Productivity and the PP

Last month, global leaders from governments, private sector companies, trade unions and civil society pledged to take concrete action towards closing the gender pay gap by 2030. The global commitments – to ensure women in every sector of the workforce are paid equally to men for doing work of equal value – were made at the Equal Pay International Coalition (EPIC) Pledging event held during the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

As part of the rationale for the initiative, Secretary-General of the OECD, Angel Gurría, said, “Gender pay gaps are not only unfair for those who suffer them, but they are also detrimental to our economies. If you do not have equal pay productivity suffers, competitiveness suffers and the economy at large suffers.”

As an ex-staffer at OECD I’m glad to see the organisation taking a lead on this, and I admire the SG’s energetic and articulate advocacy on many issues.  I  believe strongly that he’s right on the link with productivity.  There is an intriguing question, however, about the actual evidence for the link.

I attended a recent Resolution Foundation conference on the future of work.  As usual with the RF, it was packed with crisp, no-nonsense and heavily empirical presentations.  In his introduction, the RF director, Torsten Bell, identified productivity as crucial.  Subsequent inputs by the likes of Stephen Clark and Paul Gregg illuminated the extent of underemployment.  700,000 people want to work more hours.  Apart from this quantitative measure of underemployment, we know that many people, especially women, report underemployment in the sense of underutilisation (see previous blog).   But when a member of the audience – not me – asked whether the productivity issue could be analysed by gender I was really surprised to hear from the Bank of England speaker, Will Abel, that this could not be done, because data on productivity is gathered by firm, and so there is no national picture.

I was sufficiently surprised to get in touch with the RF boffins, who responded very speedily and helpfully, but confirming the difficulty of making the link.  It cannot be done in an aggregate way using national, regional or firm level data, but would require more in-depth granular analysis.

So there’s a challenge.  The PP-derived hypothesis – that women’s competences are under-recognised – is a priori highly relevant to the productivity issue, which everyone agrees is central.  But we don’t seem to have direct evidence on it.

The UK has a particularly pressing productivity problem, whereas the Paula Principle applies across all OECD countries – ie in all countries women outperform men educationally but are under-rewarded for their skills and qualifications.  So comparative evidence on this would be very interesting indeed.

Can anyone help, please?

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