Ideas to Action:

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Views from the Center


We’ve just put up a new working paper on gender laws, values, and outcomes worldwide. It looks at the correlates with attitudes towards women in education, the work place and politics, and links those attitudes to the legal status of women, as well as outcomes—including labor force participation, college enrollment, and the percentage of women in parliament.

Among the results:

  • Individuals can have very different views about equality in schooling compared to political equality or equality in the labor force, and there’s considerable variance within countries on these questions. Most variation in attitudes is not correlated with standard demographic variables. Beware assuming broad national gender norms or stereotypes explain all.
  • Attitudes towards education (the equal importance of university for boys and girls) are more progressive than attitudes to business and politics. That’s reflected in outcomes—where education is close to gender parity while business and politics remain unequal.
  • Moving ahead 50 years changes the average response worldwide by between 8 and 18 percent of the way between 100 percent opposition to gender equality to 100 percent support, depending on the question. At present rates of progress, perhaps by 2100 nearly everyone planet-wide will agree that women are as good business and political leaders as men.
  • With the above caveats, younger people are more in favor of gender equality. So are women. All else equal, men aged 20 have about the same attitudes towards gender equality as women aged 70.
  • Individual income and education as well as national average income and education are associated with more positive attitudes towards equality. That said, faster growing countries do not see more rapidly improving norms.
  • Unsurprisingly, laws favoring gender equality, values, and equality of outcomes are all strongly correlated. Previous literature and this paper suggests working to change both laws and values can work to improve outcomes. And there is a space for international agreements like the Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) to foster legal change that improves outcomes.

The pessimist will look at the paper’s results and see that progress is slow, halting, and can reverse. The optimist will see that the trend around norms is in the right direction and that outcomes can be improved by legal change. Either way, there is still a considerable global agenda to improve all three of these interlinked components—attitudes, laws, and outcomes, particularly in the marketplace—and no time like right now to start.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.