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Nobel prize winner Goldin teaches us about the value of women – combating the demographic drop and scarce growth

This year, Italy is growing by a mere 0.7% and the same miserly rate applies to 2024 (according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund, though the government insists on 1.2%) – together with the so-called “demographic winter” and women’s scanty presence on the employment market, these are all rather negative factors for the country and strategic, political and economic decisions must be made to tackle them, in the interest of sustainable development. Indeed, the recent award of the Nobel Prize for Economics to Harvard professor Claudia Goldin, for her research on the women’s labour market and the consequences of gender disparity on retribution and career opportunities, might be an incentive for both policy makers and enterprises (the main drivers of economic development and widespread wealth) to ensure that such deep inequalities, which damage Italy’s prospects, are addressed, as Italy is progressively getting strangled by public debt, a debilitated growth and little social mobility, as well as a stagnant economy and a disillusioned new generation.

Let’s remind ourselves of some basic figures, then. In 2022, fewer than 400,000 births were counted; for the past 30 years, there have been more deaths than births; and the number of emigrants is starting to surpass that of immigrants (more young people go abroad to seek better work and life opportunities: three million people have fled the country since 2002). “A country that’s emptying out”, writes sociologist Stefano Allievi in Governare le migrazioni. Si deve, si può (Governing migration. We must, we can), published by Laterza, insisting on the necessity for far-sighted decisions rather than narrow-minded ideologies. In the meantime, while we wait in vain for something to happen, Italy is getting older and thus less receptive to the future.

Essentially, the more time passes, the more workforce we’re losing, with a negative impact on the GDP, and the severely flawed education system is also contributing to the country’s decline: enterprises – especially manufacturing ones – decry the lack of adequate professional resources needed to fill half of the roles they have available.

The percentage of graduates (200,000 per year) is lower than the EU average and the drop in birth rates will have dramatic consequences: in 20 years’ time (as long as current social trends don’t change) out of the almost 400,000 children born in 2022 mentioned above only 80,000 will graduate – 120,000 less than today. A disaster for the economy and society but also, more in general, for the country’s political standing.

The scarce presence of women in the labour market, and especially in more qualified positions, represents yet another negative point. Women actually study more and are better at it, as confirmed by ISTAT data, according to which 65.3% of women holds at least a degree as compared to 60.1% of men, while women graduates amount to 23.1% as compared to 16.8% men graduates – yet, the female employment rate remains much lower than the male one (55.7% as compared to 75.8%).

A considerable gender gap is also still apparent in education, with a wide disparity between women and men in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines – as well as in medicine, law and economics – the number of STEM graduates is low in general and within it, women amount to only 39%.

Such a low female employment rate means that we’re essentially wasting brain-power, knowledge, outlooks – precious resources needed to develop what could otherwise be an extraordinarily skilled human capital, and as such the country is missing out on a significant amount of potential in terms of entrepreneurship, original thinking and drive for innovation.

This is what Claudia Goldin’s research, whose significance is reiterated by the award of the Nobel Prize, is showing – women are better educated than men yet their careers are more circumscribed – they often quit their job after the birth of their first child, their professional commitment is restricted by the increase in family care and responsibilities, and thus their presence in the employment market becomes marginal.

A situation that’s certainly changing, but too slowly – female employment rates have more than tripled over the past century yet, even today, globally, women in employment amount to only 50% as compared to men, at 80%.

The market requires some tweaking then: we need to adjust working hours and productivity calculations, implement policies strengthening male domestic responsibilities, embrace a more inclusive corporate culture and introduce adequate childcare facilities (such as nurseries). True, ongoing public investment has been set aside to address the issue (also as part of the PNRR, the Italian recovery and resilience plan) and a social and cultural shift concerning women’s professional value is underway. Yet, this is still not enough to promptly bridge the gender gap and attain a fuller, fairer and more effective recognition of how much women’s intelligence and skills enhance development.

