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MiSoC Workshop on Women in the Labour Market (15-16 April 2021)

MiSoC hosted a two day research workshop on the theme of ‘Women in the Labour Market’, organized by Sonia Bhalotra and Susan Harkness.

Labour market workshop image

This included presentations on a female employment and the gender pay gap in the short and long run, as well as the effectiveness of policy in improving women’s labour market outcomes. Sonia Bhalotra opened the workshop with a brief welcome. Despite significant progress in gender equality in labour market outcomes in terms of participation and the pay gap, women have not yet achieved equality with men, and many of the papers in the workshop looked at factors impeding this catch up. While the average gender wage gap has fallen over time, catch-up has been slower at the top of the distribution in many developed economies (Bailey and DiPrete, 2016; Bertrand, 2018; Blau and Kahn, 2017).

Andrea Weber from CEU Austria opened the workshop with a presentation considering the relative scarcity of women at the top of the earnings distribution, looking at the effect on an Italian reform mandating gender quotas in limited liability firms. The authors found that compliance with this reform increased most strongly for firms with no existing women on their boards, and that the share of women in the top quartile of within-firm earnings did not change in listed firms (compared to non-listed firms, who were not legally affected by this reform).

One factor that has increasingly received attention in research on the gender pay gap is the role played by occupational sorting – that is, men and women working in occupations that pay differently (Pan and Cortes, 2018). Specifically, Claudia Goldin’s work on flexibility (2014) suggests that women are less likely to work in occupations that require long, non-routine hours of work. Chinhui Juhn from the University of Houston presented research that showed that as women face greater demands on their time from home and childcare responsibilities, they are less likely to work in highly paid occupations that are more cognitively demanding and that also require individuals to work long, non-routine hours in the US. As a result, there is a greater mismatch of skills and tasks required by occupations among women, contributing to the slowdown in gender pay convergence. Similarly, research presented by Melanie Wasserman from UCLA demonstrated that a reform that capped the maximum weekly hours worked in medical specialties in the US led to more women entering these specialties. This narrowed the pay gap among medics because specialties with higher time demands also tended to be more highly paid.

Abi Adams-Prassl from Oxford presented research expanding on this theme in an online, hypothetically ‘gender-blind’ setting. Using data on online task completion from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform, she found that while men and women did not systematically select different types of tasks or have different levels of expertise in completing tasks, women ended up earning about 20% less per hour on average. About half of this gap was explained by women being less likely to work continuously on tasks, or slower to complete tasks, with a follow up survey indicating that this gender gap in productivity was driven by women with children, especially children under five. Roland Rathelot from the University of Warwick presented research that showed that some of the gender gap could be explained by gender differences in job search behaviour, as women were likely to click on more job advertisements than men, but were less likely to apply, and applied to jobs that paid less and were closer to home than men, highlighting the higher value they placed on flexibility. Basit Zafar presented research that showed that men and women systematically differ in their beliefs about their own academic abilities and their choices to specialise in different academic areas, and that receiving feedback about their performance in tasks related to these abilities did not close the gender gaps in these beliefs.

Johanna Rickne from Stockholm University presented a study of how sexual harassment prevalence in workplaces affected gender inequality es, finding that workers of both genders were likely to report more harassment in workplaces dominated by the other gender. Furthermore, women faced a higher risk of harassment in highly-paid workplaces (which are dominated by men), whereas men were more likely to suffer harassment in low-paid workplaces, with harassment prompting workplace turnover solely for women, reinforcing patterns of gender segregation and gender pay inequality across workplaces. Martha Bailey from UCLA presented research evaluating the effectiveness of equal pay legislation of 1963 in reducing the gender pay gap in the US, finding that while there was no change in the median gender pay gap, there was significant convergence below the median, where the gap between men’s and women’s wages was larger in the 1960s. At the same time, she identifies a shift in employment and hours patterns that slowed convergence.

Fan Wang from the University of Houston presented research set in Mexico that showed that contrary to patterns in richer economies, the gender wage gap has narrowed for the highest earners in Mexico since the 1990s, and increased for lower paid workers. The authors argue that this pattern is driven by greater substitutability between men and women in occupations that are more intensive in abstract tasks, which are also higher paid occupations. In these occupations, they find that increases in labour demand for women fully counteracted the downward pressure on wages exerted by increases in female labour supply. Patricia Cortes from Boston University presented research that considered the effects of automation on occupational segregation and gender differences in skill investments between 1980 and 2017 in the US, finding that women were more likely to work in occupations at risk of being automated than men were in 1980, and that women were also more likely than men to leave these occupations for high-skilled professional or technical occupations between 1980 and 2017. Thus women were more likely to be displaced by automation, and reacted more strongly to this threat. Taking a more international perspective, Barbara Petrongolo from the University of Oxford discussed the long-run rising trends in female labour force participation in the context of the reallocation of labour allocation across the goods, services, and home sectors, suggesting that uneven growth in productivity across the sectors explained much of women’s increased hours of work and gender differences in labour force participation across sectors, due to gendered specialisation across the sectors.

In the final presentation, Alessandra Voena from Stanford University presented research that showed that a US policy reform that limited the number of years for which individuals could receive government welfare payments raised employment for single mothers and reduced divorce, as low earning women in particular increasingly chose to work in anticipation of requiring benefits in the future and potentially not being able to make use of them if they were no longer eligible to do so.

The workshop closed with a panel discussion chaired by Marco Francesconi which discussed various aspects to be considered by policymakers when making decisions that would affect women’s labour market outcomes. Jane Millar from the University of Bath briefly outlined the gendered implications of policy design targeting individuals versus families, with means tested support design often not conducive to women’s work. Monika Quessier from OECD Paris highlighted concerns related to the impact of COVID-19 on gender inequality in the labour market and the potential for the recovery process to alleviate some of this inequality. Almundena Sevilla from UCL spoke about gender inequality in the academic profession, and specifically in economics, highlighting how gender gaps have declined possibly due to initiatives such as Athena SWAN but data suggests that issues such as harassment may be more prevalent than previously understood. Kathleen Beegle from the World Bank closed out the discussion by focusing on gender inequality in the labour market in low and middle-income countries in areas such as education and childcare, as discussed in previous presentations, as well as the potential policy implications for addressing gender gaps in these areas.


Bailey, Martha J., & DiPrete, Thomas A. (2016). Five Decades of Remarkable but Slowing Change in U.S. Women’s Economic and Social Status and Political Participation. The Russell Sage Foundation Journal of the Social Sciences, 2(4), 1–32. Bertrand, Marianne. (2018). Coase Lecture – The Glass Ceiling. Economica, 85(338), 205–231. Blau, Francine D., & Kahn, Lawrence M. (2017). The Gender Wage Gap: Extent, Trends, and Explanations. Journal of Economic Literature, 55(3), 789–865. Goldin, Claudia. (2014). A Grand Gender Convergence: Its Last Chapter. American Economic Review, 104(4), 1091–1119. Pan, Jessica, & Cortes, Patricia. (2018). Occupation and Gender. In S. L. Averett, L. M. Argys, & S. D. Hoffman (Eds.), Oxford Handbook on the Economics of Women. New York: Oxford University Press.