Gender equality is accepted as being good for women, but what about its benefits to the economy?
That’s the finding of a new study by McKinsey Global Institute and represents the largest potential percentage increase of any region or nation surveyed.
The reason: India’s huge female population and how unequal it is to men right now.
India, home to 612 million females, is described by McKinsey as having “extremely high” gender inequality.
It scores 0.48 out of 1 on the consulting firm’s gender parity index, which takes into account women’s participation in the labor market, representation in politics, legal rights and equity in access to education, among other things.
Women make up only 24% of India’s labor force compared with 40% on average worldwide. “Getting more of them into the workforce would generate more output,” for the economy said Anu Madgavkar, an author on the report.
A separate report published this week by the Asian Development Bank titled “Enabling Women, Energizing Asia” said that employing women in the workforce appears to greatly raise the chances of high economic growth.
“Asia-Pacific loses an estimated $89 billion in income every year because women are underrepresented in the workforce,” the ADB report said. “It would be a huge missed opportunity for developing Asia if its women were not fully enabled to participate in the workforce.”
The McKinsey report acknowledges that attaining absolute gender parity in the next 10 years is wishful thinking, but if India were to make women equal to men in that time, the world’s largest democracy could add 60% or $2.9 trillion to the size of its economy.
In a more realistic scenario, where India matches the equality gains made by women in the best-performing countries in its neighborhood, the South Asian nation could by 2025 add $700 billion to its GDP, an increase of 16%, according to the report.
“It’s an aspiration or expression of potential but we feel it is legitimate because different countries have done it on different measures, it’s not impossible,” said Ms. Madgavkar.
One big barrier in India, as elsewhere in the world to varying degrees, is a deep-seated attitude about the traditional roles men and women should play.
The authors of the McKinsey report analyzed responses to the world values survey that includes questions like “If a mother works for pay her children suffer, do you agree or not agree?” A very high proportion of women and men respondents in India agreed, the authors said. Significantly, 71% of women agreed with that statement in India. By comparison, in Australia, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, South Korea, Spain and Sweden, an average of 29% of men and women agreed with that statement.
Evidence gathered in the ADB report however finds that children whose mothers have complex responsible jobs perform better in verbal, math and reading tests. Working mothers spend on average 19 hours with their children, compared with 22 hours for mothers who work in the home because housework is so “consuming and tiring,” it added.
The ADB report also said that women often cite family responsibilities, including housework and caring for the elderly and children, as barriers to joining the workforce. If men were to take a more equitable role in household tasks, women would have more freedom to take on paid work and greater financial independence, both reports find.
The gender chore gap, or the difference between the amount of time women and men spend on housework and unpaid care giving, is widest in India, the McKinsey report found. Indian men spend an average of 53 minutes a day on unpaid work in the home, compared with women in India who spend 249 minutes on such tasks.