January 15, 2024
Written by WID.world

The Long Way to Gender Equality

What are the contexts and factors that enable or hinder gender pay equalization?  What pathways have led to greater gender pay equality and where is there still room for action?

In this paper, Theresa Neef provides the first time series of the gender earnings ratio* for full-time employees in Germany since the 1870s. She discusses possible drivers of the observed dynamics, and compares the German path with the U.S. benchmark by the recent Nobel laureate, Claudia Goldin, and the Swedish case.

Key results

  • In Germany, the gender earnings ratio has increased substantially from about 44% in the 1870s to about 85% today. The most prominent leap occurred between 1913 and 1937, while the post-war period was characterized by slower progress.
  • In Germany, Sweden, and the United States, the interplay between increased women’s education and new work opportunities for women in the expanding white-collar sector fueled pay convergence in the first half of the 20th Yet, in Germany, women’s educational catch-up was slowed due to the dominance of on-the-job vocational training.
  • Women’s migration from low-paid agricultural work to higher-paid white-collar jobs was predominantly increasing the German gender pay ratio in the first decades of the 20th
  • The post-war period brought diverging developments between Germany, Sweden, and the United States as a result of different economic conditions and policy action.

*The gender pay ratio is calculated as women’s average earnings as a share of men’s average earnings. Thus, a gender pay ratio of 85% implies a gender pay gap of 15%.



  • Theresa Neef, DIW Berlin, Free University of Berlin, EU Tax Observatory, World Inequality Lab



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