Wage Employment

Women are under-represented in wage and salaried employment in low- and lower-middle- income countries. For very poor women who lack the basic assets or tools needed to be self-employed, reasonably paid wage labor outside of the home is often a preferred job option. The key, however, is expanding access to decent, non-exploitative jobs that are fairly compensated.

This is easier said than done. Occupational sex segregation and gender discrimination in the labor market, evident in both developing and industrial labor markets, mean that women tend to be in lower-paid occupations, and they are often paid less than men within the same occupational category.

Summary of Lessons

Many of the programs that have been evaluated have been put in place by governments to cope with high unemployment rates in times of economic crises or transitions, called active labor market programs. The programs usually focus on job search assistance, skills training, internships with companies and wage subsidies, including job vouchers that incentivize the firm to hire a worker it otherwise might not. These programs increase employment rates for adult women, sometimes more so than for adult men, but they do not increase wage rates.

Childcare programs have been implemented specifically to increase the supply of female workers in the economy on the assumption that a lack of affordable childcare prevents women from entering the workforce. Access to childcare is proven to increase women’s wage employment and earnings; however childcare programs must be designed to ensure quality, affordability and cost effectiveness.

In Guatemala City and rural Colombia, increased availability of childcare led to positive effects on the nutrition and development of young children participating, as well as increases in female employment.

Research Commissions


  • How to Improve Women’s Employability and Quality of Work in Developing and Transition Economies

    Petra Todd Full Commission
  • Case Studies and Best Practice Research on Empowering Women through Clean Cookstoves Projects in Bangladesh

    Nepal Chandra Dey