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

The Impact of Legal Frameworks on Women’s Economic Empowerment around the World: challenges and good practices

Delivered 07-03-2018 Paris, OECD

It’s great to welcome you all today to the OECD for the first event in our March on Gender series of events marking International Women’s Day. We’ll have lots of interesting debates and seminars to explore various elements of gender equality; today we will be looking at the impact legal frameworks have on women’s economic empowerment around the world.

The OECD has pushed gender equality to the top of the international agenda. How? By bringing the economic case.

We know that raising women’s labour force participation rates to that of men could add 12 trillion dollars, or 26% to global GDP by 2025[1].

And removing gender-based discrimination in formal and informal laws, as well as in social norms and customary practices, would increase global GDP by 16% by 2030.

But it’s not just about the economics. And it’s not even just about women. Gender equality is about building happier, healthier, prosperous and more caring societies.

The world we live in and the labour markets we work in have become disconnected, even unhuman.

This is why the OECD is pursuing a more balanced approach, with people’s well-being at the centre. Family friendly policies and balanced societies deliver better for women, men and society as a whole.

And we don’t just work on this with OECD member countries, but as this panel demonstrates, we work with regions and countries across the world.

Because despite our efforts, achieving gender equality remains a global challenge.  No country in the world can declare victory.

The OECD works with partner economies through five OECD Regional Programmes, spanning Eurasia, Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, Southeast Asia, and Southeast Europe.   This work has given us insights into some of the common challenges faced across regions, as well as each region’s traits.

Let me share some of those insights with you.

Legal barriers across the regions

In all regions, legal and institutional frameworks can present huge challenges. OECD reports have found significant links between legal frameworks, women’s participation in public life and the broader gender equality agenda.

Similarly, in all regions, women have a disproportionate responsibility when it comes to unpaid work and family responsibilities, that’s to say that the burden of care – for children and the elderly – mainly rests on women’s shoulders: 75% of the world’s total unpaid care work is done by women. Women in OECD countries spend on average 1.5 hours a day on unpaid work.

In my country, Mexico, it’s 4.5 hours. This impacts not only employers’ decisions to hire and promote women but also women’s choice of jobs and the amount of available time to devote to work.

Moreover, OECD analysis reveals that the legacy of gender roles in family laws shapes social norms, which leads to gender stereotyping and engrained culture barriers. These in turn impact the implementation of other economic laws and public policies affecting women’s autonomy, social roles and confidence.

This can clearly be seen in the MENA region, where women’s labour force participation is the lowest in the world, at 31%[2] compared to over 63%[3] in OECD countries. And women are almost three times less likely to be employers than men.[4]

Many MENA countries have taken measures to strengthen women’s status, notably through constitutional and institutional reforms. For example Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Algeria have all amended their constitutions to include the principle of equality and prohibit gender discrimination.

But despite various initiatives, many remaining discriminatory provisions in statutory and customary laws impact women’s economic participation as can be seen in the 2014 edition of the OECD Social Institutions and Gender Index – or SIGI.

Inconsistencies between different levels of law and hidden implementation gaps can prevent countries from effectively fostering women’s economic empowerment.

More frustrating I find, are the personal status laws and the regulations of relations within the family strongly influence social values and norms, and have a powerful impact on economic outcomes.

In the MENA region in general, women do not share the same rights as men to make decisions, pursue a profession, travel, marry or divorce, head up a family, receive an inheritance or access wealth. In Egypt, Jordan and Libya women must still obtain permission from their husbands or fathers to work!

Discrimination is also still very high in sub-Saharan Africa, where the key challenge for women remains access to land or control over property.

The OECD’s recent country study on Burkina Faso shows that the plurality of legal systems – specifically statutory and customary rights – that govern many countries make women’s land and property rights vulnerable. One important effort has been the revision of inheritance legislation in many countries, making women’s access to land easier.

Professor Lado from Paris Business School will explain why the most significant challenge in the region is not unemployment but poor-quality employment.

Most working women are self-employed and almost 35% of them work as unpaid contributing family workers.

