The effects of childcare on gender inequality and female labour force participation in Mongolia
Mongolia Country Profile
Mongolia is a lower-middle income country (World Bank, 2018) located in the north-central region of Asia. With 3.1 million people dispersed over 1.6 million square kilometers, it is the world’s most sparsely populated sovereign country (Myagmarjav et al., 2019). As of 2018, 68.4% of the Mongolians reside in urban areas (UNDP, 2018), with an annual urban population growth rate of 1.9% (World Bank, 2018). In total, around one quarter of households in Mongolia live a nomadic lifestyle (Hiraga et al., 2020). The population of children under the age of five years is 0.4 million, with a young age dependency ratio of 46.4 per 100 people aged 15-64 (UNDP, 2018). Approximately 0.1 million Mongolians are aged 65 years and older, with an old-age dependency ratio of 6.2 per 100 people aged 15-64. Mongolia’s economy holds a total gross domestic product (GDP) of $38.7 billion (UNDP, 2018), with an annual growth rate of 7.2% (World Bank, 2018). Of those aged 15 years and older, a total of 59.9% of people contribute to Mongolia’s labour force, of which 53.3% are female and 66.7% are male (UNDP, 2018). In Mongolia, 79.3% of people work as part of the skilled labour force, of which 28.7% are in agriculture, and 52.2% are in services (UNDP, 2018). By extension, 48.9% of total employment in Mongolia is considered to be vulnerable employment (UNDP, 2018), or employment that is deemed relatively precarious in nature as indicated by the status in employment (ILO, 2009). The total unemployment rate in Mongolia is 6.3%, with 0.6% of people living below the income poverty line of PPP $1.90 a day, and 1.9% of working poor living at PPP $3.10 a day (UNDP, 2018).
Employment Gender Gap in Mongolia
In Mongolia, the total unemployment rate in 2019 was 5.31%. With an estimated gross national income of $12,981 USD for males and $8,756 USD for females, the gender income gap stands at 32.5% (UNDP, 2019). Roughly 67.6% of women participate in the informal employment sector while caring for their children, and 3.6% of women are unemployed (A Pilot Time Use Survey, 2000). Although average female wages are not lower than those of males, there is a significant and sizeable gender gap for those over the age of 20 in Mongolia (Pastore, 2010). If wages were paid equally, women would be paid 11.7% more for their higher education attainment and overall, 22% more than men (Pastore, 2010). One explanation for the gender wage gap in Mongolia is the notion that women tend to accumulate less work experience after giving birth and are more likely to be inactive in the labour market due to their engagement in the care of children and other family members (Pastore, 2010). Women who remain active in the labour force after becoming mothers tend to self-select themselves into jobs that offer greater job stability, less commitment to work, and provision of childcare allowances in exchange for lower pay. This affords them a greater sense of flexibility in terms of combining work and family responsibilities but renders them less mobile in the labour market (Dugarova, 2019; Pastore, 2010). Moreover, persistent inequality in wages limits women’s bargaining power in the labour market and within the family, and thereby increases their unpaid care and domestic work (Dugarova, 2019). This policy brief illustrates the current conditions surrounding childcare practices and policies in Mongolia and highlights the need to reform the care sector to address the effects of childcare on gender inequality and female labour force participation.
Women’s Unpaid Care Work in Mongolia
In Mongolia, it is primarily women who care for children or elderly family members and manage their households (A Pilot Time Use Survey, 2000; Batjargal et al., 2000; Khandarmaa et al., 2012). As families rely more on subsistence production to meet household needs than they had in the past, women in Mongolia are increasingly working at home for longer hours than men, reducing their ability to take up alternative economic opportunities (Thomas et al., 2005). According to national time-use surveys, women spend on average 2.1 times as many hours on unpaid care and domestic work than men (4.8 and 2.3 hours respectively) (A Pilot Time Use Survey, 2000; Dugarova, 2019). King et al. (2021) report that 81.5% of unpaid childcare and 86.1% of unpaid elderly care is provided by women in Mongolia. The Asian Development Bank reports that, on average, women in Mongolia spend approximately 45 minutes per working day on caring for children, the sick, the elderly, and disabled persons within their own households, while men spend only 16 minutes on care activities (Thomas et al., 2005). These factors undermine the dual-earner model and further exacerbate unequal gender relations (Dugarova, 2019; Thomas et al., 2005).
