World Economy

Could gender equality boost global GDP by trillions?


Political and business leaders with high aspirations to strengthen the world's economy should close the gender gap, according to the latest research.

In 2025, the world's gross domestic product (GDP) could get as high as a $28 trillion uplift, if women performed an identical labor role to their male counterparts; according to McKinsey Global Institute's (MGI) latest research.

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While women make up half of the world's working-age population, females only deliver around 37 percent of the world's current GDP and make up 40 percent of its workforce overall, MGI's "The Power of Parity" report suggests.

Data and issues related vary depending on region. In developed societies like the U.S., the gap is narrower, with 46 to 47 percent of the workforce being female and contributing as much as 41 percent of national GDP.

India however has the most to gain, with women providing only 17 percent of its national GDP. Other regions mentioned who would benefit greatly include North Africa and the Middle East (18 percent).

One key area in the report is how 75 percent of total unpaid care work (child and elderly care, cooking) is done by women. However this hard work isn't considered as traditional GDP. If it was, it could be worth $10 trillion a year.

While many reports and initiatives have urged countries towards achieving gender parity, accomplishing this goal all over still remains a challenge.

It's not just work environments that need a makeover but social environments too, whether that's increasing leadership opportunities, to changing legal protection and improving women's reach to financial and digital devices.

To analyze the figures, MGI's report reviewed 95 countries—of which provide 97 percent of global GDP—against 15 gender quality indicators, from women's participation ratio to men in the labor force, to how much time is spent doing unpaid care work, and political representation.

While MGI's $28 trillion figure is seen as the world's "full potential" scenario to eradicating the gender gap; there is a more accessible target – a "best in region scenario", whereby if all countries within a particular region harmonize their rate of development to the region's fastest-improving neighbor. Such a target could contribute $12 trillion to growth worldwide in 10 years' time.

"One of the biggest takeaways is that gender equality represents a very significant economic value. It's a massive potential driver of economic growth," Anu Madgavkar, one of report's senior experts and authors, told CNBC over the phone.

Madgavkar said that almost all countries could benefit from reducing the gender gap. She added that for around half of countries analysed, the economic upside would be greater than 10 percent of what their "business as usual" GDP would be in 2025.

White-collars walk to their lunch break in Pudong business district in Shanghai, China.
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This data helps support important institutions' push to promoting gender equality. The International Monetary Fund' published a "financial inclusion" report this September, which suggested that recruiting more women onto a banking institution's board, could make a bank more robust.

Madgavkar was keen to stress that no country in the world had achieved "high gender equality in the economy (workplace), without having done so in society", suggesting that these gains went hand in hand.

Overall the report underlines that to close the gap, and achieve this "economic prize", multiple areas must be addressed across the globe.

"Realizing the economic prize of gender parity requires the world to address fundamental drivers of the gap in work equality, such as education, health, connectivity, security, and the role of women in unpaid work," the report said.