From gender gaps to corruption: 5 lessons from the first public work survey

The World Bank compares the size and composition of public workforces in 115 countries

The gender pay gap is seven percentage points lower in the public sector than the private sector. Better-paid public servants aren’t necessarily less corrupt. And working for the state accounts for 38% of formal employment worldwide.

These are a few of the insights from the World Bank’s Worldwide Bureaucracy Indicators (WWBI), the world’s first large-scale survey of public sector employment.

The WWBI compares 87 variables across 115 countries, from employees’ pay, age and education to the public sector’s impact on labour markets.

Currently, we know little about the size and composition of public sector workforces around the world. With these internationally comparable measures, the World Bank wants to fill this gap, and give governments a standard against which to measure their workforces.

“Governments can see where they stack up in relation to others”

The WWBI offers governments “a way to recruit and retain employees and guide employment policies,” said Zahid Hasnain, co-lead at the World Bank’s Bureaucracy Lab, which aims to promote better evidence and technology in civil service reform.

“It’s meant to be a useful first cut to see where they stack up in relation to other governments, and will hopefully trigger questions that probe deeper analysis,” said Hasnain.

Launched last month, the WWBI uses data from individual countries’ household surveys, as well as from think tanks, universities and data partnerships. The indicators will prove particularly useful to managers, HR departments and ministries of finance, Hasnain said.

Most interesting findings

1. The gender pay gap is lower in the public sector than the private sector.

Across all regions of the world, the ratio of female to male average wages is higher in the public than in the private sector: women make 88% of male wages in the public sector, versus 81% in the private sector.

There are also more women in the public sector than in the private sector — although they remain outnumbered by men.

2. The public sector is a large employer: it makes up 38% of formal employment worldwide. Overall, the public sector is responsible for 16% of total employment, 30% of wage employment and 38% of formal sector wage employment.

3. Public servants are particularly well-educated: 39% public sector employees have a tertiary degree.

That figure reaches 60-70% in some countries, including Sri Lanka, Mauritania, Vietnam and Tajikistan. In East Timor, over 80% of public servants hold a postgraduate degree.

4. Better-paid civil servants aren’t necessarily less corrupt.

There was no relationship found between the extent of corruption (using the Control of Corruption index) and the public sector wage premium.

5. Public sector employees earn a higher wage premium (the difference in wages when controlling for age, gender and education level) than private sector employees.

Public sector wages were found to be, on average, 16% higher than private sector wages across the 72 countries where data was available. The size of the premium varies across countries: in Russia, there’s a wage penalty of 20% for public servants; in Botswana, a premium of 60%.

However, there are limitations to the indicators. As data primarily came from household surveys, it was difficult for the World Bank and its partners — the Governance Global Practice, the Poverty and Equity Global Practice and the Development Economics Research Group — to compare variables on certain measures.

For example, the World Bank used data covering the years between 2000 and 2016. Some countries only had data available for one of those years, while others had a decade’s worth of information.

In Latin America and the Caribbean, for example, countries carry out very regular labour force surveys, while there’s less data available in African and Asian nations.

Researchers had to harmonise 13 million data points from respective countries’ household surveys into a common format, which involved “making some assumptions as we recoded variables,” said Hasnain. “We had to make some big decisions in the reorganisation process.”

The WWBI also doesn’t include geographic or departmental information, which would allow governments to compare the spread and characteristics of public employees across their country.

Nevertheless, it’s a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning about the composition of the public sector — and a tool that allows governments to evaluate their own performance. The World Bank will continue updating the indicators in real time. —Jennifer Guay

(Picture credit: The World Bank, Unsplash)

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