Gender Equality and Economic Growth in Brazil / by Mark Langevin

Gender Equality and Economic Growth in Brazil

Pierre-Richard Agénor and Otaviano Canuto

Economic Premise, World Bank

March 2013, Number 109

This is a summary of the more detailed publication by the same authors, Gender Equality and Economic Growth in Brazil: A Long Run Analysis, and published by the World Bank.

Since the election of Brazil’s first female president in 2010, greater attention has been given to gender relations and questions of gender and sex equality in the country.  Indeed, in an interview prior to her election as President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff stated,

“So, I am here to state my first post-election commitment: To honor Brazilian women so that this unprecedented electoral victory now becomes something normal and can be repeated and expanded in companies, public institutions and organizations that are representative of our entire society.”

There is no question that the combination of robust economic growth in the last decade, averaging above 4% per year since 2002, and sensible social policies, including the Bolsa Familia cash assistance program, have eliminated all but the most stubborn pockets of extreme poverty and provided unprecedented economic opportunities to millions of the poorest women in the country.  However, Agénor and Canuto shed greater light on the cross cutting issues of gender equality and economic growth in Brazil to reveal the partial successes and identify several important roads for further gains.

The authors recognize the tremendous gains made in the last decades in Brazil, reporting that,

“In the past two decades, Brazil has made significant progress in reducing gender inequality. According to the results of a 2010 study by the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGS), illiteracy rates for women aged 15 years and older fell from 20.3 percent in 1991 to 13.5 percent in 2000 and 9.8 percent in 2008. Brazilian women are now generally more educated, with female participation in tertiary education significantly exceeding male participation.”

Yet, despite these gains gender equality in employment and compensation lags behind.  Agénor and Canuto report that

“The unemployment rate for females consistently exceeds that of males by an average of 4–5 percentage points; the gap is up to twice as high for those aged 15–24. According to the Gender Inequality Index (GII) introduced by the United Nations in 2011, Brazil’s rank is only 80 out of 187 countries, with a score of 0.449—the same as in 2008. The Gender Gap Index (GGI) developed by the World Economic Forum and produced since 2006 gives similar results; in 2011, Brazil was ranked 82 out of 135 countries, with a score of 0.668, com- pared to 0.654 in 2006.”

The authors conclude that most of the evidence suggests that gender based disparities in employment and compensation can only be explained by discrimination against women. Indeed, there investigation indicates that

“gender bias in the work place is estimated at 0.71, indicating that women engaged in market activity earn on average about 30 percent less than men.”

The authors draw a twofold conclusion; 1) that expanding infrastructure and education investments greatly assist women better balance their “bargaining” leverage both within the family and in the marketplace; and 2) public policies that advance gender equality in the marketplace serve to improve living standards of all Brazilians. This conclusion leads to the principal recommendation that Brazil should target infrastructure investments to maximize women’s opportunities and to double down on efforts to achieve gender equality in the marketplace. Despite the evident recent success, gender inequality continues to plague Brazilian society.  Therefore, if President Dilma is to achieve her goal of making women’s success “normal,” then current policies must be expanded to deliver the infrastructure, education, and protection under the law that women need to achieve equality in the home and in the labor market.