Southeast Asia has higher labour force participation and self-employment rates for women than in OECD countries: at 67%, women’s labour force participation exceeds the OECD average by almost 4 percentage points; the average share of working women who are self-employed is 50%, compared to 13% in the OECD region[5].

However, here it’s also a question of job quality; women tend to be employed in lower-paid and more precarious jobs than their male counterparts.

Generally in South East Asia, women earn less than two-thirds of the median hourly rate than men. And women-owned enterprises tend to operate in lower-productivity activities and be of smaller size than male-owned enterprises.

In the Latin America and Caribbean region, the OECD’s work shows that the main barriers for women are sexist and misogynist stereotypes, which fuel discrimination. As a Mexican woman, I can believe this. The media is a big culprit in disseminating very traditional roles for women, through TV, film, music.

Throughout the LAC region, there’s also insufficient social support and high levels of informal employment. I would be interested in Darío Álvarez’s views from Argentina.

On a more optimistic note, the SIGI regional report on LAC shows that governments in the region have taken steps to combat workplace discrimination in an effort to close gender gaps in employment.

For example, the Dominican Republic and Mexico have removed all legal restrictions on women’s work. However, discriminatory laws continue to obstruct women’s equal employment opportunities in 19 countries on the continent.

Legal restrictions range from laws prohibiting women from working at night, for example in Jamaica to barring them from jobs that are deemed hazardous, unhealthy, require heavy lifting or that impair their “morals’’, such as in Bolivia.

The OECD’s work also highlights the need to transform social protection programmes in the region into comprehensive systems capable of tackling inequalities along a person’s life-cycle.

Social protection is indeed one of the 4 domains that can help empower women economically and help reduce unpaid care and domestic work.

The OECD has just launched a Policy Dialogue to identify ‘’what works’’ and to make more and better time use data available to assess the impact of such reforms.

Turning to South East Europe, where over the past thirty years since the fall of communism, there has been progress to achieve equal rights. This has seen women access senior political positions.

But, with the political focus on transition reforms, gender equality has slipped down the priority list.

As a result, more and more women have regrettably gone “back to the kitchen”[6] with an estimated 17% income per capita lost due to gender gaps in labour force participation in the Western Balkans and Turkey.[7] Ms. Sorana Baciu [Bach-oo], former Secretary of State in Romania will shortly share with us her experience.

Similarly, the past few years have been problematic for the Eurasia region in terms of equality in labour force participation.

UN Women, represented here by Elaine Conkievich [Kon-kye-vich] argues that the challenges are related to the increasing amount of unpaid care work performed by women, highlighting the need in the region for better social care infrastructure.[8]

We know that the various factors holding women back are complex and interlinked. Women’s agency depends on education, health, mobility, social and legal protection.

Although legal gender parity has improved around the world, major differences persist. Key laws and regulations continue to hold women back from working or running a business.

Introducing legal reforms that successfully tackle gender discrimination is a challenging, time-consuming, and politically sensitive process.

Laws and societal values are interlinked – societal changes can either provide momentum to, or hold back legal reforms.

The OECD encourages governments and societies to accompany arguments for change with data and to base discussions on evidence –as provided by OECD reports.

The OECD is also working to better understand the extent and impact of the informal sector – where many women are present – and how to address it from a gender perspective.

The OECD also supports countries to track progress towards SDG 5 on gender equality; the SIGI has been selected to measure legal discrimination against women.

This will allow us to monitor whether legal frameworks are in place to promote, enforce and monitor equality and non-discrimination on the basis of gender.

We know that strengthening the application of a gender lens — with approaches such as gender mainstreaming — across law making processes and the work of legislatures, is an effective measure that can make a significant difference in women’s lives.

 Provisions enabling more flexible or part-time work arrangements for all and actions to increase women’s security in transport to and within the work place could expand the talent pool and spur wider private sector development.

And to boost female entrepreneurship there needs to be dedicated training and mentoring to boost skills; guarantee programmes in support of access to finance; business incubators and accelerators; as well as awareness campaigns.

And as I mentioned, stereotypes on gender roles and discriminatory social norms weaken the efficiency and implementation of legal reforms promoting women’s rights.

Therefore, transforming social norms should be at the core of the policy response to open new and sustainable ways to promote women’s economic empowerment.

