We use a 50-year panel of gendered laws for 190 countries to examine whether laws and legal change are associated with several measures of women’s empowerment. Cross-country analysis reveals that those country attributes that are significant predictors of legal gender equality (e.g., religion, legal origin, geography) evolve slowly, if at all. Therefore, the path to meaningful legal reform may be long and arduous. But such reform matters. We find – in both cross-country and time-series analyses - that greater legal equality between men and women is on average associated with a lower gender gap in opportunities and outcomes, with fewer female workers in positions of vulnerable employment, and with greater political representation for women. These associations are robust to conditioning on a country’s stage of development as proxied by income per capita. However, they mask considerable heterogeneity across countries. We use three country case studies from the Democratic Republic of Congo, India, and Spain, to demonstrate how individual countries’ experiences may deviate from average trends.
Financial Markets Group Discussion Papers DP 824