I’ve never really written about a large-scale report before, but I was recently sent a report from The Economists’ Intelligence Unit entitled “Women’s Economic Opportunity”. I’m not sure if it is online, so I don’t have a direct link to it…but I will update with a link when I find it.

The report was written by Leila Butt, with Leo Abruzzese, William Shallcross, and Mike Kenny. It uses a model developed in-house to analyze the economic opportunity afforded to women in multiple countries across the globe. It is a truly interesting study, and I’ll highlight some interesting findings.

There are four categories which the authors use to gauge the economic opportunity women have in various countries:

  • Labour Policy and Practice.
  • Access to Finance.
  • Education and Training.
  • Women’s Legal and Social Status

The index breaks new ground by focusing specifi cally on a country-by-country comparison of economic opportunities for women, going beyond a measurement of gender gaps. For that reason it includes an assessment of the national business environments in which women must function. The index also builds on well-established legal codes, such as the ILO’s annual evaluation of equal-pay conventions; in this case, the project team created a scoring scheme based on the ILO’s written assessments. Entirely new qualitative measures were also created, including an Economist Intelligence Unit assessment of whether customary practice overrides statutory law in matters of gender equality, specifi cally in property ownership. Owning property can increase a woman’s access to credit, and may confer broader social and economic benefi ts, including enhanced food security, wealth, authority and a greater propensity to make investments in land or property.

Using their model, the EIU finds (perhaps unsurprisingly to some) that the Nordic region tops the list, with nearly every country in the region appearing in the top 20 overall, and most in the top 10. I recently had a Twitter conversation with Matthew Yglesias about this issue. Matthew attributes the higher prioritization of feminine values in these countries to the fact that they have strong feminist movements. However, I take the (probably unpopular) view that a formal “feminist movement” is the effect of a deeper cause, and the relative strength of the feminist movements in these countries (which are all strong welfare states) is a function of the relief of the extreme masculine values inherent in the money system we use (strongly competitive, positive interest rates, fostering concentration).

In any case, here are a few things that popped out at me:

In Lebanon, for example, women cannot be employed in sectors involving metal work, alcohol production, tanning, butchering and mining. Thailand prohibits women from work that entails driving or operating a vehicle, using vibrating machinery and engines, and working on a boat, among other limitations. In Morocco, women cannot hold posts in certain ministries (the Ministries of Interior, Civil Protection, National Defence and National Security).

Also among significant labor market restrictions (which may be seen as compassion, but almost surely come down to protectionism on the part of men):

  • 33% of total restrictions in all countries are restrictions on the lifting of heavy weights, arduous work or labour beyond a woman’s strength.
  • 24% of total restrictions were restrictions on working in mines, quarries, underground or in water.
  • 4% of total restrictions were restrictions on working with hazardous materials.

Also, Europe, and northern Europe in particular, are especially generous when it comes to maternity leave. Interestingly enough, there is a popular trend among start-ups (especially social media) in the United States (which doesn’t seem to be true in Europe, but I don’t know) of offering unlimited vacation. Something that codification may hamper.

Another very interesting fact is that access to credit in Europe is comparatively poor, the graph is of the entire population, but obviously the total amount of credit coverage will affect women as well — and perhaps even more. There is a lot of data out there regarding credit and the poor, and restricting access to credit (as is common in Europe, through indirect means) restricts opportunity.

However, there is large disparity in the amount of private financial services offered a post offices between the Americas and Europe, with about 5% of countries in the Americas offering such services vs nearly 68% in Europe. The United States is not among those countries. However, initiatives to this effect are popular in South America:

In Brazil, the federal postal system has forged an agreement with Banco Bradesco—one of the four largest banks in Brazil—to set up and operate banking branches in post offi ces. In an effort to tap the large portion of the population that does not have bank accounts—estimated at some 40m Brazilians—Bradesco launched its Postal Bank project in 2002. It had set up 6,067 outlets in post-offi ce branches by end-2009, up from 5,946 outlets at end-2008.

Egypt Post is one of the country’s major savings institutions. Postal savings accounts can be opened for just E£10, making these accounts an attractive savings method for low-income citizens. Interest on money deposited with the postal authority is exempt from tax. Each post offi ce holds an account at the National Investment Bank (NIB), where customers’ savings are placed. In recent years, Egypt Post has started offering services in competition with the banking sector, such as high-yield deposit accounts, ATMs and payment systems for fi rms. Additionally, Egypt Post has expanded its physical presence, with around 3,700 locations.

In contrast, the United States actively restricts financial service competition.

The study is very thorough and well done, although I’m not the most comfortable with the de facto implication that public policy specifically targeting women is the answer. However, it will be interesting to follow this index, and see how it evolves throughout the world. There are plenty of places that are very discriminatory toward women in the world…and they happen to be disproportionately poor. As they gain in wealth, women will obviously have a better chance at equality with men — and perhaps studying countries on this list from a more microscopic point of view will lead to better public policy, and thus outcomes for women…which, of course, benefits everyone.*

Thanks to the authors for sending me a copy of the report, and I apologize that this write-up took so long!

*Except the unborn.

P.S. Flickr’s new interface is the height of annoyance.