Women and money

8 March is the centenary of International Women’s Day. This year, we mark the occasion with a series of blog posts about initiatives to strengthen gender equality worldwide. In this post, Flore-Anne Messy of the OECD’s Directorate for Financial and Enterprise Affairs  discusses women and financial education.

Elderly women in OECD countries are 30% more likely than men to be poor. Women receive $75,000 dollars less pension on average over their lifetime than men, despite living 5.6 years longer. But whatever their age, poverty rates for women in OECD countries are higher than for men.

It’s not just that women generally earn less than men. Where money is concerned, there are also big gender differences in knowledge and skills. Research in the US and other countries shows that women are less likely than men to give the correct answer to financial knowledge questions. They are also more likely to lack confidence in their own skills, be cautious investors, and to have insufficient funds for retirement. This cautious approach does have advantages but can severely impact on retirement funds. Studies in the US suggest that women’s retirement pots are, on average, a third smaller than men’s. (more…)

Changing the care-less economy

8 March is the centenary of International Women’s Day. This year, we mark the occasion with a series of blog posts about initiatives to strengthen gender equality worldwide. In this post, Rosalind Eyben, from the Institute of Development Studies and former Chair of the OECD DAC Network on Gender Equality, highlights how development policy has failed to address women’s unpaid care work.

When, twenty years ago, I became Chair of the OECD Development Assistance Committee (DAC) working group on women in development (now the Network on Gender Equality), a key issue was the impact on women of the economic policy reforms – structural adjustment programmes – that donors had been encouraging partner countries to adopt.

Writing at that time, Diane Elson explained that because the economy has conventionally been understood in relation to making money, much of the work that takes place outside the market economy is ignored. This includes not only unpaid work in family farms and businesses but also the feeding, caring for and ensuring the well being of families and neighbours. (more…)

It’s just a human

8 March is the centenary of International Women’s Day. This year, we mark the occasion with a series of blog posts about initiatives to strengthen gender equality worldwide.

On March 26 1911, the New York Times described how 141 workers, mainly girls, died in a fire in the Triangle Shirt Waist factory. Almost a century later, it described a similar tragedy in Bangladesh.

“The factory had only one main exit, and workers had to scramble through a lone narrow stairway to escape, while others jumped from windows”, said fire official Rashidul Islam. He could have been talking about New York, where one of the journalists described the distress of a veteran police officer trying to identify the dead bodies. The reporter asked him if one of the corpses was a man or a woman, but all he could say was that it was just a human. (more…)

The Race for the Green House

During the “space race”, as we called it back in the Atomic Age, US inventor Paul C. Fisher developed a pen with a gas-pressurised cartridge that he claimed could write in zero gravity. NASA bought them, while the Russians used pencils. A reminder that the best solutions don’t have to be high tech or complicated.

I thought about this on seeing Greening Household Behaviour: The Role of Public Policy, published today by the OECD. Years ago, a Swedish collective housing project was looking for ways to cut water heating bills. Everything failed, until somebody came up with the winner. Every household was given a free plastic basin for the washing up, and they stopped letting the hot water run when doing the dishes.

The OECD book suggests an even more obvious solution: charge people for what they use. Households charged for the volume of water used consume 20% less than those who aren’t charged. The book also says that charging by volume of garbage collected encourages people to generate less waste than charging by weight.

As well as water and waste, the authors surveyed 10,000 people across 10 OECD countries on energy use, transport, and organic food consumption.

And as well as demand-side instruments like charging, they looked at the impact of information and supply-side measures. The results suggest that money doesn’t explain everything, and behaviour can be influenced by a sense of civic duty.

There are wide variations by gender, income, education and other factors though. For instance, Mexicans and Koreans worry more about their environment than people in the Netherlands.  And many Australians and Norwegians say their own actions can make a difference.

In line with other surveys, respondents generally seem reluctant to pay more to use green energies like solar or wind, and household demand for environmental quality is unlikely to be enough to reach ambitious policy objectives.

Encouraging changes in the supply of greener energy, transport and other goods and services is one reason public policy has a role. Many of the proposed solutions would hit poorer people disproportionately, charging being the most obvious example, so any policy initiatives have to consider aspects other than the immediate goal as well.

This book is part of a longer exercise. The 2011 round of the OECD Household Survey will identify changes in people’s attitudes and behaviour towards the environment, and examine ways to promote green growth and the development of a low-carbon economy.

Useful links

OECD work on the environment

OECD work on green growth

Towards a green growth strategy

Click to go to workshop web page

Last month, Nathalie Girouard, the OECD Green Growth Strategy Coordinator, gave us an overview of the issues to be discussed at the Green Growth Strategy Workshop. We asked her to tell us about the discussions and the next steps towards defining the strategy.

Who came to the workshop?

The response to our invitation was very positive, regarding both the number of people and their backgrounds. We had over four hundred participants, from member and partner countries, government, civil society, academics and other experts.

It was particularly encouraging to see that green growth isn’t just seen as an “environment” issue. In fact, around two-thirds of the government participants were from ministries other than the environment,  notably finance and economy agencies, but statistics, innovation, labour, development and others too.

With so many different perspectives, was it possible to agree on the main issues?

One of the aims of the workshop was to give participants the chance to test their ideas and compare their experiences, and with such a rich variety of contributors,  you wouldn’t expect agreement on everything. That said, the need to transition to greener growth was acknowledged as a core economic issue, requiring coordinated policy action by various different ministries.

There was broad agreement too that the potential of green growth is associated with new opportunities presented by innovation aimed at addressing environmental concerns, and more efficient use of resources.

It was interesting for us as authors of the synthesis report discussed at the workshop to see which areas participants thought we should focus on more, for instance, the distributional and social aspects associated with the transition to green growth. Similarly, there were suggestions as to how to strengthen the development dimension.

And although the key issues are much the same everywhere, a number of contributions stressed the fact that the actual strategies used to achieve green growth objectives, and the priorities of those strategies, would vary from one country to another. Developing countries may need a different policy mix from more advanced economies, for instance. 

On a more technical issue, the was general agreement on the approach to designing green growth indicators. For example, given that many indicators require linking environmental data to economic data, accounting frameworks have an important role to play, in particular the System of Integrated Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA) that is expected to help improve the coherence of underlying statistics.

What common elements should green growth strategies contain?

There was wide agreement that market-based instruments should be at the heart of implementing green growth strategies. For example, a recent OECD study documents how Sweden’s charge on NOx emissions led plants to introduce a variety of abatement measures depending on what was most fit – and least costly – in each context. At the same time, there was also a consensus that market-based instruments wouldn’t be enough on their own, plus the fact that there is still public resistance to paying energy or carbon taxes.

Non-technological innovation, including social innovation, was raised as an important component of a green growth strategy. Participants pointed to the need for organisational innovation, including in the public sector, changes in city planning, mobility patterns and work practices, amongst others. The role of the consumer was also highlighted by several delegates in this context. In addition, it was suggested that business-to-business demand (supply chain management).

What are the next steps?

The workshop was extremely useful in clarifying the broader picture, and now we’re looking at more detailed written comments. We’ll use this input to redraft the synthesis report and the two other reports we discussed at the workshop – one on indicators, one on food and agriculture.

The workshop was only one step. We’ll be presenting the final synthesis report to a meeting of OECD ministers in May. We’ll be producing a number of reports on different aspects too – on development for instance.

We don’t see this as a one-off exercise. We’re learning all the time and it’s probably more accurate to say that we’re working towards a green growth strategy at this stage and that our views will evolve thanks to the contributions of our partners.

Useful links

OECD work on green growth