COPE Conference on Wealth inequalities: measurement and policies

Delivered 26-04-2018

Traditional growth models are not working. Although growth has return in all major regions of the world since the 2008 financial crisis – it has not translated into significant improvements in most people’s lives.

Median wages and living standards continue to stagnate, wages have become decoupled from productivity growth, and meanwhile corporate profits are at record highs in many countries.

People are angry because they still see massive income and wealth gains going to the already very wealthy. This anger is being fuelled by increasing transparency in some cases – we can think of the Panama and Paradise Papers – and also by less benign forces: we’re witnessing the return of populism and spread of misinformation in many places.

This anger is understandable – as inequalities continue to rise, and social discontent with the established political and economic order becomes more widespread, it has never been more important to further our evidence-based work on wealth inequalities and how they affect our societies.

I hope that today we will learn more about why and how such significant wealth inequalities continue to rise, and what we can do about it.

Before Sir John’s speech I would like to set the scene with some of the work the OECD has been doing on inclusive growth and wealth inequalities.

We launched our Inclusive Growth Initiative in 2012 as part of our broader response to the 2008 crisis, and a reappraisal of our entire approach to policymaking called New Approaches to Economic Challenges. This was borne from the reflection that traditional growth models failed to deliver broad-based prosperity for everyone and has failed to deliver sustainable growth within ecological limits.

The IG’s remit is to help governments tackle rising inequalities and provide them with integrated policy packages that address growth and inclusiveness simultaneously. The Initiative has seen several significant successes to date, including the establishment of COPE (the Centre for Opportunities and Equality), the launch of our Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth, extending the OECD’s research on the productivity-inclusiveness nexus, contributing to the policy recommendations of several multi-lateral fora (such as the G7, G20 and APEC) and influencing many governments’ national IG strategies, such as Canada, Scotland or Italy.

Part of this work is coordinating the research the OECD is doing on inequalities. We have done great work on the statistics side, on issues relating to employment and social policy, on tax policy, and we have produced some fascinating work on wealth inequalities in recent years. And understanding wealth inequality is crucial for our inclusive growth initiative.

We have all heard about the rapid rise in income inequality in recent years. But what’s more troubling is the concentration of wealth at the very top of the distribution.

OECD data indicates that wealth inequality has grown over recent decades, with the richest 10% in the OECD owning around half of all household assets, whilst the bottom 40% owns barely 3%. At the very top of the distribution, the top 1% holds a staggering 19% of total wealth.[1]

For the top quintile of the distribution, financial assets and property make up the biggest shares of their portfolios. Financial assets are particularly important in the Anglophone world.

And what’s interesting is that financial assets are much more unequally distributed than non-financial ones. Across the 28 OECD countries covered by our Wealth Distribution Database, households in the top quintile have on average financial wealth around 72 times that of those in the bottom quintile, compared with around 23 times for real-estate wealth.[2]

OECD research highlights three key mechanisms through which finance contributes to inequalities:

  • finance workers are concentrated at the very top of the income distribution and earn premiums unlinked to their productivity compared with their peers in other sectors;
  • high earners can and do borrow more so the majority of credit goes to high earners;
  • and most of the benefits of stock market expansion goes to affluent households who are able to invest in equities

There is also a strong relationship between home ownership – or lack of – and wealth inequality. We see that generally, high levels of home ownership are linked to low levels of wealth inequality, but the opposite is true when home purchases are highly leveraged through mortgages – lower house prices following purchase can lead to a large number of households experiencing negative equity, thus contributing to higher levels of wealth inequality.

The US, the Netherlands and Denmark are the three countries with the highest levels of wealth inequality and have among the lowest shares of households owning their home outright.

The issue of home ownership is particularly critical in countries where access to quality and affordable housing is limited. As you can see in the graph, many households in OECD countries are overburdened by housing costs.

The median housing cost burden for mortgage payers is about 18% of disposable income and 23% for tenants. The cost burden is much higher for low-income households, on average by more than one-third of disposable income.

Housing conditions, the neighbourhood and environment affect the quality of people’s lives, particularly children’s, and fundamentally influence our capacity to develop as happy, healthy, productive individuals.

Housing and its associated costs is also important for understanding the limited mobility of labour in some countries – this has knock on effects for the productivity of certain regions and firms.

Furthering our research on the interrelationship between housing, wealth inequality and inclusive growth is therefore one of the top priorities for the OECD.

Let me outline briefly what the OECD is doing to help government redress wealth inequalities and promote inclusive growth.

We are working on a Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth. This aims to guide countries on how to design and implement policy packages to improve their performance on a number of key inclusive growth outcomes.

The Framework is underpinned by a dashboard of indicators that diagnoses key inclusive growth trends and challenges for countries and includes a policy mapping exercise that builds on various OECD strategies, such as the Jobs Strategy, Skills Strategy, Innovation Strategy, Growth Strategy and Digital Strategy.

This Framework aims to better sustain and share the benefits of growth by promoting dynamics in a couple of key areas including:

  • enabling strong, inclusive markets that prepare people and firms for the future of work by promoting inclusive labour markets, updating social protection systems and boosting productivity growth and business dynamism;
  • establishing equal opportunities for all by investing in lifelong learning, promoting regional catching up and investing in communities’ well-being and social capital;
  • and re-building trust in government by embedding inclusiveness in policy-making and using data and digital technologies to design citizen-centred policies.

Tax is an important part of the Framework and a policy area where many governments have scope for tax reforms to reconcile growth and inclusiveness. They can do this by broadening tax bases, eliminating loopholes, especially those that mostly benefit wealthier individuals, and by relying more on revenues from immovable property and inheritance taxes.

OECD research has found that recurrent taxes on property are among the least detrimental to growth and are difficult to evade due to the immobility of the assets.

Recurrent taxes on property are also a more efficient alternative to transaction taxes on property, as they do not discourage labour mobility and are less sensitive to macroeconomic volatility, and volatility in the housing market.

Recurrent taxes on immovable property are also progressive, as those with high levels of income are more likely to have more housing wealth.

