More and Better Gender Data: A Powerful Tool for Improving Lives

May 9, 2016


A lack of sex-disaggregated data has resulted in an incomplete picture of women’s and men’s lives—and the gaps that persist between them. Such data are essential for identifying key challenges and opportunities to accelerate progress towards the WBG twin goals of ending extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity in a sustainable manner. The World Bank Group is scaling up commitments and expanding partnerships, notably with the United Nations, statisticians, and other partners, to gather and disseminate more and better sex-disaggregated data, with particular emphasis on economic empowerment, such as data related to work, ownership of assets, and financial inclusion.


Globally, close to 80 percent of countries regularly produce sex-disaggregated statistics on mortality, labor force participation, and education and training. But less than one-third of countries disaggregate statistics by sex on informal employment, entrepreneurship (ownership and management of a firm or business) and unpaid work, or collect data about violence against women (Data2X). More and better data is required to contribute to a meaningful policy dialogue on gender equality and provide a solid evidence base for development policy. This is reinforced by the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which require sex-disaggregated data to track progress towards all goals, including SDG 5, which relates specifically to gender equality and empowerment of women and girls. The World Bank Group is currently engaged in a number of global initiatives to help client countries meet increasing demand for this type of information as part of SDG 5 and beyond. Ongoing partnerships with the United Nations and selected national statistical offices enhance sex-disaggregated data collection in priority areas, such as access to and control over physical and financial assets, employment, and financial inclusion. But closing gender data gaps goes beyond data collection. Greater efforts are also needed to make existing country data more accessible to policymakers and development practitioners. In January 2016, the World Bank Group relaunched its popular Gender Data Portal, a one-stop shop for current and historical data on topics ranging from health and education to jobs, assets, and political participation—all broken down by sex.


The Bank Group is engaged in several global partnerships to close gender data gaps, e.g.:

  • Methodological Experiment on Measuring Asset Ownership (MEXA) from a Gender Perspective: The World Bank Living Standards Measurement Study is collaborating with the United Nations Evidence and Data for Gender Equality (EDGE) initiative and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics to collect and analyze within-household individual level asset data in Uganda. 
  • New international definitions of employment and work: The Bank Group is supporting operationalization of the labor statistics standards adopted by the 2013 International Conference of Labor Statisticians (ICLS). The new ICLS definitions makes a clear distinction between “employment,” which generates paid income for the household, and “work,” which includes unpaid activities such as household chores and production for own consumption, which has important implications for measuring gender gaps in employment.

Gender data dissemination is supported through the Gender Data Portal, a resource center for gender equality data.

Results/IDA on results

World Bank Group teams across different regions and sectors have used sex-disaggregated data and analytical work on gender to identify gaps between males and females and to target those gaps through operations:

  • In Bolivia, analysis of labor market data shows that 1 in 5 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are neither employed nor in school (the so-called “ninis” for “ni estudian ni trabajan”). Young women are twice as likely (26 percent) as men (13 percent) to be part of this particularly vulnerable group. These women often have low levels of educational attainment—less than half have completed secondary education—and typically spend long hours each day at home performing unpaid work, such as caring for children and the elderly. This suggests that domestic responsibilities are an important constraint to enhanced labor market participation amongst young women. This notion is reinforced by a recent perception survey that investigates how Bolivian women would spend their time if they were relieved of their domestic and care duties: 43 percent said they would work, 26 percent said they would study, 18 percent said they would rest, and the remainder said they would enjoy personal time. The Improving Employability and Labor Income Youth Project (2015-2020) provides benefits to young men and women in Bolivia’s urban areas. Special support is extended to young women, including stipends for transport and child care—measures that have proven successful in supporting and maintaining female labor force participation in Bolivia, one of the highest rates in the Latin America region at 64 percent.
  • A 2014 report, Levelling the Field, published jointly by the World Bank Group and the ONE Campaign, synthesizes Living Standards Measurement Study—Integrated Surveys on Agriculture (LSMS-ISA) data in six IDA countries in Africa to analyze agricultural gender gaps and constraints holding back female farmers. The report’s findings indicate that in several of the contexts profiled, including Malawi, Niger, and southern Nigeria, the lack of time that women spend on the farm contributes to the gender gap in productivity. Community-based child care centers provide an alternative to alleviate the responsibilities that women shoulder at home. For instance, in Mozambique, a pre-school enrolment program helped caregivers –mostly mothers—save 15 hours per week on their childcare responsibilities. The program also increased the likelihood that caregivers would work in the labor market by 6 percentage points. These findings influenced the World Bank Group’s Democratic Republic of Congo Growth Poles project team to test one of the recommended policy actions, the provision of rural child care to address women's child care responsibilities to help them spend more time on agricultural work. This work has also led to collaboration between the World Bank Group and New Partnership for Africa’s Development’s Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme on developing a joint work program to pilot and test new, scalable interventions.

Bank Group Contribution

Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB); IDA; IBRD; Hewlett Foundation


The Bank Group participates actively in the global statistical community and in specific programs for capacity building. The Bank was a founding member of PARIS21 to help build and strengthen national statistical systems in developing countries. To complement these activities, the Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB) was set up as a World Bank Group-administered, multi-donor trust fund to provide financial resources to developing countries for statistical capacity-building.  One of the activities currently funded by the TFSCB is the implementation of the Fourth Integrated Household Survey in Malawi. Building on the experience of MEXA in Uganda, the LSMS is collaborating with the National Statistical Office of Malawi to collect intra-household individual level data on asset ownership. The survey will also include an augmented labor module, which will inform ongoing collaboration with the ILO and FAO in the operationalization of new definitions of employment and work. As of FY15, there are active and pipeline projects in eight African countries that will, among other activities, build the capacity of statistical offices to collect and use gender statistics. In South Sudan, for instance, the Statistical Capacity-Building Project supports the capacity of the agency to conduct a number of surveys including the Crisis Recovery Survey with the aim of gathering information from internally displaced males and females. The survey questionnaire addresses topics such as gender-based violence.   

Moving Forward

The Bank Group has a unique capacity to contribute to and invest in data, including through investments in data collection as part of broader support for national statistical capacity and systems. The new WBG strategy for supporting household surveys includes establishing best practices for collecting individual-level information in priority areas such as asset ownership and control and employment, which will help countries meet the increasing demand for this type of information as part of the 2030 SDG agenda. In addition to its engagement in global partnerships, the Bank Group is involved in other initiatives aimed at addressing critical gaps on sex-disaggregated data and gender statistics:

  • Women, Business and the Law examines laws differentiating men and women in ways that affect opportunities and incentives to work. It contributes to identifying specific obstacles that female entrepreneurships and employees face when it comes to starting a business or getting a job.
  • The Global Findex database conducts data collection on three dimensions of financial inclusion: accounts, savings, and borrowing. The database provides indicators on the “demand” side, that is, measures of individual’s usage of financial products. Information is available by sex, age group and income for 143 countries.
  • The Identification for Development Initiative focuses on building civil registration and vital statistics systems that will provide for better planning, better targeting, and better economic outcomes by ensuring that females and males have identity cards, which can help them access financial services.
  • IFC will scale up work with financial institutions to collect sex-disaggregated data on access to finance. This will provide indicators on the “supply” side or individuals access to financial products.  


Data is an important global public good. Improved data collection and analysis can provide a solid evidence base for use by governments, the private sector, academic researchers, and others to advance gender equality and economic and social development. More and better data that capture all of the population is a fundamental input to create the best policies and capitalize on the potential of men and women alike.