Economic Freedom and Women’s Well-Being

Economic freedom, the ability of individuals to make their own economic decisions, has been widely shown to promote economic and social progress – a more robust economy, higher levels of income, increased trust and honesty in government, protection of civil liberties, reduction in poverty and improvements in health and educational outcomes. Unfortunately, in many countries economic freedom and the institutions that protect it are not equally accessible to all members of society.

Consider that women in many places are barred from moving freely within their countries and abroad; face barriers in owning property; cannot register a business in the same way as men; and are unable to open a bank account or obtain loans. Their testimony in court does not carry the same weight as men's; they face restrictions on the number of hours they can work, and the type of profession they are allowed to pursue; and they are unable to enter into contracts in the same way as men.

A 2016 study, Gender Disparity in Legal Rights and Its Effect on Economic Freedom, introduced a Gender Disparity Index that captures the degree to which women around the world have the same legal rights as men using several measures to capture gender disparity, including  freedom of movement, property rights, financial rights, freedom to work, and legal status.

The Fraser Institute, which publishes Economic Freedom of the World, has incorporated gender disparity in its 2017 Economic Freedom Index and rankings.

Women and Progress is a project that measures the impact of economic freedom, adjusted for gender disparity, on women’s well-being. When women are free to make their own economic decisions, they are able to live better, wealthier, and healthier lives with greater independence.

Two women at the computer
Women and Progress

In 19 countries married women are required to obey their husbands and/or get their permission before seeking employment.

Economic and Labour market outcomes

Percentage of Women in Workforce, 2015

Women are more likely to participate in the formal labour market in countries that have high levels of economic freedom. In fact, women are almost twice as likely to participate in the labour market in nations with high levels of economic freedom as in nations with low levels.

Percentage of Women Employed in Vulnerable Occupations, 2015

Individuals who are self-employed or contributing family workers are considered to be employed in a vulnerable occupation. Such vulnerable workers are less likely to have formal labour contracts and more likely to work in undesirable conditions. Women in nations with low levels of economic freedom are almost three times as likely to work in vulnerable occupations as those in nations with high levels.

Percent of Women Who Earned Wages in the Past Year, 2014

The share of women earning wages is three times higher in nations with high levels of economic freedom than it is in other nations. Women living and working in countries that have high levels of economic freedom are more likely to have a stable occupation with a predictable stream of income.

Women and Progress

Women living in countries with high levels of economic freedom have considerably longer life spans—17 years on average

Health Outcomes

Women's Life Expectancy at Birth, 2015

Women living in countries with high levels of economic freedom have considerably longer life spans—17 years on average.

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Percentage of Women Employed in Vulnerable Occupations, 2015

Individuals who are self-employed or contributing family workers are considered to be employed in a vulnerable occupation. Such vulnerable workers are less likely to have formal labour contracts and more likely to work in undesirable conditions. Women in nations with low levels of economic freedom are almost three times as likely to work in vulnerable occupations as those in nations with high levels.

Woman on tractor in field

 

 

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Being persons, then, women are citizens; and no state has a right to make any new law, or to enforce any old law, that shall abridge their privileges or immunities.

Susan B. Anthony, in her speech,
Woman's Rights to the Suffrage, given 1873

 

 

 

Educational Outcomes

Literacy Rate for Adult Women, 2015

Literacy rates are a good measure of how much a country encourages individuals to acquire an education. The literacy rates for women in countries with high levels of economic freedom are, on average, 50% higher for adults than in countries with low levels.

Literacy Rate for Adolescent Women, 2015

The literacy rates for adolescent women in countries with high levels of economic freedom are around 30% higher than in countries with low levels.

Women and Progress

If a country only grants economic freedom to 50% of the population, can we really say it’s economically free?

Financial Independence Outcome

Percentage of Women with an Account at a Financial Institution, 2014

Women who live in countries with high levels of economic freedom are more likely to have a bank account, typically a key element of financial independence, than women living in places where economic freedom is low. Remarkably, less than a third of women living in nations with low economic freedom hold a bank account.

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