But in its latest Doing Business report, the bank offers what for many countries — and half their population — is an important question: why is it so much harder for women to do business than men?
For the first time, economists at the World Bank this year sought to measure the regulatory environment for female entrepreneurs in starting a business, property rights and enforcing contracts.
Those findings were used as part of the ranking of the 190 countries covered by the report.
In 155 economies women do not have the same legal rights as men, much less the supporting environment that is vital to promote entrepreneurship, said Paul Romer, the World Bank’s new chief economist.
The growing consensus among economists and policymakers is those sorts of obstacles matter economically.
According to the World Bank, about a third of small and medium-size enterprises in emerging markets have at least one female owner.
But their average growth rate is significantly lower than male-owned businesses because they lack ready access to credit and face other forms of discrimination.
In the Middle East and north Africa the gender gap in entrepreneurship results in an income loss of almost 30 per cent, according to the bank, with even Europe seeing a 10 per cent loss in income.
The bank’s researchers found 23 economies where women faced a different process to set up a limited liability company, 16 where women did not have the same property rights as men and 17 where if a woman did not have the same legal standing as a man in court.
They found the most restrictive laws in the Middle East and Africa.
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, married women need their husband’s permission to set up a business.
In Benin, women need to present a marriage certificate to get the identification documents needed to eventually register a business.
The World Bank also collected data on whether countries had requirements for women to serve on corporate boards and found nine economies where that was the case including France, Germany, Italy, Norway and India.
But the bank decided not to include laws requiring female board members as part of its scoring because the evidence on the value of such laws remains mixed.
According to the bank, for the first time in a decade the world’s best place to do business was somewhere other than Singapore, with New Zealand topping the rankings and the Asian island state falling to second place.
Somalia, which was included for the first time this year, was last among the 190 economies ranked.
This year’s rankings also include disappointing news for other big economies.
India, where the government of Mahendra Modi has put its Doing Business ranking at the heart of reform efforts, did not budge in the rankings, coming in 130th and improving its score only marginally.
China, which has sought to eliminate the rankings in the past, moved up six places to 78th place but remained below developing economies such as Azerbaijan, Jamaica and Mongolia.
Augusto Lopez-Claros, director of the World Bank’s Global Indicators Group, said researchers this year had documented a record 283 reforms in 137 of the 190 countries covered.
世行旗下全球指标小组(Global Indicators Group)负责人奥古斯托.洛佩斯-克拉罗斯(Augusto Lopez-Claros)称，研究人员今年记录了排名包括的190个国家中137个国家创纪录的283项改革。
Encouragingly, he said, 80 of those reforms had come in countries in sub-Saharan Africa.