The inclusive growth agenda, particularly regarding taxation, goes beyond national borders, however. And so of course we should continue to make progress on limiting tax avoidance by wealthy individuals through the use of offshore tax havens and that of multinationals through BEPS and Automatic Exchange of Tax Information.

We will finalise the IG Framework for the OECD’s Ministerial Council Meeting at the end of May. We need to continue to strengthen our research on the drivers of wealth inequalities and provide governments with high-quality policy recommendations to tackle such inequalities. Part of this agenda is the development of national inclusive growth country studies, to help governments design and implement inclusive growth policy reforms.

Let me conclude by reiterating the importance of our work on this topic and on inclusive growth more generally – it is not an easy time to pursue the work we are doing, and we are facing resistance in many places. But that makes our work, and the research being presented by all of you today, even more crucial and I look forward to continuing to push this agenda forward with all of you.

Thank you.


[1] OECD (2015), In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All, OECD Publishing, Paris,




Regional Meeting: Economic Reform Programmes for South East Europe

Delivered 24-04-2018

We are pleased to be working hand in hand with you on these Programmes to strengthen their transformative power, and assist you in aligning better and faster with OECD and EU good practices.

These Programmes are key drivers of change. And they require a coalition for reforms, which has been brought together by the European Commission and economies from the region. They chart macro-economic and fiscal policy frameworks and set reform agendas for the well-being of the citizens of South East Europe.

And to make these Programmes as effective as possible, we have built on a long cooperation – the OECD has had a presence in the region for nearly twenty years. So the OECD South East Europe regional programme – launched in 1999 – is uniquely placed to support partners in the Western Balkans and Turkey in preparing their annual Economic Reform Programmes.

To support policy makers in this process, the South East Europe programme has distilled OECD expertise and knowledge on the region by developing a Toolkit with practical guidance. It is based on a transparent and inclusive approach involving policy makers, business sector experts, academics and other stakeholders in developing the Economic Reform Programmes.

The Economic Reform Programmes exercise is an example of how our co-operation can bring about change to make an impact.

The OECD’s work with partners has helped to strengthen institutional capacities of government officials in the region. It has also led to the emergence of a “new approach” to reforms across South East Europe, which prioritises economic, social impact and stakeholder involvement over top-down decision-making.

Together we have made decisive steps to implement structural reforms, such as efforts to ease access to finance for SMEs; fight the informal economy; better align education and the labour market; and ensure that vulnerable group – including minorities – benefit from equal opportunities.

And this is important because, in the broader context, we are seeing renewed growth everywhere, including across the Western Balkans; growth is forecast to rebound to 3.2% in 2018 and 3.5% by 2019, creating new job opportunities across the region. But this should not distract us from the challenges lying ahead.

I’m referring to the major, global trends that need to be addressed, such as climate change, changing demography and a rapidly ageing population, the high levels of inequalities of wealth, income and of opportunities, and of course the acceleration of digital, the long-term effects of which are still largely unknown. We also need to deliver on the SDGs.

Added to this are the regional challenges, and the need to tackle two key obstacles to economic performance: declining productivity growth and rising inequality – two challenges, which also plague most OECD economies.

If the region is to lock in progress, foster productivity, and increase growth – which I have to emphasise must be inclusive and must be green – then the power of structural reforms needs to be fully harnessed.

This means that the work on the Economic Reform Programmes needs to be intensified.

And in this respect, the comprehensive nature of your Economic Reform Programmes and the focus on coherent, multidimensional approaches can help.

After the economic crisis, the OECD launched the New Approaches to Economic Challenges initiative, to look at economic policy-making in a fundamentally different way.

In this context, our Productivity-Inclusiveness Nexus highlights the need to break up traditional policy silos, to pursue reforms and institutional capacity building, to encourage a coherent policy making.

This is also what your Economic Reform Programmes aim to achieve. This is why, in our co-operation, we have taken inspiration from these OECD initiatives, but also from our horizontal work on Green Growth, Innovation, Skills and Better Lives.

At the OECD, we advocate putting the person at the centre of public policy. And our Inclusive Growth Initiative looks into investing more and better in improving people’s potential and leaving no one behind, including women and youth enhances the economy’s growth potential and deliver tangible results.

There has been too much of a focus on economic growth at all costs, and then redistributing the benefits later. But that doesn’t work.

The benefits haven’t trickled down to most of the population and what we’re seeing is that there is a bottom 40% that is becoming left behind.

We have to consider ex-ante inclusive policies to ensure that growth is even and benefits everyone. And in the Balkans, it’s important to bear this in mind.

The OECD South East Europe Competitiveness Outlook

This morning, the Secretary-General launched the 2018 edition of the OECD South East Europe Competitiveness Outlook.

This impressive policy assessment[1]  – which is one of the most comprehensive policy benchmarking exercises for the 6 Western Balkan economies – shows that the challenges are serious and cross-cutting.

Our analysis shows that it’s necessary to improve policy design, reform labour markets and promote innovation in the region.

For example, addressing the persistently high levels of youth unemployment of 37.6%[2] in the Balkans is crucial. Having policies that help young people into work will enable them to also have a share of the growing pie. We’re seeing talented young people leave the Balkans to seek opportunities abroad, which aggravates the region’s demographic challenge. In fact, the Western Balkan population is ageing and shrinking with a median age of the region 8.7 years above the world average.[3] This may severely impact human capital formation, competitiveness and economic convergence.

Economic Reform Programmes need to support an imminent pick-up in the pace of reforms.

Countries implementing bold reforms prove to be more resilient and successful in achieving their policy objectives in OECD and non OECD members.  For example, Japan has introduced significant reforms in access to childcare services; Greece – where I was last week to discuss education reforms – is undertaking reforms in competition law, regulatory policy and administration; Slovenia is taking reforms to promote its 2030 Economic Development Strategy, or Argentina, which is undertaking comprehensive tax reforms.[4]

My home country – Mexico – has begun to implement the most ambitious reform package in the OECD, including labour, telecommunications, competition, education, financial, fiscal and energy reforms. These reforms address challenges that have remained unresolved for decades and have required a historic Pact for Mexico, involving all key stakeholders.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Structural reforms play a crucial role for economic growth and resilience. We, at the OECD, are more than ever committed to supporting you in fostering reforms in favour of competitiveness, stability and shared prosperity leaving no-one behind.

