Economic development refers to the growth of a country's wealth to be used for the well-being of its inhabitants. Alternatively, economic development can be said to be the efforts of a country to improve the economic well-being and quality of life for its community by creating and retaining jobs and supporting or growing incomes.
How does economic development relate to the topic of women in computing? Well, research conducted into this topic seems to contain certain logic - that education drives economic development and vice versa. High economic development leads to social progress and technological advancement. Due to social progress, women may enjoy a higher status in society, and be able to take advantage of opportunities and explore careers that they might not have been able to pursue in conservative societies such as computing jobs. Although some may consider this to be too simplistic a view, we believe that the topic is worth researching into.
A well-rounded education provides individuals with the necessary tools and knowledge to understand and participate in the day to day activities of the world.
The belief, widespread and largely intuitive, that education somehow contributes to the improvement of a society has long been held. According to a study conducted by Svennilson, Edding and Elvin (1962), a cross-sectional analysis of 22 European countries of enrollment ratios and gross national product (used to measure economic development) showed a positive correlation. The results however, were dispersed. Research studies have also shown that improving rates of literacy further drive up the growth rate of the economy (due to increased productivity and availability of skilled labor).
However, even with economic development, the literacy rate of women is generally lower than that of men in countries all over the world. Efforts are bring made to reduce the disparity, but it will take a substantial amount of time and effort to do so.
State of Economy and Labor Force Participation
It is a logical conclusion that we all arrive at when we think of the state of development of an economy and the participation of women in the labor force - the more developed countries are likely to have more resources to promote inclusion of women in the labor force whereas the underdeveloped countries are likely to restrict the careers of their women.
More and more women between the ages of 25 and 54 (considered the prime working age by economists) have joined the labor force in the last 20 years - mainly in the developed and fast developing economies. However, at a global level, female labor force participation rates were lower in 2004 (52.5%) than in 1994 (53.2%) though this may be attributed to a preference to pursue a higher level of education instead of a career.
Gaps still exist between the female and male labor force. The greatest gap in the female and male labor force participation rate exists in the Middle East and North Africa, where the male labor force participation rate exceeded that of females by a whopping 48 percentage points in 2004 (even this represents a slight reduction in the gap from 1994). But on the whole they seem to be improving at a slow rate as the years pass by. The number of women employed has increased in most parts of world and that of men have fallen (except in Japan and Italy where women's share of jobs is 40% or less). In America, two-thirds of women of working age comprise half of America's workforce (the employment rate of men has fallen by 12% to 77% from 1950 to 2004). In East Asia today, there are now 83 women workers for every 100 men, which is more than the average in OECD countries.
The increase in female employment rates in developed countries is partly due to a change in the types of jobs on offer. Manufacturing jobs, traditionally reserved for men, have declined while the number of services and management jobs has increased. This has reduced the demand for manual labor and has leveled the playing field to a certain extent for both the sexes. In Asia, 60% to 80% of the workers in export-oriented sectors such as textiles and clothing are women.
The addition of women to the workforce also accounts for a major share of global growth in recent decades. Calculations show that the GDP contribution of adding women to the workforce is greater than that of capital investment or productivity gains.
However, there appears to be a limit on women's share of the workforce. In America, for example, the share of women in the workplace has been approximately constant in recent years. Of course, women can aspire to better jobs as they gain better academic qualifications. Better educated women might take more of the top jobs in coming years. Even today, more women than men train as doctors and lawyers in Britain.
Despite their gains, women continue to be the world's most under-utilized productive resource. Especially in poor countries, the under-utilization of women in the workforce stunts economic growth. A study conducted by the World Economic Forum found a clear correlation between gender equity and GDP per capita. Although correlation might not amount to cause, other studies too have suggested that inequality between the sexes harms long-term growth.
State of Economy and Women in IT
So does the state of development of the economy have a positive correlation with the number of women pursuing careers in IT or other related fields? While research is still inconclusive, we see that developed economies do have a relatively large percentage of women pursing technical jobs. Women in the European Union form around 28% of the total IT workforce.
This does not go to say that developing countries don't provide the same opportunities to their women - countries like India and Pakistan are fast catching up with an increasing rate of development of their technology sector. In India, employment in the IT sector grew by over a million between 2000 and 2005. Women are also gaining more representation in technical fields. For example, the percentage of women engineers graduating from prestigious engineering colleges in India has grown from 1.8% in 1972 to 8% in 2005. In South Africa, women make up 18% of the IT workers and 75% of all IT users in the country. Within the IT industry, however, women tend to be over-represented in technical sales and systems analysts positions and underrepresented in programming, engineering, and management jobs.