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Post-2015 Consensus: Gender Equality Perspective, Jacobsen

Perspective Paper


Clots-Figueras addresses all of the relevant Post-2015 goals and reports on the most recent relevant experimental results having to do with explicit benefit-cost ratios (BCRs) for this gender-related research.  However, the evidence base is restricted to experimental papers. This perspective paper suggests different views regarding how to measure and assess evidence regarding BCRs. This includes addressing the question of what elements are preconditions and what events are actually more likely to occur if economic situations for women are improved.

The challenge paper ably demonstrates the advantages and limitations of benefit-cost analysis. It raises important questions such as whether the BCR should be seen as a lower bound because of the large, unmeasured spillover effects. For gender-related outcomes in particular, it is unclear what the range of effects may be and whether they are all desirable. Increasing women’s participation in the labor force, for example, is not necessarily an end in itself, and may have other outcomes, some of which could be undesirable.

Project-specific BCRs may also not scale up to society-wide policies. For example, educating too many people to fill the number of higher-level jobs available or providing microfinance to a start-up in an already crowded market may not be beneficial. On the other hand, small-scale studies could also underestimate the larger societal impact of policies. For example, a more educated population may lead to more efficient institutions and more efficient interactions with others.

There are, however, other options. For instance, take a set of countries (or a pair of countries) that have different levels of social spending on a particular matter of interest, such as women’s health care.  We can then compare the different outcomes for such standard indicators as maternal mortality, infant mortality, and other health outcomes for both women and others (especially children). Combined with calculations of the monetary value of a DALY, this can then lead to a BCR calculation.

Some of the most interesting historical examples involve two neighboring countries, often with a common cultural heritage, that then separate in terms of their social policy at some critical juncture.  The division of Germany after WWII is a case in point; reunification showed how re-equilibration then occurred. Countries in different locations but with a common cultural background – Australia, the USA and the UK, for example – provide other useful comparisons.

Economic development and women’s equality almost always occur in near tandem, with more developed countries also having higher levels of gender. But cause and effect are difficult to assign. Clots-Figueras makes the case for women receiving full political rights as a prerequisite for other positive economic changes, but are legal changes necessary for women to benefit? It may be more difficult to argue also that political representation quotas are necessary, since most highly developed countries have reached that state without them.

Arguing that a policy should be implemented because it has a sufficiently high BCR ignores the question of who bears the costs and who reaps the benefits. It may be preferable in issues such as gender equality to argue in favour of their inherent morality rather than in purely economic terms.

In conclusion, while more work remains to be done in calculating and considering BCRs for gender-related issues, the challenge paper takes a crucial first step in the right direction.