Report: Narrower gender gap could boost economies

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PARIS Governments looking to boost growth should focus on further narrowing the "gender gap" that continues to hold women back in education, employment and entrepreneurship, a new report said Monday.

Women continue to earn less than men, are less likely to make it to the top of the career ladder and are more likely to spend their final years in poverty, according to "Closing the Gender Gap," released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Trimming or eliminating this discrimination could provide a significant source of growth for ailing economies, the OECD says: On average, a 50 percent decrease in the gender gap in labor force participation would lead to a 0.3 percentage point increase in annual GDP per-capita growth rate in OECD countries.

"Investment in gender equality yields the highest returns of all development investments," the OECD said.

"Gender inequality means not only forgoing the important contributions that women make to the economy, but also wasting years of investment in educating girls and young women," the OECD said.

A key part of the solution is promoting access to affordable childcare, the OECD says. "If childcare eats up one wage so that there is little or no financial gain in going out to work, parents (most often mothers) are less likely to seek a job," the report says.

In the United States, public investment in childcare in 2009 was around 0.4 percent of GDP, compared with 0.7 percent across the OECD as a whole.

While women have largely caught up or surpassed men in education, girls remain less likely to choose scientific and technological fields of study, the OECD said, pointing to a need to change gender stereotypes and attitudes early on.

In the workplace, a "glass ceiling" still inhibits women's earnings and professional advancement, the OECD said. Women earn on average 16 percent less than men in OECD countries, and the disparity widens the higher up the corporate ladder women climb: Among female top-earners, women are paid 21 percent less than male counterparts, the OECD found.

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