December 20, 2021
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Half the Sky? The Female Labor Income Share in a Global Perspective

Half the Sky? The Female Labor Income Share in a Global Perspective


In this paper, Theresa Neef and Anne-Sophie Robilliard analyze gender inequality in labor incomes and explore the following questions: Which share do women earn of the labor income of a country, a world region, and globally? How has this share evolved since 1990? Labor income includes wages and salaries as well as the labor share of self-employment income. The inequality indicator, the female labor income share, considers gender differentials in earnings as well as labor force participation and is thus broader than usual measures of gender inequality. The authors combine employment and labor income data from the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Luxembourg Income Study (LIS), and the European Union Statistics on Income and Living Conditions (EU-SILC).


Key findings

  • Women earned about 30% of global labor income in the early 1990s and 35% today (Figure 5). Gender parity would be reached at a female labor income share of 50%. At that pace, gender parity in labor income will be accomplished by 2100.
  • The female labor income share varies across countries with some distinctive regional patterns (Figure 3). The MENA region exhibits the lowest female labor income share with about 15% in 2019. The Former Eastern Bloc countries show the highest shares with about 40%. Western Europe stands at 38%. Latin American countries have increased their female labor force participation and, thus, their female labor income share substantially in the last decades and stand at about 36% today.
  • One factor for a low female labor income share is the under-representation of women in top-paying jobs. Based on administrative data, this research shows the evolution over time of women’s share among top wage earners for Brazil, Costa Rica, France, Spain, and the U.S (Figure 7) and find that women are still under-represented among top wage earners. Women represent about 17% of the 1% highest-wage earners in the U.S., 23% in Spain, and about 25% in Brazil.


Policy recommendations

Governments can facilitate women’s access to the labor market

    • In the MENA region and South Asia, the low female labor force participation inhibits an increase of the female labor income share
    • Governments in these regions could enhance female labor force participation

Governments can tackle the gender pay gap and break glass ceilings

      • In OECD countries, the female labor force participation has already reached high levels, however, gender earnings differentials inhibit gender parity in the female labor income share
      • Childcare provision is key to allow women to climb the career ladder and close the gender pay gap

We need more and better data to track progress towards gender parity in labor income


Figure: Female labor income share in a global perspective, 1991-2019






  • Theresa Neef (Freie Universität Berlin, World Inequality Lab, EU Tax Observatory):
  • Anne-Sophie Robilliard (Institut de Recherche pour le Développement, World Inequality Lab):

Media inquiries

  • Olivia Ronsain:; +33 7 63 91 81 68



The authors thank Thomas Piketty for helpful suggestions and the WID fellows, Miguel Artola Blanco, Marc Morgan, Jonathan Goupille-Lebret, and Álvaro Zúñiga-Cordero for sharing their data with us.