Issues with the Status Quo
To earn an income, women in Mongolia have increasingly entered the labour market, now accounting for half of the country’s workforce (Batjargal et al., 2000). Although female labour force participation in Mongolia has increased overall, the gender wage gap has remained persistent, with large variation in wages across sectors, occupations, and rural and urban areas, and no legislative provision to mandate equal remuneration for work (Dugarova, 2019). The gender wage gap, however, cannot be explained by lower qualifications of women compared with men, as the educational attainments of women in Mongolia have been high since before the country’s independence. It is more likely attributed to occupational and industrial segregation by gender and labour market discrimination (Dugarova, 2019). Although Mongolia has abolished occupational restrictions on women’s labour and prohibited gender-based discrimination by labour codes, far fewer women work in high-demand and high-paid sectors, such as mining and construction. Women also tend to choose lower-paying, public sector jobs, which is explained by more stability and flexibility in terms of combining work and family responsibilities (Dugarova, 2019; “Mongolia Systematic Country Diagnostic,” 2018).
At present, the government of Mongolia offers an allowance of 20,000 Mongolian tughriks (MNT) (around $10 USD as of June 2016) per month to all children aged 0 to 17 years old through the Child Money Programme (CMP). The monthly benefit is intended to combat the country’s large gap in childhood development service provision by providing eligible families with an income to cover childcare costs (Peyron-Bista et al., 2016). While most income groups receive the same proportion of the CMP budget, children of migrant workers are not covered by the programme (“Mongolia Systematic Country Diagnostic,” 2018). Moreover, the payment level is well below an average wage in Mongolia, and thus hardly compensates a child carer’s income (Dugarova, 2019). In addition, the system of welfare provision for women, including paid maternity leave and child benefits, while providing some income security for women, is often not sufficient and thereby contributes to gendered differences in earnings. In Mongolia, both parents are entitled to leave work to take care of a child under the age of 3 for a maximum of 156 weeks. Moreover, women are entitled through national legislation to 120 days of paid maternity leave. However, there is no entitlement for paid paternity leave (Addati et al., 2014). Furthermore, a lack of sufficiently developed policies for equitable sharing of domestic and childcare work between mothers and fathers strengthens traditional gender roles and reinforces the male breadwinner model throughout the country (Dugarova, 2019). As such, this persistent inequality in wages tends to increase women’s unpaid care and domestic work, as it is primarily women who choose to opt out of the labour market and stay at home with children (Dugarova, 2019; “Mongolia Systematic Country Diagnostic,” 2018).
The Need for Reform
In Mongolia, care work is regarded as a relatively low political priority. The government argues that “caregiving is primarily the responsibility of the family and has little impact on economic development and growth” (King et al., 2021, p. 12). Nevertheless, the government has committed to developing childcare facilities to promote the economic participation of women and redistribute childcare responsibilities between the state, the family, and the market. (Dugarova, 2019). Although private preschool services have worked to fill the demand of the growing population, concerns have been raised regarding their quality in disadvantaged areas, such as the rural regions of the country where childcare services are much less accessible. Moreover, there is a shortage of childcare facilities for children under the age of three and those residing in rural areas who pursue a herding lifestyle. The poor quality of preschools, particularly in remote areas, and their affordability in the case of private kindergartens have forced many women to stay at home with their children and rely on financial assistance from the family or the state, which does not necessarily compensate for the earnings forgone due to unpaid care work (Dugarova, 2019). King et al. estimates that the unpaid childcare burden for the population of Mongolia will increase from 1.4 million hours per day in 2015 to 1.7 million hours per day in 2030. This will result in an increased need for full-time equivalent workers from 14.2% of the labour force to 15.4% in order to meet the country’s future unpaid childcare needs (based on a 40-hour work week) (King et al., 2021). Based on Mongolia’s current patterns of unpaid caregiving, “four-fifths of this care burden will fall on girls and women in the family” (King et al., 2021, p. 11). With this increasing need for childcare comes an increasing burden on women and a subsequent need to reform the childcare sector in Mongolia to support female labour force participation.
For Mongolia to meet its future care needs and alleviate the care burden on women and their families, the government must design and implement policies that will provide its citizens with quality care services. These policies should focus on encouraging female labour force participation by providing women with accessible childcare, thereby making it easier for women to enter the work force. Broadly speaking, the government of Mongolia should support caregiving by investing in care programs and childcare facilities, such as preschools and kindergartens, particularly in remote areas (King et al., 2021). This would mitigate the need for women to stay at home with their children and rely on financial assistance from the family or the state (Dugarova, 2019). The government should also establish regulatory measures for women in the labour market, including legislation to mandate equal remuneration for work, in order to protect their well-being and eliminate the gender wage gap. Lastly, the government of Mongolia should create policies that support family caregivers by encouraging “a more egalitarian sharing of the care burden” (King et al., 2021, p. 12). The government should increase the amount paid to families through the CMP benefit to ensure that it covers the cost of childcare. It should also extend the program to be more inclusive and include children of migrant workers. Moreover, the government should consider developing policies that promote gender equality, such as paid paternity leave and the equitable allocation of direct and indirect care work activities between men and women. This could support a shift away from the prominent male breadwinner model and foster greater female labour force participation.
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Photo attribution: Tiare Scott, “Mongolian children and Mother” available through a Creative Commons license on Flickr