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Work and Play: International Evidence of Gender Equality in Employment and Sports


  • Michael W. Klein


This paper addresses the question of whether societies that afford economic opportunity to women offer other opportunities as well. The analysis in this paper shows that the performance of a country's women in international athletic competition reflects the degree of their relative participation in that country's labor market. There is a significant positive relationship across countries between a high ratio of the labor force participation rate of women to the labor force participation rate of men and the number and type of medals won by a country's women in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics. Teams representing countries with high relative labor force participation rates also were both more likely to qualify for the 1999 Women's Soccer World Cup and to do well in that competition. This effect of relative labor force participation rates on athletic success is found while controlling for a nation's income per capita, population, men's performance in related sporting events, rate of participation of women in government, and fertility rate. These results suggest that the participation of women in a country's labor force is an important reflection of their opportunities in other areas as well.

Suggested Citation

  • Michael W. Klein, 2002. "Work and Play: International Evidence of Gender Equality in Employment and Sports," NBER Working Papers 9081, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:9081
    Note: LS PE

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Kuper, Gerard & Sterken, Elmer, 2001. "Olympic participation and performance since 1896," CCSO Working Papers 200104, University of Groningen, CCSO Centre for Economic Research.
    2. Kristin Mammen & Christina Paxson, 2000. "Women's Work and Economic Development," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 14(4), pages 141-164, Fall.
    3. Andrew B. Bernard & Meghan R. Busse, 2000. "Who Wins the Olympic Games: Economic Development and Medal Totals," NBER Working Papers 7998, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. repec:dgr:rugccs:200104 is not listed on IDEAS
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    Cited by:

    1. Joshua Congdon-Hohman & Victor A. Matheson, 2013. "International women’s soccer and gender inequality: revisited," Chapters,in: Handbook on the Economics of Women in Sports, chapter 16, pages 345-364 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    2. J. Wilson Mixon Jr. & Gary H. Roseman, 2003. "Male-Female Life Expectancy and Economic Freedom," Journal of Private Enterprise, The Association of Private Enterprise Education, vol. 19(Fall 2003), pages 1-20.
    3. T. Potts & R. Edwards, 2013. "The decreasing returns to gender equality: evidence from the 2012 summer Olympics," Applied Economics Letters, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 20(16), pages 1501-1505, November.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • J16 - Labor and Demographic Economics - - Demographic Economics - - - Economics of Gender; Non-labor Discrimination
    • L83 - Industrial Organization - - Industry Studies: Services - - - Sports; Gambling; Restaurants; Recreation; Tourism

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