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Hiring women or men?

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(File photo: Jordan News)
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Yusuf Mansur

The writer is CEO of the Envision Consulting Group and former minister of state for economic affairs.

One of the anomalies in the labor market in Jordan, where women are more educated than men, is it has the third lowest women labor participation rates (ranked 179 out of 182) in the world. While the reasons are many (transport, culture, public sector employment opportunities, among others) there remains an important observation that has not received much attention from the reformers: why do women unemployment rates rise in good economic times relative to those of men, and fall in bad times? اضافة اعلان

Women unemployment rate during 1991-2002 averaged 24.8 percent, while total unemployment stood at 15.7 percent; thus, the difference was 9.1 percent. During 2003-2008 (the golden economic years), the difference was 9.7 percent. In other words, the excellent economic growth rates favored the employment of men, rather than women. After the economy started to slip into a downward spiral in 2009, the difference during 2009-2014 between the national unemployment rate and women unemployment rate became 8.8 percent.

As the economic situation worsened, during 2015-2021, the difference between the two rates decreased further. In summary, the worsened state of the economy favored hiring women, not men, and years of economic bliss favored hiring men.

These figures should not be taken to mean that economic growth in Jordan led to better employment rates for women; the best average unemployment rate for women was 21.3 percent, during 2009-2014. The worst (24.9 percent) was during 2015-2021. Overall, the average unemployment rate for women has been rising and is much higher than that of men.

To explain the observations, some would claim that the rising unemployment rate among women (and men, but they are not the focus of this writing) has been due to improvements in the productivity of labor (real output per labor hour): as workers produce more on average per hour, businesses demand fewer and fewer labor hours.
Given the apparent gender disparity in compensation between women and men, particularly in the private sector, one could surmise that businesses tend to hire more women than men in bad times because they can pay them less than men, and thus reduce the wage bill.
According to serious economic research by Jane Hartigan and Hamed El-Said, among others, there was no discernible increase in the productivity of labor since the start of the economic reform carried out under the auspices of the IMF and World Bank in the early 1990s. Economic growth has been the result of greater accumulation of inputs (capital and labor), not the result of improved labor productivity.

Such a view has also been confirmed by the World Bank’s own research, which stated: “ …most of the economic growth in the 1990s could be accounted for by the expansion of capital (both physical and human) and the labor force. … Evidence for the second half of the 1990s pointed to unchanged TFP, which called into question the competitiveness of the Jordanian economy”.

Given the apparent gender disparity in compensation between women and men, particularly in the private sector, one could surmise that businesses tend to hire more women than men in bad times because they can pay them less than men, and thus reduce the wage bill. When the good times roll, they hire more men than women, possibly because they believe that men are more productive, do not require maternity leaves, day-care centers, day-light work hours, etc.

Another possible explanation is that in the bad times, more men than women may be attracted to work in the informal sector. According to the International Labor Organization, globally, the informal sector is a greater source of employment for men (63 percent) than for women (58.1 percent). This may also help explain, even if partially, such an anomaly.

Clearly, reforms, including those carried out via the IMF, have not addressed the gender discrepancies in the labor market so far. Yet this phenomenon needs to be urgently addressed.

If it is a matter of educating the private sector, then both government and donor programs should address this via, among other things, national and targeted campaigns.  If it is a question of policy, procedures, or institutions, then focused and targeted reform should be carried out urgently.


Yusuf Mansur is CEO of the Envision Consulting Group and former minister of state for economic affairs.


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