Gender equality and women's empowerment can be a major boost to economies, according to a new report by the United Nations.

Bringing women's income level with men, and increasing their participation in the economy can offer potential gains for basic human rights, human development and economic growth.

“Women’s economic empowerment is the right thing to do and the smart thing to do,” write the authors of the report, which was presented to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon at the UN General Assembly.

These four charts explain why.

Gender equality and human development

Image: United Nations

As this illustration shows, improved gender equality has a noticeable effect on human development.

The report suggests a number of reasons why women’s economic empowerment helps drive human development. Greater autonomy and choice for women is one factor. An increased female share of household income also boosts investment in children. Research suggests this correlates with increased spending on a child’s education and health.

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Research also suggests that gender equality is linked to increases in income, economic growth and competitiveness.

Image: United Nations

World Bank research indicates that rising incomes can counter gender inequality. When incomes go up, fertility rates fall, which frees up more women to participate in the workforce. Technological progress also reduces the need for unpaid domestic work – the bulk of which is done by women. Finally, increased incomes drive up demand for services, an area of the economy where the employment of women tends to grow faster.

Gender equality and economic growth

Image: United Nations

This chart shows the correlation between gender equality and economic growth. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates that advancing women’s equality could add US$12 trillion to the world’s yearly gross domestic product over the next decade alone.

The UN report argues that as global demographics change – notably, as the population grows older – closing gender gaps could be vital to economic growth.

“Given the projected sharp slowdown in the growth of the global labour supply as a result of demographic trends, reducing gender gaps in the labour market will become increasingly important to economic growth in the coming decades,” write the authors.

Gender equality and competitiveness

Image: United Nations

Using the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, the chart shows the link between gender equality and competitiveness.

As with the other charts, there are also regional and development-level trends. The top left is dominated by developed regions, while sub-Saharan African countries feature towards the bottom right.

Closing the gender gap

These four charts highlight the economic benefits of closing the gender gap.

While there has been progress towards narrowing the disparity between men and women's rights in the workplace, it's been a slow process, as the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap and Human Capital reports have shown.

In fact, if progress continues at this rate, it will be another 118 years until the gender gap is closed completely.