We want to focus on finding more solutions!

Today’s speakers will tell us about the legal and institutional reforms in their regions that have brought successful results. They will also tell us how they laid the ground for these reforms, and dealt with other influencing factors like societal stereotypes.

I am pleased to welcome a balanced panel and to see men in the audience to reflect jointly on further actions supporting gender equality.

I am also pleased that Ghazi Gherairi [Ga-ray-ri], the Tunisian Ambassador to UNESCO is here to guide the discussion and Swedish Ambassador Annika Markovich to provide closing remarks.

Women all over the world face many barriers, some of them similar, some of them different.

The OECD continues to learn from discussions such as these, to be able to inform our valuable work with regions and countries across the world to continue fighting for women’s right and true gender equality.

Thank you.

McKinsey Global Institute Report, 2015

[2] ILO modelled estimates, 2016, aggregated for the participants of MENA-OECD Initiative.

[3] Source OECD.stat, accessed on 5 March 2018

[4] ILO modelled estimates, 2016, aggregated for the participants of MENA-OECD Initiative.

[5] OECD Employment database, ILO, Key Indicators of the Labour Market

[6] Eva Fodor & Aniko Balgh , Back to the kitchen ? Gender role attitudes in 13 East European countries, Journal of Family Research, 3/2010

[7]  World Bank, David Cuberes, Marc Teigner, How Costly Are Labour Gender Gaps ? Estimates for the Balkans and Turkey, WB Group (2015)

[8] UN Women (2017): Investing in social care for gender equality and inclusive growth in Europe and Central Asia, Policy brief 2017/01.

36th Round Table on Sustainable Development: Integrating Climate Change-related Factors in Institutional Investment

Delivered 08-02-2018 Paris, France

The Round Table on Sustainable Development has discussed many topics over the years. Tonight and tomorrow, we are discussing the integration of climate change by institutional investors.

What is the issue?

Today, investors, corporations and policy makers increasingly recognise the impacts of climate risks on portfolio performance and business activities.

Yet we are faced with a paradox: if investors acknowledge potential climate risks, why are the integration of climate change and mobilisation of finance delayed in the financial sector?

In his speech in September 2015, Bank of England Governor Mark Carney diagnosed the problem of the “tragedy of the horizon”. He deplored the costs we impose on future generations because of the short-term horizons of current decision-makers in government and business.

While the evidence shows that 81% of asset owners and 68% of asset managers view climate change as a material risk or opportunity across their entire portfolio[1], the degree and scope of integration of climate-related risks by institutional investors remains limited.

And according to a recent study, only 23% of the world’s top asset owners are taking tangible action to manage climate risks and opportunities.[2]

And on top of this, institutional investors manage up to 84 trillion US dollars in assets in OECD countries alone. But OECD data shows that only 1% of large pension fund assets are invested directly in infrastructure, and only a fraction is invested in low-carbon, climate-resilient infrastructure.[3]

So what can we do?

Mark Carney proposed a way forward to address this “tragedy of the horizon”: as chair of the FSB, and following a request by the G20, he established the industry-led Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures to help investors and companies better evaluate and price climate risks.

This taskforce launched its recommendations to financial and non-financial organisations in June 2017. And they said that improving climate disclosure was one of the tools available to encourage more effective climate integration by institutional investors and companies.

The taskforce’s recommendations now need to be acted on by industry, including investors and corporations, as well as regulators.

Certainly, there is good news: the recommendations are gaining traction. As of December 2017, 237 companies with a combined market capitalisation of 6.3 trillion US dollars had publicly supported the taskforce, and it was also welcomed by France, Sweden and the UK.

But industry-led initiatives do not operate in a vacuum. We need more action from governments to encourage institutional investors to factor climate change in their investment decisions.

This is because progress could also be hindered by broader policy frameworks.

I want to commend the work of the EU High-Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance, which released its final recommendations last week, under the leadership of Christian Thimann and the direction of the European Commission.

I am very pleased to welcome Olivier Guersent, Director General of DG FISMA who will deliver a keynote speech later tonight. Olivier, I know that the Commission is planning to launch an Action Plan on sustainable finance in March. I look forward to learning more about it during your speech.