Let’s keep the well-being of citizens at the core of the Economic Reform Programmes in order to lift living standards and bring about lasting progress in the region.

I wish you an inspiring discussion.

Thank you.

[1] The SEE Competitiveness Outlook is unique insofar it is one of the (if not the) most comprehensive policy benchmarking exercises for the 6 Western Balkan economies, focusing on 17 policy areas.

[2] The World Bank, Western Balkans Labor Market Trends: 2018,

[3] Bruegel, The Western Balkans on the road to the European Union, Policy Contribution, Issue n˚04 | February 2018,

4The European Commission adopted a Strategy for the Western Balkans on 6 February 2018. It provides a credible enlargement perspective for the EU with the region,

[4] Based on “Going for Growth”, “Getting it Right” (Mexico).

Growth has returned since the global financial crisis, how can it be made more inclusive?

Delivered 04-04-2018 London, UK

Inclusive Growth

Inclusive Growth


In our last Economic Outlook, for the first time in many years we confirmed that the global recovery is broadly based, and has by last reached the growth level that we attained before the crisis. This is good news, but should not led to complacency as the major challenges of increased inequalities an sustainability are here to stay. Besides, the rapid decline in unemployment in recent months has not translated yet into significant and broadly-based wage and well-being gains for workers.

The scale of the challenge is huge, as after rising rapidly in 80s and 90s, inequalities have worsened in the aftermath of the financial crisis as market incomes mainly went to the rich and redistribution weakened or stagnated in most OECD countries.

The top 10% in OECD countries now take home around 10 times the income of the bottom 10%, up from just 7 times 30 years ago.

Wealth inequalities are even more pronounced than income: the top 1% holds a staggering 19% of total wealth.[i] Material inequalities feed inequalities of opportunities and outcomes. Through all of our reports, we confirm that being born in the wrong neibourhood, could determine a lifecycle of deprivation.

And gender disparities remain a huge problem. Gender wage gaps, for example, have changed little since 2010 and remain substantial, averaging at 15% across the OECD in terms of the median monthly pay gap for full-time employees.[ii]

Our recent report Preventing Ageing Unequally shows that inequalities in education, employment, income and health build up from early ages and compound in old age. Children whose parents did not complete secondary school have only a 15% chance of making it to university – compared to a 60% chance for peers with at least one parent who had attained tertiary education.

More troubling still is the fact that the very same children at a disadvantage in the education system, connect if they do with lower quality jobs, with lower salaries, and may  most worryingly of all, to leave shorter lives.

A 25-year old university-educated man can expect to live almost 8 years longer than his lower-educated peer, on average across OECD countries..[iii] The trends are not receding, and the emergence of the digital revolution raises questions related to winner takes all dynamics. Redistribution systems have also become less effective.

There is also a strong regional component to these growing divides. In many countries, we have seen a rise in regional inequalities in terms of income and productivity but also in  many other dimensions, eg life expectancy, jobs and access to public services.


Here in the UK, this trend is worrisome, regional disparities are the highest across OECD regions, with productivity in London versus the rest of the regions diverging since the early 2000s. This regional divergence has is more pronounced than in other OECD countries. This is contributing to widening disparities in regional living standards and giving rise to “geographies of discontent”.

How can we redress these inequalities and promote inclusive growth?

To build an inclusive growth model we need first to move away from the old mantra of neoliberal economics that claimed that we need to “growth first, redistribute later”. We need models of inclusive growth that ensures not only that the benefits of growth is fairly shared, but that growth itself allows for everybody to participate and contribute.

This is not only a matter of equity. The OECD’s work on the Productivity-Inclusiveness Nexus shows that these two components are mutually reinforcing. Investing in human capital of children from low income families supports both growth and inclusiveness. Giving a fair chance to workers to have quality jobs do not only improve their living conditions, but boost demand, and reduces government spending to address social problems.

An inclusive growth agenda

More inclusive societies are also more resilient societies.

There are several interrelated parts to this agenda.

We must raise employment and strengthen social protection in the context of digitalisation and the changing nature of work, particularly for previously marginalised groups. Lots of efforts have already been made in this area, particularly in facilitating the labour market integration of women, youth and low-skilled workers. These efforts are paying off but in all these areas there is still much ground for improvement.

Consider first the role of skills development. Under current policies and institutions future advances in digital technologies and the expansion of knowledge-based capital are likely to further increase inequality through skill-biased technological change, accelerated job displacement and winner-takes-all dynamics. This at least needs to be considered as a serious risk.  Young people need to be prepared for the dynamic labour market of the future by acquiring strong cognitive and socio-emotional skills.

Indeed giving equal chances to all students to succeed would increase equity in education and improve long-term productivity. In the United Kingdom, family background is more important for an individual’s skill level than in most other OECD countries. Young people whose parents have low levels of educational attainment have the lowest level of basic skills proficiencies than in all other countries surveyed. Moreover, higher child poverty threatens to increase the number of children whose disadvantaged background affects their educational chances. Recent projections show that relative child poverty, after stalling since 2010, could increase from around 30% to about 35% by 2021-22.[iv]

Another response, likely to yield more rapid and inclusive results, is to devote much more attention to the significant share of workers who are either over- or under-skilled for their job. Addressing skills mismatch through better vocational education and training systems as well as adult or lifelong learning programmes is both a priority and a challenge for most countries.

There are many factors that underpin productivity growth and inclusiveness – and policies to take an holistic approach to unlock the potential of firms and people. These include quality and affordable health services, education and housing.

At the moment, the lack of affordable housing is a significant challenge for inclusive growth, particularly in the UK. The median housing cost burden for mortgage payers is about 18% of disposable income (around the OECD average) but 28% for tenants, five percentage points higher than the OECD average. The cost burden is much higher for low-income households, on average, by more than one-third of disposable income.

Reforms of housing market policies are therefore strongly needed, as well as urban planning policies and transportation policies that allow people to be highly mobile across places avoiding segregation and exclusion.

