Social Norms as a Barrier to Women’s Employment in Developing Countries

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This article discusses cultural barriers to women’s participation and success in the labor market in developing countries. I begin by discussing the relationship between economic development and female employment and argue that cultural norms help explain the large differences in female employment among countries at the same level of development. I then examine several gender-related social norms that constrain women’s employment and present examples of policies aimed at overcoming these barriers. Some of the policies are designed to work around a norm, helping women to be more successful in the labor market despite it, while others attempt to change the norms. There is evidence that both approaches can be effective in increasing women’s labor market participation and earnings. Policy-making that is attuned to cultural norms is a promising avenue for narrowing gender gaps in the labor market.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)576-595
Number of pages20
JournalIMF Economic Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 2021
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Economics, Econometrics and Finance(all)


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