African jobs market complicated, but on this one indicator its women leave men, and the rest of the world, trailing

New survey throws up a surprise, but you will want to hide from the rest of the contents.

IT’S still very much a man’s job market globally, with males up to 30% more likely to be in full-time employment than women, but this gender gap is surprisingly the lowest in sub-Saharan Africa, according to data from a new report.

The Gallup’s Good Jobs 2014  report shows that while 14% of African men hold down “good jobs”, eight per cent of women qualify.

The six point deficit in “good” jobs for the region is the lowest globally, just ahead of northern Europe, six points better than northern America and nine clear of western Europe, the international pollster said.

Using what it calls the Payroll to Population (P2P) measure, Gallup quantified the percentage of workers in good jobs, “rather than subsistence jobs that do little to raise the individual out of poverty or contribute to the country’s economic output”.

These excluded those who were self-employed, working part-time, unemployed or out of the workforce.

But that is as far as the good news hold for Africa. The region has the lowest P2P rates in the world, with only 11% of its workforce holding formal jobs. This figure was unchanged from 2013.

The highest P2P rate is in northern America, where 44% of its total adult population holds a full-time job, while some 43% qualify in northern Europe.

Countries with the highest P2P rates tended to be some of the wealthiest, or those with high GDP per capita, such as Qatar, Canada and the US, Gallup said.

African countries made up 10 of the 13 countries with the lowest P2P, a characteristic of which is large informal economies with high levels of self-employment, largely out of necessity.

The survey highlighted Liberia where nearly half of its workforce or 46%, was out of the workforce. The west African country has just beaten Ebola, but the economic toll will likely have made the figure even higher.

Some 144 countries were polled, with 26% of the the world’s adults—or some 1.3 billion people—working full time for an employer.

Gallup said P2P measure was strongly related to GDP per capita, and also took into account subjective attitudes such as physical health and people’s feelings about their lives.

The situation in the African job market remains subdued, despite reports of high economic growth in the region. The region has for long struggled to turn this economic growth into poverty reduction. 

Nearly nine out of 10 of African jobs are in the informal market, suggesting the Gallup data captured only a tiny sliver of the challenge. Between 10-12 million Africans join the job market every year, and with such a formal job market, many opt for self-employment out of necessity, or settle for part-time work.

The challenge is that a big informal sector makes it difficult to reduce poverty. “Countries with the lowest P2P scores tend to have large informal economies with high self-employment, which at the global level has a negative relationship with GDP per capita,” Gallup says.  

An additional problem is the inability of Africa’s private sector to churn out jobs to keep up with the new entrants. A  report by the World Bank and Centre for Global Development found African businesses had on average a quarter less employees that firms elsewhere in the world, even accounting for the age of the firm.

Part of this was blamed on the business environment—it is much safer for companies to remain small in sub-Saharan Africa—this way they eschew bureaucracy and enthusiastic tax men, while infrastructure continued to present a bugbear. 

That World Bank study found that managers of Liberian and Nigerien companies with over 100 employees spent 14% longer dealing with government officials than did smaller firms.

African labour is also relatively expensive compared to other regions, because it is less productive, while overzealous unions, in countries such as South Africa, also make it costlier for firms to hire. 

Another concern is the nurturing of workers. A recent World Economic Forum on Africa  survey found that sub-Saharan Africa ranked lowest in developing and deploying what it called human capital.

Essentially Africa is caught in a tricky situation, where it has few workers in the more productive segments of employment, hurting its competitiveness and ability to remedy this situation.

It is thus cold comfort that some of its women are smiling more than their global peers.

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