Consider next the role of businesses. Recent OECD analysis has shown that one way to achieve higher overall productivity is to promote stronger and faster diffusion of innovation from leading to lagging firms. But to catch up with industry leaders and make the most of new technologies and workers’ skills, lagging firms must be given incentives to make the necessary investment in R&D, new digital equipment and organisational know-how.

At the moment R&D spending and ownership of intellectual property is highly concentrated amongst leading firms. In 2012, among the world’s 2000 largest corporate R&D investors, the top 250 firms accounted for more than 70% of R&D and patents and 44% of trademarks amongst the group, whilst amongst the top 100 firms the top 5% of the accounted for 55% of that group’s R&D expenditure, 53% of patents and 30% of trademarks.[v]

Governments can help by improving the level and efficiency of public support for private R&D, particularly smaller firms, as well as by creating a strong eco-system, with sound collaboration between research centres (or universities) and industry.

We must also strengthen the effectiveness of redistribution through tax and transfer policies to ensure that the benefits from technological progress and globalisation are more broadly shared.

In fact, taxation is one area where governments in many countries have ample scope for tax reforms that can reconcile growth and inclusiveness by broadening tax bases, eliminating loopholes, not least those that mostly benefit better-off individuals, and by relying on revenues from immovable property and inheritance taxes. Internationally, progress continues to be made to limit tax avoidance by multinationals through the BEPS action plan elaborated under the auspices of the G20 and the OECD.

An opportunity for reforms that governments should not miss

These are all difficult challenges that need to be tackled in a context where political resentment has been on the rise. However, the return of higher global growth offers a window of opportunity to reinvigorate trust in the power of governments to make a positive difference in people’s lives. But to do so, we must make inclusive growth our priority.

To help governments do so the OECD will launch its Framework for Policy Action on Inclusive Growth at its Ministerial Council Meeting in May 2018. The Framework will provide governments with guidance on how to design and implement policy packages to tackle key inclusive growth challenges. This will build on other OECD initiatives in this area, such as the network of Champion Mayors for Inclusive Growth and the Business for Inclusive Growth platform, which you’ll hear more about tomorrow.

We’re looking forward to sharing more of our work with you, hearing about your experiences and what you’re doing in your own parliments to tackle these issues over the coming days.

Thank you.

[i] OECD (2015), In It Together: Why Less Inequality Benefits All, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[ii] OECD (2017), Bridging the Gap: Inclusive Growth 2017 Update Report, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[iii] OECD (2017), Preventing Ageing Unequally, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[iv] OECD (2017), OECD Economic Surveys: United Kingdom, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[v] OECD (2017), Bridging the Gap: Inclusive Growth 2017 Update Report, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Satyarthi Summit: Leaders & Laureates ‘Building a safe, educated and healthy childhood’

Delivered 26-03-2018

[..] The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, also known as the ‘house of best practices” is a proud partner of this Laureate and Leaders Summit, and of Kaylash Satyarthi. We are proud to  to join forces with our Inclusive Growth Initiative to ensure children well being across the world.

Children need safe, caring environment, and they need education. Children on the move should be prioritized, as their numbers continue to mount.  Last year, they reached 400,000 of children reaching OECD countries. One in four migrant or refugee is a child.   It is highly pertinent that this Summit is taking place in Jordan, which has received over 660,000 Syrian refugees, over half of which are children[1]. I would like to convey my deepest gratitude to His Majesty King Abdullah II ibn Al Hussein for his leadership on this crucial agenda

The current situation in Syria is unbearable: in the first two months of this year, 1,000 children were killed or injured. And 1.75 million children in Syria remain out of school, with many living without access to safe water, sanitation or food. Not being able to attend school marks their future in a dramatic way!

This should be a priority, although there are multiple barriers to learning.cess.. First and foremost is their mental, physical and health conditions.

I visited Gaziantep Refugee Center in Turkey and many small kids would spent months without speaking after what they have witnessed and lived. They have huge losses, including their homes, their language, their families, their peace. Teachers need to be well equipped to help them overcome their tragedies.

There are other important barriers like language, the biggest one; transportation; affordability, quality access, parental level of education. The age at which they arrive matters as after 12 years of age, learning gets more complicated. But the disadvantage starts early. Toddlers from disadvantaged families have hearing deficits of more than 30 million words!

There is also the pressure to start working to send remittances back home. And there is plain slavery, that Kailash has been fighting for so many years. All matters. 168 million children are trapped in child labour, accounting for 11% of overall child population, with more than half working in hazardous conditions.[2]

So what should be done to help children on the move have a safe, educated, and healthy childhood?

First, we need better data to identify and address children on the move needs. To upscale the effort, the OECD joined the UN and others[3] in a Call to Action that is part of the the Global Compact on Refugees.

Second, improving the integration of child migrants is vital, to ensure they belong, and increase their well being, as well as to tap the full benefit of migration  in receiving countries.  They need education, but within a comprehensive strategy that includes housing, health, housing, social welfare and migration services.  Many countries have successful programs and I invite you to look at Canada, Ireland, Sweden stands, as well as Germany.

Third, migrant students are often the victim of bullying and harassment which leads to depression, loneliness and low self-esteem. We should fight harassment, and teachers need to be trained to educate in values, including intercultural awareness, tolerance and respect for diversity. The OECD global competency framework is a tool in this domain.

Finally, besides integrated strategies we better tools to measure the effectiveness of policies.

I am glad now to report OECD actions from the last Summit:

First and foremost, we raised awareness about child slavery at the G20 Summit in Hamburgh. Secretary General Gurría asked leaders to support heroes like Kailash in their fight against slavery. The UK is particularly keen on this agenda.

Second, we launched in November the Child Well-Being Data Portal, which contains 50 indicators covering children’s home and family environment, health and safety, education, activities and life satisfaction.

In addition to that, we advanced our research on causes and drivers of child labour, and we will make it count at the G20.

We also developed due diligence guidance to help companies identify and tackle child labour in their  supply chains.

We will continue redoubling our efforts. We will continue to be a committed institution in this agenda. Count on the OECD!

[1] UNICEF, February 2018

[2]ILO (2015), World Report on Child Labour 2015: Paving the way to decent work for young people,–en/index.htm; Global Slavery Index (2016), Global Slavery Index Global Findings,

[3] UNICEF, UNHCR, IOM, Eurostat

Closing the Gender Gap – have we reached the tipping point?

