Despite the numerous steps taken by governments in Sub-Saharan Africa in recent years to foster gender equality and enhance women’s economic empowerment, gender inequality remains pervasive in the region. Gender inequality is known to adversely affect growth through both productivity and allocative efficiency channels [World Bank (2012)]. In Sub-Saharan Africa gender inequality has most notably been illustrated by the overrepresentation of women in the informal sector. In practice, this takes the form of differential wage rates, differential access to wage employment and occupational job segregation in the formal economy [Esteve-Volart (2004), Fofack (2012)].
In the predominantly agrarian and primary production system underpinning most African economies, the last two variants of gender inequality have come in the form of gender division of labor in subsistence agriculture and gender bias in the export and resource extraction sectors. While in most other regions of the world, especially in advanced economies, the above forms of gender inequality are primarily attributed to traditional norms and cultural beliefs, the sources of gender inequality in Africa can be classified into two broad categories: the stickiness of traditional norms and resilience of colonial constructs [Akyeampong and Fofack (2012a)].
The literature on gender and development has emphasized the former in Sub-Saharan Africa (hereafter SSA), even though in some countries the resilience of colonial constructs may have reinforced and even enhanced the stickiness of traditional norms [Akyeampong and Fofack (2012a)]. Colonial policies encouraged market over non-market production, and in the process codified the roles of women in societies, confining their contribution in the economic sphere to home production. The emergence of the home production and wage employment dichotomy, as well as the distinction between subsistence agriculture and export crops and resources extraction, are some of the most important characteristics and consequences of the colonial construction which are still visible in the production pattern in SSA.
Traditional norms and colonial constructs, both of which defined the gender production parameters in pre-colonial and colonial times, have persisted into the post-independence era by virtue of their stickiness. Some of these gender norms have nonetheless been subject to changes over time [World Bank (2012), Akyeampong and Fofack (2012b)]. This is most notably illustrated by increased occupational mobility and women’s contribution to aggregate output expansion outside the realm of household production, and reduction of educational gender gaps.
This paper draws on an expanded growth accounting framework to estimate the relative contribution of women to growth in SSA over the last few decades. To our knowledge, this is the first empirical analysis which attempts to quantify the relative contribution of women to growth in SSA from a growth accounting framework.
Although the gender equality argument is predicated on the assumption that women’s economic empowerment is good for economic development, neither the scale of their relative contribution to growth nor the dynamics of change in that relative contribution are known. Rather, most empirical studies on gender and growth have focused on the identification of gender-related determinants of growth [Dollar and Gatti (1999), Balliamoune-Lutz and McGillivray (2009)].
Empirical results show that the relative contribution of women to growth in the region is positive, both during economic downturns and growth spurts. Women’s total contribution to aggregate growth exceeds one full percentage point in several countries. The positive contribution is largely attributed to the increased labor force participation rate of women and productivity enhancement through human capital accumulation, especially following the narrowing of educational gender gap. Five-year trending estimated averages show that the relative contribution remains positive from the period of large output contraction in the 1980s to the post-HIPC growth rebounds.
Empirical results also highlight important variations across countries, with statistically significant colonial effects. On average the contribution of women to growth is higher in former British colonies than among former French colonies. However, the stronger performance of English-speaking countries is achieved at the crest of a rapid reduction in the educational gender gap and a much stronger and robust economic growth, suggesting that a reverse causality may also be at play (whereby the process of loosening traditional norms and colonial constructs may also be partly driven by changes along the growth path).
At the same time, attempts to take women’s contribution to growth and economic development fully into account may be constrained by measurement problems, particularly the absence of valuation of home-produced goods and informal sector production, though this is not specific to SSA.
Despite the changing nature of traditional norms and colonial constructs, the bulk of women’s contribution to growth in the region remains in home and informal sector production, which are not always fully accounted for in national income and product accounts. As such average contributions of women to growth from the framework may be underestimated [Landefeld and McCulla (2000)].
The rest of the paper is organized as follows.
Section 2 provides an overview of gender inequality and growth dynamics in the region, with emphasis on colonial constructs and social norms which shaped gender production in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Section 3 proposes a gender-based growth accounting framework for estimating the relative contribution of women to growth.
Section 4 discusses empirical results and main findings.
Section 5 concludes and discusses policy implications.
- Introduction to: Accounting for gender production from a growth accounting framework in Sub-Saharan Africa, World Bank Policy Research Working Paper WPS6153, 2012/08/01. The 33 page report can be accessed here.