What is the OECD doing?

The OECD is also deeply engaged on these issues.

For instance, we have been supporting, and will continue to support, the G20 Sustainable Finance Study Group, given OECD work and leadership on many of the issues. I believe that Michael Sheren, co-chair of the Study Group, is with us tonight, and I welcome him.

And in the run up to COP21, we prepared a report for the French presidency on “Investment governance and the integration of environmental, social and governance factors”, which identified the barriers to integrating these factors as a priority.

Our work on responsible business conduct and the MNE guidelines is also increasingly integrating the climate angle.

For example, the Guidelines are equipped with a unique grievance mechanism, the National Contact Points, and I’m pleased to hear that the first climate change-related case was brought to an NCP in November 2017. So it is working.

Our Centre on Green Finance and Investment, will be undertaking further work on institutional investment and climate integration.

Working with institutional investors, we will review and assess emerging practices and practical challenges for asset owners and asset managers. This will be in the context of integrating climate change in investment decisions, with support from SWEN Capital Partners.

The OECD will also work to  support regulators in considering climate integration by the financial sector, and of course, the approaches taken will need to be adapted to national circumstances.

And on top of all this, we’re ready to do more! The OECD could undertake future work to assess the role of policy makers to promote climate disclosures and the role of policy. We could also consider options to further incorporate climate change in relevant OECD instruments and standards, and the need for additional instruments.

As tonight’s dinner illustrates, the OECD can provide a neutral platform to engage stakeholders, including institutional investors, policy makers and civil society.

The OECD can also provide the analytical capabilities to inform discussions on the way forward.

Ladies and gentlemen, let me congratulate Connie Hedegaard for chairing this Round Table, and thank Laurence Tubiana for her precious support through the European Climate Foundation, which is sponsoring tonight’s dinner and tomorrow’s round table.

This Round Table is an occasion for all of us to share our thoughts, freely and frankly, so I encourage you to speak up during the discussions.

May I wish you a nice dinner, and productive deliberations.

Thank you.

[1] Mercer (2013), “Global Investor Survey on Climate Change: 3rd Annual Report on Actions and Progress”,

[2] AODP (2017), “Global Climate Index 2017”,

[3] OECD Global Pension Statistics, Global Insurance Statistics and Institutional Investors databases, and OECD staff estimates.

Global Forum for Development Migration: Myth vs. Reality

Delivered 03-02-2018 Montreal, Canada

The subject of this conference is very timely, and I can see why you have chosen it. Migration is an issue that pervades the politics of today. It is an often controversial issue, but frankly, it is one of the oldest issues of our world. Humans have always migrated in search of better lives elsewhere.

But today that fact has become wrapped up with a general sense of dissatisfaction in society, and migration is often used as a scapegoat or as an excuse for some other malaise.

And this is often reflected in the media, which has an exceptionally powerful influence over people’s politics and their views.

This is what I would like to speak to you about today.

When looking at recent election outcomes or reading the paper, one can get the impression that international migration is not well managed – or even “out of control” – and that rising migration is a challenge to the social contract in many countries.

We’ve seen this particularly in the media in many OECD countries, and it has had a knock-on effect at the ballot box.

It is easy to forget the many positive contributions that immigrants make to our societies. Indeed, throughout history, progress, innovation and economic and social development has occurred with the arrival of new ideas through trade and through migration.

You can make a generalisation that the most progressive societies are often those that are the most diverse and most open to others.

Indeed, this is the trend of globalisation and economic development: OECD countries are becoming more diverse.

One in ten people living today in OECD countries is foreign-born; among youth, more than one in five has immigrated or is native-born with immigrant parents. These shares have been rising virtually everywhere.

And yet recent developments have challenged migration policy in the current context. International migration through legal channels to OECD countries has never been higher.

Clearly, the Syrian crisis has been a migration of epic proportions, and the uprooting of so many lives has been traumatic and tragic. It has stretched the reception and processing capacity of several European countries and has highlighted the need for more coordination between them.

It has led to politically charged responses, which has been reflected in the media.

The backlash against what is perceived to be large swathes of people coming into countries has been palpable.