Delivered 08-03-2017

Hello everybody, and welcome to the OECD’s series of events that we have called March on Gender, to mark International Women’s Day.

We like to celebrate and continue to increase awareness, but I am happy to say that gender issues are not issues for a day at the OECD. All year long we promote gender equality, in our member and partner countries, and inside the Organization. We even have guidelines not to have panels with men only (manels), although in this occasion I am so glad to have so many men to talk about gender.


Indeed, if there is progress in one area, this is the awareness that we have to make progress in this agenda. In fact, this year’s global theme for International Women’s Day is #Press for Progress.  But where are we?

The OECD Pursuit of Gender Equality: an Uphill Battle report shows that there’s further to go.

There has been progress in some areas, for example, education, where girls in OECD countries now out-perform boys and are reaching higher levels of education.

Gender gaps in employment have also narrowed although we continue to have 10 percentage points difference, and some countries like mine can reach 30.

We have made progress to bring this issue to the leaders agenda in the G20 and G7, and to establish a narrowing of the gap of labour force participation by “25 by 25” target – which the OECD helped establish at the 2014 Brisbane Summit.

Nowadays, gender is a crosscutting issue both in the G20 and in the G7, and we will be hearing from Prime Minster Trudeau’s personal appointee to the G7 Gender Equality Advisory Council on this afternoon.

But even if the will is there, it doesn’t translate into fast change.

Even with higher levels of education, girls are not well represented in rewarding disciplines like STEM, and in developing countries they are still lagging behind.

The digital revolution is also opening another possible divide, where girls are really lagging behind on ITC and women have very low representation in the ICT industry. Yes, maybe the new technologies will open opportunities that are more flexible, but they can also be linked to low quality jobs.

We still have a wage gap of 15% in OECD countries, and there are still many, many positions in senior management, public leadership and entrepreneurship that are unreachable for women. And it’s the private sector that is lagging behind.

In 2016, women made up only 4.8% of CEOs. Women has less access to finance, and to networks if they dare to become entrepreneurs. I would be interested to hear from Eric [Eric Labaye from McKinsey] about this. No wonder until last year, the Mexican Council of Businessmen was about that, only men.

Politics is better, but not much women held 28.7% of seats in lower houses of OECD Parliaments.  Progress has been slow in breaking the glass ceiling, or even of cleaning the sticky floor!

Some countries promote gender balance on company boards and affirmative action within public office – quotas are the only measures that seem to be effective, quickly.

And I know, quotas need to be carefully designed, but there are not great risks. Actually, my country has parity in the Federal Congress, and when the worried President of Congress told me that they were going to be full of incompetent women, I said that in many places we are full of incompetent men without quotas!

And then you have the really serious issue of violence against women; 35% of all women have experienced sexual violence. And this happen all over the world, but is a particularly difficult problem in developing countries with weak justice institutions, or with violent practices like genital mutilation, or early marriage. In Niger 3 in 4 girls are married before their 18th birthday.  36 countries do not have specific legislation to address sexual harassment. And yes, many girls are subject to exploitation and slavery.

That’s why we commend the initiative of the UK on Modern Slavery, or the leadership of people like Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi is doing to save hundreds of thousands of children from the slave trade. For our part, the OECD last month launched the Call to Action to protect migrant children.

 Analysis and solutions

So why are we not tipping over into gender equality yet? Notwithstanding progress in public awareness and policies in many countries, lack of equality has much to do with entrenched gender-bias in cultural patterns and institutions, beliefs and behaviours.

Cultural norms are especially strong in some developing countries, and this concern women and men.  For example, in Afghanistan, 80% of women believe domestic violence can be justified for some reasons.

These gender norms have enormous spillover effects into the rest of society, and purely economically speaking, they are costly: last year, the OECD estimated that discrimination in laws, attitudes and practices costs the global economy close to 12 trillion dollars[1].

And the cultures and norms define gender roles, both at work and at home. The sharing of caring responsibilities – of children and the elderly – is still seen as a woman’s role.

In OECD countries, women spend an average of over 1.5 hours per day on unpaid work; in Mexico it’s a staggering 4.5 hours per day.

Women’s careers are also more likely to be ‘non-linear’ and interrupted to care for family members.

These gender norms are everywhere – they’re confirmed in the home, at school and in the workplace. And they’re hard to treat – unconscious bias is strong.

Studies have shown that while 69% of people explicitly say they believe men and women are equally effective leaders, 55% of people implicitly associate leadership with men only.

And the media and social networks are not helping. Actually, in our PISA for well-being publication, we have found that pressure and cyberbullying is affecting boys and girls, but for girls it always related to their image, and to impossible role models that question their own lives. Girls at age 15 report 10 points less of life satisfaction than boys.

Of course we need better policies, parental leave for fathers, flexible working arrangements and good quality childcare to enable both parents to work. We need better education and encouragement of girls at school, we need gender blind textbooks and teachers that can deal with them, we need quotas in business and support for women entrepreneurs. But countries are doing a lot of this and we still have a gap.  So we need a culture change, and this is not only about women. It is about man and women that are conscious and respectful of human dignity and that build balance and caring societies. The same way we have stereotypes for women, we have it for men that has to be a warrior, compete with no mercy and work 18 hours a day. Besides, they cannot cry. Not a fantastic model.

Culture change for gender equality requires system change.  It is not only about women “leaning in” but as the Australian Ambassador to France said to me yesterday it’s about men “reaching out” and it’s about making a system that works for both – men and women.  This calls for sound policies, powerful role models and appropriate capacities and resources.

Let’s ask ourselves: how gender-sensitive are the policies that we are putting in place in all areas – from education to employment, from banking to housing?  Are they good for all, or only for certain groups of the population? How do we know?  Are our policies equally benefitting men and women?

We need to systematically adopt a gender lens across all policy-making and budget processes, and ensure sufficient resources, capacity and political will to see how men and women are impacted differently by our policies and systems.

This is why today we are launching the OECD Toolkit for Mainstreaming and Implementing Gender Equality [hold up publication].