(photo Getty Images)

This year, Italy is growing by a mere 0.7% and the same miserly rate applies to 2024 (according to estimates by the International Monetary Fund, though the government insists on 1.2%) – together with the so-called “demographic winter” and women’s scanty presence on the employment market, these are all rather negative factors for the country and strategic, political and economic decisions must be made to tackle them, in the interest of sustainable development. Indeed, the recent award of the Nobel Prize for Economics to Harvard professor Claudia Goldin, for her research on the women’s labour market and the consequences of gender disparity on retribution and career opportunities, might be an incentive for both policy makers and enterprises (the main drivers of economic development and widespread wealth) to ensure that such deep inequalities, which damage Italy’s prospects, are addressed, as Italy is progressively getting strangled by public debt, a debilitated growth and little social mobility, as well as a stagnant economy and a disillusioned new generation.

Let’s remind ourselves of some basic figures, then. In 2022, fewer than 400,000 births were counted; for the past 30 years, there have been more deaths than births; and the number of emigrants is starting to surpass that of immigrants (more young people go abroad to seek better work and life opportunities: three million people have fled the country since 2002). “A country that’s emptying out”, writes sociologist Stefano Allievi in Governare le migrazioni. Si deve, si può (Governing migration. We must, we can), published by Laterza, insisting on the necessity for far-sighted decisions rather than narrow-minded ideologies. In the meantime, while we wait in vain for something to happen, Italy is getting older and thus less receptive to the future.

Essentially, the more time passes, the more workforce we’re losing, with a negative impact on the GDP, and the severely flawed education system is also contributing to the country’s decline: enterprises – especially manufacturing ones – decry the lack of adequate professional resources needed to fill half of the roles they have available.

The percentage of graduates (200,000 per year) is lower than the EU average and the drop in birth rates will have dramatic consequences: in 20 years’ time (as long as current social trends don’t change) out of the almost 400,000 children born in 2022 mentioned above only 80,000 will graduate – 120,000 less than today. A disaster for the economy and society but also, more in general, for the country’s political standing.

The scarce presence of women in the labour market, and especially in more qualified positions, represents yet another negative point. Women actually study more and are better at it, as confirmed by ISTAT data, according to which 65.3% of women holds at least a degree as compared to 60.1% of men, while women graduates amount to 23.1% as compared to 16.8% men graduates – yet, the female employment rate remains much lower than the male one (55.7% as compared to 75.8%).

A considerable gender gap is also still apparent in education, with a wide disparity between women and men in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines – as well as in medicine, law and economics – the number of STEM graduates is low in general and within it, women amount to only 39%.

Such a low female employment rate means that we’re essentially wasting brain-power, knowledge, outlooks – precious resources needed to develop what could otherwise be an extraordinarily skilled human capital, and as such the country is missing out on a significant amount of potential in terms of entrepreneurship, original thinking and drive for innovation.

This is what Claudia Goldin’s research, whose significance is reiterated by the award of the Nobel Prize, is showing – women are better educated than men yet their careers are more circumscribed – they often quit their job after the birth of their first child, their professional commitment is restricted by the increase in family care and responsibilities, and thus their presence in the employment market becomes marginal.

A situation that’s certainly changing, but too slowly – female employment rates have more than tripled over the past century yet, even today, globally, women in employment amount to only 50% as compared to men, at 80%.

The market requires some tweaking then: we need to adjust working hours and productivity calculations, implement policies strengthening male domestic responsibilities, embrace a more inclusive corporate culture and introduce adequate childcare facilities (such as nurseries). True, ongoing public investment has been set aside to address the issue (also as part of the PNRR, the Italian recovery and resilience plan) and a social and cultural shift concerning women’s professional value is underway. Yet, this is still not enough to promptly bridge the gender gap and attain a fuller, fairer and more effective recognition of how much women’s intelligence and skills enhance development.

(photo Getty Images)