But it’s important to understand the different points of view.

Experts and analysts that dismiss the fear of migrants can easily lose legitimacy and make it harder to bring the policy debate back to facts and evidence.


So what is the reality of immigration in OECD countries?

As I said, people have always moved across communities, states and continents. Over the past decades, migration flows have increased and will likely increase further given large demographic and economic imbalances. In 2015, about 244 million people were living outside their country of birth, of which half were living in OECD countries.

Between 2000 and 2015 about 3 million migrants came to OECD countries every year.

In 2016, permanent migration towards OECD countries reached the highest absolute levels in forty years: 5 million people!

These figures on legal flows have generally received less attention than the mass inflows of asylum seekers.

In 2015 and the first half of 2016, a total of 3.3 million asylum applications were registered in OECD countries, the highest number since World War Two. 2.6 million came to Europe, and close to 1.5 million have been granted protection.

Other OECD countries have also provided shelter to people fleeing conflict. Canada, for example, has admitted almost one hundred thousand refugees through its resettlement programmes in the last three years.

Indeed just last week Minister Hussen, the first Somali-Canadian member of the Canadian Cabinet, gave a speech at the OECD’s International Diversity Forum and discussed Canada’s plan to welcome even more migrants by expanding programmes that are currently in place, saying “we will be open to people!”.

These numbers seem large, but should be put in perspective: new migrants settling in OECD countries represent less than 0.5% of their total population. Syria’s neighbours remain the largest refugee-receiving countries; Turkey alone provides temporary protection to about 3.3 million Syrians.

In OECD countries, humanitarian migrants still represent only a fraction of total migration flows.

The vast majority of the migrants who come to the OECD are people who come to work, study or reunite with their families.

Free movement and family migration each accounted for one third of all permanent migrant flows in the past years. And there are about 3 million international students in OECD countries.


The integration of some immigrants, especially refugees, represents a particular challenge for destination countries. But the main message here is, immigrants do not usually have a negative impact on the economy.

Of course, immigrants that have recently arrived are unlikely to have the same labour market outcomes as those who are native-born. Outcomes improve over time as immigrants become more familiar with the host-country’s society, learn the language and acquire country-specific social capital.

For example, an assessment made by the Canadian government of early outcomes of Syrian refugees that arrived in late 2015/early 2016 showed that their initial labour market participation was very low, especially among those with lower education and lacking language proficiency.

So to help refugees achieve their full integration potential, government integration services must be wholly comprehensive and help from private sponsors is also critical.

Despite challenges, immigrants play an important role in the labour market of destination countries. Between 2005 and 2015, for example, new migrants accounted for about 20% of labour market entries into strongly growing occupations in both the US and Europe.

These notably include health care and STEM occupations.

Immigrants also represented about a third of entries into the most strongly declining occupations in Europe.

These days, migrants are frequently the people in our homes taking care of our children or elderly parents.

And importantly – contrary to a lot of what is spread in the media – it is a simple fact that, as the OECD’s International Migration Outlook has shown, in almost all OECD countries, migrants contribute more in taxes and social contributions than they receive in benefits.


There is a striking disconnect between empirical evidence and perceptions about immigration. The evidence is clear: migrants do not come here to steal our jobs or to take advantage of the welfare state. Migration – and the economy – is not a zero sum game.

But this is not what people believe.

A recent survey[1] showed that in many European countries more people believe immigration is bad for the economy than the opposite. And, although about a quarter of respondents think that immigration is neither good nor bad for the economy, those who hold extremely negative beliefs are more numerous than those who hold very positive views.

So why do we see such a disconnect between empirical evidence on the impact of immigration and public perception?

One possible explanation is the widespread knowledge gap on the relative magnitude of migration. Overall, opinion polls reveal that people typically overestimate the share of migrants in the population, sometimes by a factor of two or more.

Another possible explanation is that the impact of migration on certain local communities – especially disadvantaged urban areas with high concentration of vulnerable migrants – weighs heavily on the general public perception of migration. The nation-wide impact is not factored in.