This toolkit will help governments, parliaments and judiciaries design gender-sensitive public policies and services, through self-assessment, and by helping them identify what works or what is missing. It’s full of examples of effective practices to support the implementation of policies and initiatives.

It considers that gender issues need to be cross cutting, and that it should be mainstream in all decisions. Five key actions are identified:

  1. Strategy –Gender Equality Strategies must be integrated into the overall national priorities or strategies.
  2. Roles and responsibilities – it needs to identified who is in charge of this agenda.
  3. Tools and data – policymakers need to know how to implement a gender lens, including through gender impact assessment.
  4. Accountability – policymakers need to know if what they’re doing is working.
  5. Parity – both men and women, from diverse background, need to be part of decision making, on an equal basis (50/50) – across the board – spanning all leadership roles.

I hope that this will help countries to bridge the implementation gap.

I know Canada will already be using it, and we’ll hear from Ambassador D’Auray shortly.


As I said at the beginning, we have made progress I am optimistic, and I believe we are reaching the tipping point: the younger generation is more gender progressive about women’s equal role in society, and there is evidence that attitudes are evolving with time.

Because this isn’t just about women; it’s about men, children and building more caring societies. This is why the OECD is pursuing an agenda of well-being and inclusive growth.

We are really putting the person – the women, men and children – at the centre of our policies.

Thank you

[1] Ferrant, G. and A. Kolev, (2016), “Does gender discrimination in social institutions matter for long-term growth? Cross-country evidence”, OECD Development Centre Working Papers No. 330, OECD, Paris,

Friends of Gender Equality

Delivered 08-03-2018 Paris, OECD

Friends of Gender Inaugural Breakfast

Ambassadors, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Welcome to the Inaugural Friends of Gender Equality Breakfast. I am delighted to see some of our best and most active Ambassadors, male and female, here to take this exciting initiative forward.

This Group is the latest chapter in a rich history of promoting gender equality at the OECD. Almost 40 years ago the OECD Declaration on Policies for the Employment of Women was adopted, by the Manpower Committee! When the OECD turned 50, it ensured gender was at the core of its mission.

The initial findings of the Gender Initiative were presented in 2011 for the 50th Anniversary Meeting of the OECD Council at Ministerial Level.

The OECD has pushed this agenda further in recent years with the adoption of the 2013 Recommendation on Gender Equality in the “three Es”, Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship. This was followed in 2015 by the OECD Recommendation on Gender Equality in Public Life. These clear and actionable guidelines provide tools to promote gender inclusiveness in policymaking at all levels of government.

In the private sector, the OECD/G20 Principles on Corporate Governance call for voluntary targets, disclosure requirements and boardroom quotas. The OECD’s Missing Entrepreneurs report looks at how to foster gender equality through better training and mentoring programmes.

We cannot overlook challenges and solutions that are specific to the developing world, which is why the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) Network on Gender Equality, GENDERNET provides leading data and analysis on development aid in support of gender equality and women’s rights.

The OECD is also working directly on this agenda with countries like mine, with the study Building an Inclusive Mexico: Policies and Good Governance for Gender Equality, and just last month we had a seminar with the Secretary-General and Minister Guajardo on promoting women’s entrepreneurship in Mexico. We also have a wonderful project called NiñaSTEM PUEDEN, to empower Mexican girls to pursue careers in STEM. I have seen the girls meet positive role models from the world of science and it is inspiring.

The OECD is also working very actively with specific regions like the Middle East and North Africa, where women’s empowerment is a key issue.

The MENA-OECD Governance Programme, including its Women in Government Platform, helps strengthen the capacity of public officials to design and implement gender-sensitive policy frameworks.

Last October, I was delighted to launch the Women’s Economic Empowerment Forum (WEEF) in Cairo with Her Excellency Sahar Nasr, Minister of International Co-operation and Minister of Investment of Egypt. These are important fruits of our work.

Across all countries the OECD is helping to identify global challenges, like supporting single mothers or preventing violence against women.

Shockingly, it is estimated that 35% of all women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual violence.[i] Over half of countries surveyed for the OECD’s 2017 report, The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Struggle, identified violence against women as their most urgent gender inequality issue.

We need ambitious new tools that put women’s equality at the heart of policymaking. Later this morning, I will be launching another path-breaking tool, the OECD Toolkit for Mainstreaming and Implementing Gender Equality, which provides guidelines to mainstream gender into policies, budgets and institutions.

This will be a roadmap to support countries, helping them identify what works or what is missing and how to bridge the implementation gap.

Here at the OECD we also have rules on gender balance in conferences and events – no “Manels” which other organisations are also copying. And we are currently exploring the possibility of leading an agreement between IOs to ensure gender balanced panels in conferences and seminars by 2021.

We need to keep pushing this agenda at the highest level, through the G20 and the W20 where we are key supporters.

The OECD was instrumental in getting the G20 to agree at Brisbane to a target to reduce the gender gap in labour force participation by 25% by 2025. I am delighted that both the Canadian G7 and the Argentinian G20 presidencies are also focusing on gender as a priority.

Just next week at the Commission on the Status of Women in New York, the OECD will be presenting its initial findings on bridging the digital gender divide, an agenda being led by Australia, and mandated by the German G20 Presidency’s Roadmap for Digitalisation.

The OECD has helped, its Members, G20 countries, in fact countries at all levels of development to build up a rich picture of where we stand and what we need to do.

All this OECD work has allowed the systematic documenting, measurement and comparison of gender outcomes and gaps.

The good news is that women are playing an ever greater role in our economies and labour markets.

It is estimated that greater educational attainment has accounted for about half of the economic growth in OECD countries in the past 50 years.[ii]

However, progress has not been fast or deep enough. Significant gaps remain in employment. In every country women are still less likely than men to engage in paid work.

The OECD has helped to track countries’ progress in reducing the gender gap in labour force participation.

What we see is that a lot remains to be done. Many countries are behind in achieving the 25×25 Gender Target. Between 2012 and 2016, the gap declined only by 0.8% on average in the OECD.[iii] In a few countries the gap actually rose.

