No. 6 Protecting Women and Promoting Equality in the Labor Market: Theory and Evidence
By Yana van der Meulen Rodgers

Social policies designed to protect female workers and promote workplace equality have controversial effects on labor market outcomes. Working-hour restrictions and mandated maternity benefits help to safeguard women’s family responsibilities and ensure their physical security, but these regulations can raise the cost to firms of hiring women. Equal pay and equal opportunity measures potentially increase women’s relative earnings and reduce occupational segregation, but they are difficult to implement and enforce. Finally, although not explicitly designed to target women’s well-being or equality, seemingly "gender-blind" policies can also yield different outcomes for men and women. This study presents a theoretical context for understanding the impact of these various labor market policies on women’s employment, wages, and working hours. Existing empirical evidence of policy effects and current policy incidence are both reviewed. The study concludes by reporting new empirical evidence from three developing country case studies.


This paper is part of a series of papers on selected topics commissioned for the forthcoming Policy Research Report (PRR) on Gender and Development. The PRR is being carried out by Elizabeth King and Andrew Mason and co-sponsored by the World Bank’s Development Economics Research Group and the Gender and Development Group of the Poverty Reduction and Economic Management Network. Printed copies of this paper are available free from the World Bank, 1818 H Street NW, Washington, DC 20433. Please contact Owen Haaga, in room MC8-434 or at Comments are welcome and should be sent directly to the author(s)

The full-length paper is available in PDF format.