And of course there is the fact that many have suffered since the financial crisis, with growing inequalities comes greater dissatisfaction. Many of those that are disadvantaged might feel resentful or threatened by new people arriving, and see them as a burden on a society that is already struggling to cope with inequalities.

But we should also look at what kind of information is available to the public on migration policies.

Migration policies are complex. And given it is such a complex issue, migration can be easily misrepresented by the media.

For example, when looking at how migration is represented in the media of different countries, it’s easy to see how the national psyche is reflected and / or influenced.

Research by UNHCR shows that the tone and content of reporting on migration varies from country to country[2].

For example, French media are more likely to report on social and cultural issues, the US media on economic concerns[3], Australian coverage is negative, and the British press are more likely to frame refugees as potential threats to culture, welfare, security and the health system than any other country in Europe[4].

Compare this to coverage of refugees and migrants in Sweden and Germany, which is more positive.

It’s easy to see a general correlation between media representation, national mood and the direction of national politics.

In some cases, the media – especially in the UK – has dehumanised migrants, or used loaded language, such as “floods” or “invasions” of migrants[5].

And I’m afraid to say that research shows that there is an ethnic or islamophobia dimension to this. Data shows that people in Europe associate migration from predominantly Muslim countries as a security threat.

Chatham House analysis found that 55% of people agreed that migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped.[6]

More generally, a 2016 survey by the Pew Research Center, found that most respondents in Poland, Greece, Hungary, Italy and the UK thought that refugees posed a major threat to their country[7].

And there is of course the role of social media, which has been documented as producing an “echo chamber effect”.

A study on the use of Facebook has shown that users tended to promote their favourite narratives, form polarised groups and resist information that doesn’t conform to their beliefs.[8] Confirmation bias accounted for users’ decisions to share certain content, creating informational cascades within their communities.

Alarmingly, when deliberately false information was introduced into these echo chambers, it was absorbed and viewed as credible as long as it conformed with the primary narrative. So you can see how a person’s perception of migration, for instance, could be reinforced or heavily influenced by others with the same beliefs.

Discussion of migration can become very polarised, with little room for rational discussion.

This picture was used widely by the anti-European UK Independence Party in the run up to the UK’s referendum on Brexit, in June 2016. It is a picture taken at the Croatia-Slovenia border in October 2015. It was an exceptionally controversial photo.

It’s clear that migration became a big factor in the Brexit referendum, despite the many other – some would say more relevant – factors in the debate, such as economic and security matters.

And I recall after the vote on Brexit, there was a lot of talk about it being the areas with the lowest amounts of immigration that had mostly voted to leave the EU.

However, on closer inspection, this doesn’t appear to be the full picture.

It appears there is a correlation between areas with the highest levels of immigration—notably London—and those areas most likely to vote to Remain, which chart 1 above, shows.

But what chart 2 shows, is that when you consider the percentage-change in migrant numbers, rather than the total headcount, the opposite pattern emerges.

Where foreign-born populations increased by more than 200% between 2001 and 2014, a Leave vote followed in 94% of cases.[9]

So it seems that it wasn’t high levels of immigration that worried people, but high rates of change, which can be linked to the perception issue.

For all the stakeholders involved, improving the quality of public information on migration and having a balanced debate is costly.

There is a political (and financial) cost for governments to engage in communication campaigns to explain the objectives of their policies and to evaluate them.

There is an opportunity cost for the media, especially in high competition environments, to try and provide an accurate and nuanced perspective, rather than going with attention-grabbing headlines.

And finally there is a time cost for the public to get access to more detailed or more balanced sources of information.


So what can be done? International migration is a sensitive issue in many countries, in part because it touches upon the very notion of the nation state.

Changes in the rules regarding who can enter or stay legally, can obtain citizenship or can vote, have implications for the composition of the host-country society and its institutions.

We need to start rebuilding trust in migration policies and institutions, in part by better enforcing existing laws and by tackling the challenges of irregular migration and illegal employment of migrants.

Scepticism about immigrants’ willingness to integrate into a host society is another challenge.

But indicators like the ones collected by the OECD in the publication Settling In provide information on the integration outcomes of migrants who arrived in past, which can help inform this debate.

Education has a big role to play of course, in encouraging intercultural sensitivity and respect.