What’s more the Uphill Battle report showed that when women do enter the labour force, they earn less and are more likely to work part-time.

The median full-time female worker earns almost 15% less than her male counterpart, on average, across the OECD – a rate that has changed little since 2010.[iv]

In 2014, part-time employment remained on average around two-and-a-half to three times more common among female employees than among male employees across the OECD.[v]

Women are also underrepresented in the high-growth areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

In OECD countries, women represent fewer than 1 in 4 new entrants to engineering degrees, and fewer than 1 in 5 to ICT degrees.[vi]

Unsurprisingly, men are four times more likely to be ICT specialists.[vii]

Women are also much less likely to be managers.

Women represent almost half the labour force but less than a third of managerial positions. (I am delighted that the OECD has tripled the number of women in senior management in the last decade.)

Women’s representation on boards is growing, but slowly.

In 2016 women occupied only one in five seats on the boards of publicly listed companies and held less than 5% of chief executive officer positions.[viii]

Women in OECD countries are also around half as likely as men to be entrepreneurs. Only 10% of working women in OECD countries are self-employed, compared to 17% of men.[ix]

All this while women remain over-represented in unpaid work. In OECD countries like Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Portugal and Turkey, women undertake more than three-quarters of all unpaid work.[x]

Women will not be free to participate equally in our economies unless these tasks are shared more equally!

The OECD’s Uphill Battle report has highlighted many policies that promote equality. These include dual parental leave; better access to childcare, including in early childhood; affirmative action and pay transparency policies; more flexibility; greater use of gender budgeting; and stronger laws and regulations on harassment and discrimination. We have seen with recent events and the Time’s Up campaign, that existing arrangements have failed to protect women.

An Uphill Battle identified some areas in which progress had been made. For example, in the last five years, around two-thirds of OECD countries have introduced pay transparency measures.[xi] In 2015, 25 OECD countries reported having introduced obligatory gender impact assessments when developing new legislation.[xii]

And almost half of OECD countries now report that they have introduced gender budgeting, are planning to introduce it, or are actively considering doing so. This is welcome progress.

But almost 40 years after the 1980 Recommendation, and almost ten years since the launch of the Gender Initiative, progress is too slow!

We have seen with the recent #MeToo and Time’s Up movement, that women are fed up with unfair conditions, demeaning stereotypes and being treated as objects, instead of equals. We have seen a new energy in the struggle for gender equality.

The OECD must also keep renewing its efforts, opening up new fronts in the battle for equality.

We know we should look into social and cultural institutions, formal and informal laws, as well as social norms and practices based on the OECD’s Social Institutions and Gender Index (SIGI).

We also need to look at stereotyping and the media.

When I launched the 2015 PISA Results on Student Well-Being last April, I was shocked to learn that on average across OECD countries, around 29% of girls but 39% of boys reported that they are very satisfied with their life.[xiii] This is a 10 percentage point difference!

We need more work to understand how gender stereotypes and pressures in the media are harming the self-confidence of girls. This affects STEM uptake, but it can also affect decision making in all areas of life and can even have serious consequences for mental health.

And these stereotypes are not just harming girls. Gender stereotypes affect boys and men too.  They certainly influence the reluctance of men to take family leave.

We have to think creatively, we have to rethink our approaches in the spirit of NAEC.

We have to look at advertising; at unconscious bias in textbooks and the role models we give to children in the media; we have to look at social networks and body image. We need a comprehensive policy approach that empowers women economically and helps to change attitudes. Our response needs to reflect the integrated global challenges which make up  2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

There is so much work to be done.

This is why this Friends of Gender Equality Group will be so helpful. It can help us gather support to continue measuring the necessary data and tracking the progress. And it can also help  provide the political leadership to advance our goals towards a gender equal world. Thank you. GR PPT Friends of Gender Inaugural Breakfast SWINT

[i] OECD (2017) The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, p. 32

[ii] Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now, OECD 2012, p13

[iii]  ILO, the Women at Work in G20 countries background paper, 2016—europe/—ro-geneva/—ilo-berlin/documents/genericdocument/wcms_556989.pdf

[iv] The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD 2017, p17

[v] LMF1.6, Gender Differences in Employment Outcomes, OECD, 2016, p. 3


[vii] Going Digital: The Future of Work for Women, Policy Brief on the Future of Work, July 2017, p. 5.

[viii] The pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD 2017, p29

[ix] Ibid.

[x] OECD (2017), The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD Publishing, Paris, p. 190

[xi] OECD (2017) The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, p. 21



Transforming negative gender roles in the household: Innovative approaches

Delivered 07-03-2018

Today’s event will look at transforming negative gender roles in the household, with a particular focus on developing countries.

When it comes to gender equality, the development angle is significant. When I look at how far OECD countries still have to go to achieve gender equality, it pales into comparison for the situation in developing countries where women’s rights are denied, their voices obstructed, and their unequal status reinforced by poor policy implementation.

When we look at the outcomes for women in developing countries, it’s troubling.

First, violence against women is very high: 33% of women in non-OECD countries have been victims of physical and or sexual violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. That’s just with people they know. But what is equally disturbing, is that 39% of women in non-OECD countries believe domestic violence can be justified for some reasons. In Afghanistan, it’s 80%. This social acceptance and these entrenched attitudes by both women and men are very difficult to turn-around – and I will return to this later.

When it comes to judicial structures or access to justice, developing countries fall behind.

There are issues around legal loopholes, where in 28 developing countries rape is often excused if the victims marry the perpetrators.

In Guatemala, 40% of violence survivors hide the injuries due to lack of trust in institutions. There’s also the question of the stigmatisation of victims. This partially explains why 75% of victims of sexual violence in India in 2016 never told anyone and never sought help.

Education for girls in developing countries is getting better. Many West African countries such as Ghana or Senegal have managed to close the gender gap in primary school enrolment. However, in Chad, youth illiteracy rate is still twice higher for women than for men; in Liberia only one third of girls were enrolled in secondary school in 2015.

And of course, the less education a girl has, the less likely she will be financially independent and she will be more vulnerable to bad outcomes, such as slavery or exploitation. I like to highlight the excellent work Nobel Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi is doing to save hundreds of thousands of children from the slave trade.

