievement of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. More jobs – and quality jobs – for women, universal social protection and measures to recognise, reduce and redistribute unpaid care and household work are indispensable to delivering on the new transformative sustainable development agenda, which aims to reduce poverty (Goal 1) and inequalities (Goal 10), to achieve gender equality (Goal 5) and to promote inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all (Goal 8).



  • Preface
  • Acknowledgements
  • Executive summary
  • Introduction
  • Part One. Global and regional trends
    • Background
    • Labour force participation rates
    • Employment-to-population ratios
    • Unemployment rates
    • Working time for pay or profit and unpaid work
    • Employment sectors and occupational segregation
    • Gender wage gap
    • Gender gaps in access to social protection
    • Conclusion
  • Part Two. Gender gaps in the quality of work
    • Sectoral and occupational segregation
    • Gender wage gaps
    • Work-family policies: The missing link to more and quality jobs for women
  • Conclusion
  • Country, regional and income groupings
  • Bibliography


  • Gender gaps in labour force participation and employment rates have declined only marginally. Between 1995 and 2015, the global female labour force participation rate decreased from 52.4 to 49.6 per cent. The corresponding figures for men are 79.9 and 76.1 per cent, respectively. Worldwide, the chances for women to participate in the labour market remain almost 27 percentage points lower than those for men.
  • In regions where gender gaps in participation have been high, they have remained so. In Southern Asia and Eastern Asia, the gap has grown even wider. Women’s lower participation rates translate into fewer employment opportunities, with little variation over time, which negatively affects women’s earning capacity and economic security.
  • The quality of women’s jobs remains a challenge. In 2015, a total of 586 million women were own-account or contributing family workers. Women remain overrepresented as contributing family workers. Some progress has been made, however, in closing the gender gap in this regard. This trend is part of an economic restructuring shift away from agricultural work, which largely consisted of subsistence and small-scale activities. That said, however, many working women remain in employment statuses and in occupations that are more likely to consist of informal work arrangements. In sub-Saharan Africa and in Southern Asia, a high proportion of women work as contributing family workers or as own-account workers.
  • Gender gaps in the distribution of unpaid household and care work mean that women are more likely to work shorter hours for pay or profit. In both high and lower income countries, women continue to work fewer hours in paid employment, while performing the vast majority of unpaid household and care work. On average, women carry out at least two and a half times more unpaid household and care work than men in countries where the relevant data are available. Although this gender gap remains substantive, it has decreased over time, mostly because of some reduction in the time spent by women on housework, while there have been no significant reductions in the time that they spend on childcare.
  • Women, however, continue to work longer hours per day than men when both paid work and unpaid work are taken into consideration. In particular, employed women (either in self-employment or wage and salaried employment), have longer working days on average than employed men, with a gender gap of 73 and 33 minutes per day in developing and developed countries, respectively. Even when women are employed, they still carry out the larger share of unpaid household and care work, which limits their capacity to increase their hours in paid, formal and wage and salaried work.

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