Students could engage in experiences that allow an appreciation for diverse peoples, languages and cultures. By learning to appreciate the differences in the communities to which they belong – the neighbourhood, the school – young people can learn to live together as global citizens, and to appreciate diversity, which is so crucial to our success as a global community.

Promoting tolerance through education can be achieved by mainstreaming the principle of respect for human dignity and for cultural diversity across all subjects. The OECD is now testing these intercultural skills through our new Global Competence Framework, which is part of our Programme of International Student Assessments, or PISA.

There is a broad range of public policy tools that can be used to promote diversity, ranging from awareness campaigns, to anti-discrimination legislation, to quotas and active labour market policies. At the OECD, we are currently assessing which policies work best for which groups and why.

Another key challenge is to maintain the ability to respond to migration shocks.

To visibly remain in control of the situation and of its aftermaths, public policies must be able to adapt quickly.

Leadership and effective policy communication are also critical. When political leaders try to avoid the public debate on migration, extremists views have room to prosper.

And of course, it’s important to address the latent belief that others coming in hampers the opportunities of those already there – this means addressing inequalities.


Overly rosy approaches to migration issues are counterproductive and satisfy only those who are already convinced of the benefits of migration.

Acknowledging the challenges of migration and integration is a precondition for any effective communication strategy.

Countering extremist views on migration requires that each of us – politicians, journalists and citizens – take a hard look at the facts.

It is only once we disentangle myths from reality can we have an informed public debate on this critical issue.

Thank you

[1] European Social Survey

[2] UNHCR, 2015; Crawley et al., 2016

[3] Benson and Saguy, 2005

[4] Berry et al., 2015; Crawley and McMahon, 2016; Doherty, 2015; UNHCR, 2015

[5] Allen and Blinder, 2013),

[6] A 2016 Chatham House survey of 10,000 people in ten European states found that 55% agreed with the statement that ‘all further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped’, with particularly strong support for this sentiment in Austria, Poland, Hungary, France and Belgium (Goodwin et al., 2017).

[7] Wike et al., 2016

[8] Echo Chambers on Facebook, Quattrociocchi, Scala and Sunstein, June 2016

[9] The Economist, data taken from the Office for National Statistics

Preventing Ageing Unequally

Delivered 25-01-2018 Ljubiljana, Slovenia

Ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

[..] I am particularly happy to open this conference on the topic of equal ageing. This is an issue that is central to the OECD’s Inclusive Growth Initiative, as supporting governments around the world to address inequalities along the life course is one of our key objectives.

The OECD analysis

The OECD’s recent report, Preventing Ageing Unequally, presents shocking evidence on how early the foundations for inequalities in health, education, employment are laid – and how damaging they can be. Because the truth is that inequalities accumulate and compound over the life cycle, leading to deeply entrenched divisions by the time people reach the age of 50. The Economist magazine summed this up very nicely when reporting on our findings, by saying that “all men are created equal, but they do not stay that way for long.”[1]

Our findings show that disadvantage begins in early childhood. Children aged between 11 and 15 years from poorer families are 7 percent more likely to report poor health than those from affluent families (18 percent compared to 11 percent) and show a rate of being overweight that, at 22 percent is 1.5 times the level among children from richer families[2].

Child poverty can damage brain development and reduce learning outcomes later on in life; so children from poorer families often have a harder time at school, are in worse health and thus more often find it difficult to make a smooth transition from school to work.

Whereas children who are healthy and living in a safe and nurturing environment perform better in school, reach higher degrees and have better chances of succeeding later on in the labour market.

At all ages, people in bad health work less and earn less when they have a job. For low-educated men, bad health reduces life-time earnings by one third; high-educated men, by contrast lose less when they are in bad health: only 17 percent, thus reinforcing inequality; women also lose, but the effects are smaller.

These differences feed through into retirement.

Those of us with a good education and skills, in a well-paying job with good working conditions, have a higher chance of a more pleasant life in retirement.

But this is not the case for those whose education wasn’t as good, or who had long spells of unemployment, worked part-time and were paid little, or those who had physically demanding jobs, as people are more likely to be in bad health, and therefore earn less on which to retire.

