Open and hidden gender inequality

By: Lykke E. Andersen*

Economists distinguish between open and hidden unemployment, and I think it is possible to introduce a similar distinction in the area of gender inequality.

I will define open gender inequality as that which is reflected in all the traditional gender indicators, such as gender gaps in school enrolment, gender differences in labour market participation rates, gender pay gaps, etc. I would usually have referred to the World Bank’s World Development Indicators for such data, but they have been updating their website, and I can’t find anything anymore. The United Nations system for SDG indicators is even worse. Instead, Our World in Data has vastly improved, so that is my new go-to site for all kinds of development statistics, including gender inequality data (

A lot of progress has been made lately, all over the world, on reducing open gender inequality. In education, for example, the historical disadvantage for girls and women has by now been eliminated at the global level, and we have reached gender parity in primary and secondary school enrolment. Indeed, most regions in the World have been overshooting on the topic of gender equality in education to such a degree that globally, women now are significantly more likely to go to university than men (1).

Gender pay gaps are still omnipresent, but at least shrinking (2). They don’t seem to be due to a “taste for discrimination” as Gary Becker coined it in his seminal work on discrimination. Rather, in most cases, they are due to the heavy burden of creating and raising children, which is still overwhelmingly borne by women, for obvious biological reasons. Even in the most progressive countries in the world, trying very hard to level the playing field, data shows that women suffer large wage penalties as soon as they have their first child, while men do not (3).

Hidden gender inequality is more difficult to demonstrate, but I would argue that it is probably more important than open gender inequality. It has to do with the many subtle ways that women or men are systematically discriminated against in society, even by themselves.

There are countless ways in which this happens, but for the purpose of this short blog, I will focus on work ethic and productivity, taking my cues from a recent event at the Center for Global Development, where they asked “How Can Development Organizations do Better on Women’s Equality in the Workplace?” (4). One of the panellists at the event, Angela Bruce-Raeburn of Oxfam, pointed out how much harder she, as a black woman, has to work and prepare in comparison to male colleagues in order to be equally respected.

This is actually a very common complaint by professional women all over the world, but it is difficult to back up with evidence. So in this blog I will provide some statistical evidence from my own institution – the Institute for Advanced Development Studies (INESAD) in La Paz, Bolivia. The advantage of using INESAD as an example is that we have managed to completely eliminate open gender inequality. At the management level, we have 50% women (and I would even say the women at the top level are slightly higher ranked than the men, as we have a female Executive Director, and the President of our Board of Directors is also female). At all levels within the institution, we maintain approximate gender balance, and at all levels, men and women are paid the same. On the face of it, we are an amazing example of gender equality in a field that tends to be extremely male dominated (see, for example,  Economics is the most dismal of sciences in terms of gender equality and  The vicious circle of gender inequality in Economics).

However, that is without taking into account hidden gender inequality. As I showed last year in this blog, the women at INESAD are 4-5 times more productive than men (by any measure imaginable), and still they are paid the same (5). I have been updating that data to cover the four-year period (2014-2017) when we had four senior researchers who all had permanent positions financed by the Think Tank Initiative. All four had prestigious Ph.D. degrees in Economics from abroad a long time ago, and all are in their 40s, so there are no age distortions. Half of the women have kids, and half of the men have kids, so there is no difference there either.

By all objective criteria, we are equal. However, in terms of productivity, there is a world of difference. I will use the same productivity indicators as I used in last year’s blog, which are basically about scientific production and citations. In addition to that, we have added a new fundraising obligation for INESAD researchers, so I will add data on that as well.

From Figure 1 we can see that the women at INESAD on average published 2.3 working papers per person per year during the last four calendar years, which is just above our expected contribution of 2 working papers per year. However, the men at INESAD only produced 0.3 working papers per person per year, which is a ninth of the productivity of women. It should be pointed out that our main responsibility at INESAD is to publish working papers, as 60% of our salary is paid for this explicit purpose.

The women produced on average half a book per year per person, and some of the men got to be co-authors or co-editors on these books. In terms of book chapters, women were almost twice as productive as men, and they were 15 times more productive than men in terms of the production of policy briefs (including the Cartillas Informativas of EMINPRO).

At INESAD we are supposed to write just eight blog posts per year per person, and the women passed that goal easily during 2014-2017, while the men on average did not even manage to write half.

In terms of publications in peer reviewed journals, the women averaged 1.1 articles per person per year, while men averaged about half that. Finally, the women published on average 1.8 works per person per year in other places than INESAD (e.g. IPEA, IFPRI, and the UN), which is about 14 times as much as the men.

The average number of citations received per year per person reflects the quality and usefulness of our research. Figure 2, which is based on Google Citations, shows that the women at INESAD on average are cited more than twice as much as men.

Finally, in terms of fundraising for INESAD, women have also raised about twice as much per year per person as the men have (see Figure 3).

So, the women are clearly way more productive than men, although they are paid the same. In every single category, we observe a hidden gender gap of at least 50%. However, in the category that carries most weight at INESAD (Working Papers) the hidden gender pay gap is a staggering 89%.

While the women at INESAD may be overachievers, the men have been dodging even their most basic responsibilities for years, while collecting their pay checks every month without compunctions. Personally, I am outraged about this, but, borrowing another gem of an expression from the CGD event, it is Fact Based Anger.

At the CGD event, there was also discussion about whether shaming half the population is really the way forward, especially considering that you have to work with them. I was having doubts about this blog myself, but I think it is necessary to point out these problems in order to reduce both open and hidden gender inequalities.

Last week, I did the shaming in a slightly more subtle way with the following meme, which won the prize for best meme of the Secret Friend Week at INESAD:

The winning meme. Note: In order to protect the identity of the procrastinators, this photo has been edited to remove any identifying features.
The winning meme. Note: In order to protect the identity of the procrastinators, this photo has been edited to remove any identifying features.

And the shaming actually worked. Our Executive Director has implemented performance based pay starting next month. Good for her!

* Senior Researcher at INESAD. The viewpoints expressed in this blog are the responsibility of the author and may not reflect the viewpoints of all members of Fundación INESAD.


(3) (see especially Figure 6).


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