Over the last decade, a large share of the population in the Europe and Central Asia region has benefited from economic advances generated by strong growth in their communities. New opportunities have opened up in labor markets and entrepreneurship, new infrastructure and services have come about, and people have accumulated new knowledge and assets.
On the other hand, the economic transition of the 1990s, the recent economic crisis, and other shocks have reduced the role of the state as a source of employment and have taken a toll on many households.
Using new qualitative data from nine countries – Bosnia and Herzegovina, FYR Macedonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kosovo, Kyrgyz Republic, Serbia, Tajikistan and Turkey – including structured focus group discussions and semi-structured in-depth interviews in 43 communities, this report explores factors that have supported or hindered economic mobility and access to jobs among men and women in the region.
Listening to people from across Europe and Central Asia reveals that, despite an overall good performance in economic growth and shared prosperity, there is a lot of discontent and rising concerns about a disappearing middle class.
While economic growth in most countries in the region has created a ladder to better living standards, many people see no open path to climb above the first rungs. Instead, men and women across the region describe societies that are greatly and increasingly polarized. Across countries, people are voicing frustration about slow progress, inequality of opportunities and the limited sustainability of the gains that have been achieved.
The lack of good jobs, particularly among women and youth, is driving the discontent amidst rising prosperity. Access to jobs is the main factor that can propel households into higher living standards and the middle class, or precipitate a downward spiral.
However, jobs are seen as out of reach for a large share of people, with social norms and the lack of professional and social networks and connections emerging as important barriers to get a job. The overwhelming majority of people in the region, even youth, still associate the middle class and upward mobility with jobs that are full-time, formal and with open contracts. The vast majority still aspire to a public sector job.
This study has two important lessons for analytical and operational engagement on poverty, mobility and jobs in the region. First, the need to expand the “diagnostics toolkit” to harness the strong synergies in combining quantitative and qualitative work. This is particularly important in topics like labor markets where qualitative data dig deeper into barriers to work related to networks, social norms, and attitudes and aspirations.
Moreover, the lens provided by qualitative evidence in this report on how societies perceive progress and the opportunities for and challenges to upward mobility is extremely valuable and complements traditional quantitative analyses. The second lesson, therefore, calls for expanding the “policy toolkit” to incorporate programs and interventions that aim at addressing non-traditional barriers to work.
This research was supported in part by the World Bank Group’s Umbrella Facility for Gender Equality (UFGE), a multi-donor trust fund investing in evidence, knowledge, and data needed to identify and address key gaps between men and women to deliver better development solutions that boost prosperity and increase opportunity for all.