And younger people are finding working lives increasingly difficult compared to their parents’ and grandparents’ generations.

Baby boomers, i.e. those born after World War II and until the early 1960s, benefited from a period of sustained economic growth, major health and social improvements, and growing employment rates. But today, a “job for life” and even a “career for life” are rare commodities for people starting out.

Non-standard work arrangements are becoming more frequent. Between the mid-1990s and the mid-2010s, more than half of all jobs created in OECD countries were in part-time and temporary work or in self-employment.

Low-skilled temporary workers, in particular, have much lower and instable earnings than permanent workers.

So “Generation X”, the people now aged 35-50, can no longer assume to be richer in old age than their parents. And the “Millennial Generation” has been particularly hard hit by the financial crisis and its aftermath, reducing their prospects for stable careers

The situation is more unequal when it comes to wealth. In 2014, the bottom 40 percent owned only 2 percent of total household wealth[3]. By contrast, the top 10 percent controlled half of all total household wealth and the wealthiest 1 percent owned 18 percent, which means that the money people make on their investments is even more concentrated than other forms of earnings.

This, of course, will affect what people have to live on in retirement.

In OECD countries in the 1980s, those aged between 66 and 75 were 25 percent more likely to be poor than the population average; but 30 years later, the pattern has turned around and the same age group is 20 percent less likely to be poor than the average. So across generations, there has been a shift in the risk of poverty with the younger groups nowadays being more likely to be poor.

Poorer people are not only less healthy but they also die younger than rich people.

Many of the future elderly may move into older ages with disabilities, in bad health, and a limited ability to keep working and contributing to society. On average across the 15 OECD countries for which we have data, the gap in life expectancy between 25-year-old people with low and high educational levels is about 8 years among men and 4 years among women.

This is truly shocking!

Looking at the situation of Slovenia, we find that inequality among people over 65 is lower than the OECD average.

However, vulnerabilities increase with age: while Slovenia’s poverty rate among the 66-75 age group is in line with the OECD average, it is substantially higher for those older than 75. More than one in three individuals older than 80 and living alone were below the (relative) poverty line in Slovenia in 2014. And as women live longer than men, it is very often female retirees that are affected by poverty, adding to gender inequalities during the working life.

The policy solutions

So what do we do about it? It’s clear that to prevent ageing unequally, we need swift and decisive policy action. The OECD’s Action Plan for Equal Ageing identifies three sets of policy packages that should be adopted.

First, policies to prevent inequalities as early as possible, such as starting social protection measures at early ages, especially for children from disadvantaged backgrounds; improving low performing disadvantaged schools; breaking gender stereotyping early; and designing effective labour market policies to connect those that are not in employment, education or training) with jobs.

Second, policies are needed to mitigate entrenched inequalities along the working life.

So for example, promoting healthy ageing through equal access to health care and having a patient-centred approach; strengthening policies to assist displaced workers through job-search assistance; and improving access to lifelong learning, especially for the low skilled and including older workers; and removing barriers to retain and hire older workers.

Third, we need policies to cope with inequalities that persist in old age, for example, increasing pension coverage, especially for the self-employed and those with non-standard employment, reducing inequalities in long-term care by making home care affordable, and ensuring adequate levels of retirement income through a combination of old-age safety nets, mandatory pensions, annuities in private schemes and pension credits.

These policy packages need to be designed in a comprehensive and cross-cutting manner. We need the Ministries of Education, Health, Labour and Social Affairs to work together closely and coordinate their measures to pick problems up early. This will create synergies and ultimately save costs.

Trying to solve the problems once people retire will be too late, too difficult and too expensive!

I am delighted that we will be discussing the policy challenges in each of the 4 conference sessions with Ministers and high-level officials from all of these Ministries, but also with the social partners and researchers, sharing good practices and learning from each other’s experiences.

I very much look forward to this exchange and want to assure you that the OECD stands ready to support you in making sure that all of our societies age equally.

Thank you.

[1] The Economist, edition Oct 28th-Nov 3rd, 2017, page 68

[2] (Inchley et al., 2016)

[3] In the 26 OECD countries with comparable data