Better jobs for women Long hours, low wages: Education, equality benefits households of female workers.

August 21, 1996

THE TIME when women's work was in the home is long past in this country, and the same trend holds true around the world.

According to a new report from the International Labor Organization, by the year 2000, women will participate in the labor force in about the same percentage as men in many industrialized countries.

In developing countries, where few women have the luxury of leisure, female workers will make up about one-third of the formal labor force by then.

Considering their household responsibilities, women in most countries work longer hours. In industrialized countries, women work at least two hours more per week than men, sometimes up to 10 hours more. In poorer countries, women spend up to 42 hours per week in unpaid work in the home, while men spend only between five and 15 hours in unpaid chores around the house.

And not surprisingly, women's paychecks are smaller. Worldwide, women's wages fall somewhere between 50 and 80 percent of the wages paid to male workers.

The low wages paid to women workers feed a vicious cycle in which girls are given less schooling and, consequently, have to seek out lower-paying jobs. Despite their hard work, their low wages keep their families mired in poverty, reducing the chances that their own daughters can seek a better education.

Educating young girls is one of the best investments a country can make. Each additional year of schooling can raise a woman's earnings by about 15 percent, compared with 11 percent for males. Better schooling also reduces fertility rates by 5 to 10 percent and helps avoid 43 infant deaths for every 1,000 educated girls.

The problems of women workers -- from being ghettoized in certain kinds of jobs to paychecks that do not reflect the comparable value of their work -- vary only in degree around the world. But women are an increasingly important part of the global work force and significant sources of household income. Paying attention to their concerns can produce big benefits for families, and for countries.

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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