Gender norms in the household

But focusing specifically on the issue of gender norms in the household, let’s first look at OECD countries, where women are less likely to work in paid or full-time employment than men. In 2016, across the OECD, 74% of men were employed, compared to only 63% of women[1].

In non-OECD countries, women mostly work in the informal sector or as paid family labourers.

OECD data show that women spend more time in unpaid work than men. This is true no matter where you live, but the burden is particularly heavy in developing countries where poor infrastructure and access to services may mean spending hours collecting water or fuel.

And this remains mainly a female job: in sub-Saharan Africa, women are responsible for 71% of water collection[2].

This time adds up.

Women spend more time in paid and unpaid care work combined than men – the “double burden” – leaving women with less time for paid employment, education, training or to simply relax[3]. In OECD countries, women spend an average of just over 1.5 hours per day on unpaid work, in my country, Mexico it’s a staggering 4.5 hours per day.

Until recently, policymakers have ignored unpaid care work, seeing it as a “private” issue best managed within the household and closely connected to culture.

But the OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index – or SIGI – finds that higher inequalities in unpaid care work between women and men are closely linked to larger gender gaps in labour force participation and wages.[4]

In Bangladesh, for example, women spend almost three times longer on unpaid care work than men; in contrast, men are almost three times as likely to participate in the labour force. [5]

And of course, this feeds into other aspects of women’s lives; if they are not economically empowered, they are not economically independent, have fewer rights and protections, and have worse outcomes in life.

So what is keeping these women in the home doing all the unpaid work? Entrenched gender norms, which are the main impediment for gender equality. These norms and traditional roles put pressure on women to be the sole care-givers of families, whether it’s children or elderly parents.

These roles are confirmed in the household, at school and in the workplace, and are not only addressed through policy measures but require fundamental shifts in attitudes.

The Solution

One approach to address unpaid care work is to follow the three R’s: recognise, reduce and redistribute:

First, recognising unpaid care work means looking past traditional measures of economic well-being, such as income and wealth, to understand the full value of women’s economic and social contribution.

The OECD has been looking at how individuals allocate their time, and we have started to measure the value of unpaid work for G7 countries, to understand the impact on GDP and economic growth. However, the data is limited for developing countries.

Second, OECD countries have made important advances in reducing the difficult and time-consuming tasks associated with unpaid care work, for example through investments in infrastructure.

This remains a concern for many developing countries and while we often think of infrastructure as “gender-neutral”, it’s not!  Poorly designed investments might not fully consider the safety, needs or constraints of women, who bear the brunt of collecting water and fuel.

Members of the DAC are also committed to supporting developing countries through their development co-operation: in 2015, over 26 billion dollars in aid was committed to economic infrastructure and services. DAC members could do more to ensure that these investments benefit women: less than 1% of these investments targeted gender equality and women’s empowerment as a principle objective.

Third, and this is the hardest – redistribution of unpaid care work between the state, households and family members. This requires changing both policies and gender norms.

Many countries have made policy reforms to promote a more gender-balanced sharing of caring responsibilities. For example, the OECD’s Pursuit of Gender Equality report shows that around two-thirds of OECD countries now offer paid paternity leave. Uptake, however, remains low showing that public policies can only do so much as long as negative stereotypes persist.[6]

Similarly, the SIGI country study in Burkina Faso shows that 70% of women and men do not believe that unpaid care work should be shared equally, even if both members of the couple work.[7]

Transforming social norms requires thinking creatively and starting early, when social norms are learned. Education plays an important part in challenging negative stereotypes: Sweden, Mexico and German, for example, have ensured that textbooks are free of gender bias.

Media also plays a fundamental role.

For example, soap operas – as we will hear from Poonam Muttreja shortly – are very influential including in my own country Mexico, where women are almost exclusively portrayed in “traditional” roles. But also look at women’s roles in films, the music industry, on the internet where demeaning images are widespread.

A report on gender bias in female characters in popular films found that only 23.3% of films had a girl or women as a lead or co-lead driving the plot.

 OECD’s role

So what is the OECD doing? We are of course helping countries implement the SDGs, and we’re helping G20 countries reduce the gender gap in labour force participation rates by 25% by 2025.

The OECD is also applying our tools and expertise to support developing countries and donors. Our new Policy Dialogue on Women’s Economic Empowerment initiative is focused on recognising, reducing and redistributing women’s unpaid care and domestic work.

The first Policy Dialogue in January brought together over 150 people from OECD and non-OECD countries, civil society, the private sector and foundations to share best practices, identify knowledge gaps and inform the scope of future analytical work.

Through this dialogue, we have already learnt that solutions to address unpaid care work and stereotypes must fit the local context and allow room for dialogue and citizen engagement, to be successful.

Greater sensitisation efforts amongst public officials and with communities, including women is critical, as well as improving legal literacy amongst women and providing gender-sensitive budget.

This is not only an economic matter – it is a moral imperative to improve the outcomes for half of the world’s population. Because if women have better outcomes, then men – and society as a whole – do too.

Today’s event

Today’s event will showcase two pioneering initiatives from developing countries. Poonam Muttreja from the Population Foundation of India, will tell us how they have used a popular television series to tackle women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights, and age at marriage.

We also have Tim Shand from Promundo, which was founded in Brazil 20 years ago with the aim of challenging ideas of “what it means to be a man”.

Promundo promotes positive fatherhood and men’s involvement in the home to combat violence against women and gender discrimination.

[1] OECD (2017), The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD Publishing, Paris. p. 142

[2] AfDB, OECD, UNDP 2016, African Economic Outlook (AEO) 2016 Sustainable Cities and Structural Transformation

[3] OECD (2017), The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[4] Ferrant G, Pesando L M and Nowacka K (2014) Unpaid Care Work: The missing link in the analysis of gender gaps in labour outcomes, Paris: OECD Development Centre

[5] Feed the Future Bangladesh 2011/12; ILO Stat

[6] OECD (2017), The Pursuit of Gender Equality: An Uphill Battle, OECD Publishing, Paris.

[7] OECD (2018), SIGI Burkina Faso, OECD Development Centre, Paris