BLOG: Examining Women’s Early Labour Market Transitions in Sub-Saharan Africa, April 2016

International Development Research Centre

The Growth and Economic Opportunities for Women (GrOW) program is jointly funded by the UK's Department for International Development (DFID), The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC). 

GrOW aims to generate new knowledge about women's economic empowerment, gender equality, and economic growth in low-income countries. The goal: to support policies and interventions that improves women’s livelihoods and contributes to societal well-being.

The way in which young women transition from school to work greatly affects the quality of their economic lives. This project will study factors that can affect labour market outcomes for women in Eastern and West Africa. It will address three main questions: 

  • What influences how women choose their first jobs? 
  • What affects the age at which women leave full-time education?
  • How do early labour market and early fertility experiences affect women’s employment later in life?

The challenge 

Gender inequalities in the workplace arise from deep-rooted social norms that prevent women from advancing economically. The age at which they leave school, the nature of their first job, and the age at which they first give birth can determine how women enter and benefit from the labour market. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, fewer women work in established salaried jobs than in other regions, they are commonly paid less, and they are often less likely to succeed in business than men. Limited empowerment constrains women’s access to education and opportunities for full and productive paid employment. Expanding these opportunities can increase their economic well-being, providing them with the ability to succeed and advance economically and the power to make and act on economic decisions. Women who are economically empowered are able to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from economic growth.

There is little knowledge about the full range of factors that can affect women’s transition into the labour market in sub-Saharan Africa. This project seeks to fill this gap by providing a better understanding of the economic and social factors influencing young women’s labour market choices, based on data from six African countries. The evidence will show whether women’s first jobs and motherhood experiences are likely to have substantial life-long economic consequences. This knowledge can help design effective policies to overcome obstacles to women’s economic empowerment. 

The research

Researchers in Kenya, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Tanzania, and Uganda, in collaboration with researchers from the United Kingdom, will compare the experiences of young women and men with different socio-economic characteristics. The analysis will draw on available census, survey, and panel data to provide a full picture of how girls progress economically over the years.

A qualitative analysis of young women and men in their later years of education or early years of work will complement the quantitative analysis. The early quantitative results will inform the questions asked in focus group discussions and in-depth interviews. The interviews will help to understand the factors involved in decisions to leave school, find a job, or have children. The combination of these various research methods will ensure a nuanced and accurate understanding of women’s experiences as they enter the labour market.

Expected outcomes 

This project will deepen understanding about the factors that constrain young women from making better choices in transitions from school to work, and into motherhood, and whether these constraining factors have lifelong consequences. It will generate new knowledge that sheds light on specific limitations on women’s economic empowerment from an early age. This evidence will help policymakers design effective policies to reach women who can benefit most. Investing in policies that target young women benefits individuals, families, and the community by increasing economic activity. The project findings will be particularly relevant in light of the heightened policy interest on youth employment throughout sub-Saharan Africa and beyond.

The project will produce a series of working papers, policy briefs, journal articles, and an edited volume that draws out lessons from across countries. It will also use channels such as blogs, social media, press releases, and other ways of communicating with stakeholders and a wider public both nationally and internationally.

Institutions and lead researchers:

  • Andy McKay, University of Sussex, United Kingdom
  • Jane Mariara, University of Nairobi, Kenya

Originally published by: International development Research Centre