As part of its “Doing Business: Gender” program, the World Bank commissioned IWPR’s Ariane Hegewisch and Janet Gornick from the City University of New York (CUNY) to review research of work family policies, to identify best practice designs and draw out possible lessons for developing countries. Most countries in the world provide some form of work family supports including paid maternity leave (the United States now is one of only four countries in the world where women lack this right) assistance with child care, and the increasingly common option of flexible work arrangements. The designs of such policies vary substantially between countries, providing the opportunity to examine the effects of different policy designs on women’s economic prospects and on businesses. The results of such comparisons are of increasing interest to policymakers in high-income countries; as populations age, societies can ill afford to lose the skills and labor of women who are pushed out of the labor force because of caregiving responsibilities.
The policy lessons for high-income countries are fairly well-established and show the beneficial impacts of leave, childcare support, and access to workplace flexibility both for women, who benefit from greater labor force attachment, and the economy, which benefits from a greater pool of experienced (and tax paying) workers. Based on the experiences of high-income countries, the beneficial impact may disappear or become adverse when leave is too long, when mandates result in substantial costs for employers, or when workplace flexibility means fewer rights for part-time workers rather than more manageable working hours for all employees. The question is whether, and how, these results translate to lower income countries with substantial informal labor markets, underdeveloped social insurance and taxation systems, and substantial labor surplus rather than labor shortages. Perhaps the most prominent finding of this research review is the lack of policy attention – and research evaluation – given to the impact of work family supports for women, in spite of the fact that gender equality is now recognized as an important policy goal for development. IWPR and CUNY are working with the World Bank on next steps.