10 Insights From a Decade of Measuring the Gender Gap

Fair wages motivate employees to work hard to produce and innovate. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index suggests that unequal pay for women represents a huge lost opportunity for many nations. The index tracks national differences and progress, reports Saadia Zahidi of the World Economic Forum: Women are more educated than before though gaps linger for even primary education, and more women are entering the workforce. Only two countries, Albania and Panama, report more female than male graduates in science, technology, engineering and math; women do far more unpaid work than men. “The rate of women’s entry into the workforce has surpassed that of men in some countries,” Zahidi writes. “[W]omen everywhere, no matter where, are the minority in leadership roles in business…. The leadership gap is most pronounced in politics, particularly at the executive level.” Women live longer than men and represent a burden to societies that have imposed obstacles to their working at full capability or receiving fair wages. – YaleGlobal

10 Insights From a Decade of Measuring the Gender Gap

In developing and poor economies alike, women face big obstacles to work and fair pay; Iceland, Finland top list; Yemen and Pakistan are at bottom
Saadia Zahidi
Thursday, November 20, 2014

Nearly 10 years ago we created the Global Gender Gap Index at the World Economic Forum as a tool that would remain stable over time and give countries the opportunity to track their progress on gender issues relative to themselves and to other countries. What have we learned about global gender equality patterns over the past decade?

Women are more educated than ever before. In 60 countries, the primary education gap has closed, in 79 countries the secondary education gap has closed and in 98 countries the tertiary education gap has closed. But education gender gaps are as much a function of income within countries as they are of income between countries. In 48 countries, the primary education gender gap remains open whereas the university gender gap has closed. In 16 countries, the secondary education gender gap still exists but the university gender gap has closed.

What women study is still different from what men study. In only two countries – Albania and Panama – are there more women than men graduates in STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). This doesn’t seem to be changing – in only five countries are there more female than male students enrolled in STEM studies. There is also a gender gap in advancement: in only 28 countries are there more female than male PhD degree holders.

Women outlive men in nearly all countries, except in Bahrain, Kuwait, Mali, Qatar and UAE. The “optimal” number of years by which women are expected to outlive men is five years. In 23 countries, women live even longer.

But the ultimate form of discrimination still persists in some parts of the world, where girls are not allowed to be born simply because they are girls. The global natural gender ratio at birth is 1.6 boys for every girl born. In 49 countries, the natural ratio is unmet, including in India and China where an exacerbated gender gap continues due to a preference for a son over a daughter.

Women still do most of the unpaid work in the world. Norway has the smallest gender gap on time spent on unpaid work, including childcare and housework, and even there women spend 215 minutes on unpaid work per day as compared to 184 minutes for men. India has the worst gender gap when it comes to unpaid work, with women working an average of 352 minutes compared to only 52 minutes in the case of men.

Women also work for pay, but their occupation differs significantly depending on where they are. In only four countries – Burundi, Malawi, Mozambique and Rwanda – women’s labour force participation is higher than that of men, but most of the women in employment are low-skilled labourers.

At the other end of the skills spectrum, since tertiary education gender gaps are converging in most of the world, regardless of location, women are now the majority of the entry-level high skill talent in much of the world. This shows in employment figures, with 62 out of 124 countries having more women than men in professional and technical positions.

The rate of women’s entry into the workforce has surpassed that of men in some countries. In 49 countries, more women than men have entered the labour force in the last nine years. In only nine countries has the female labour force declined in the last decade – this includes India, where almost 10 million women have dropped out of the workforce.

The rates of joblessness around the world are higher for women than for men. In 91 countries, female adult unemployment rates are higher than male adult unemployment. Women also tend to be employed in part-time jobs more frequently than men. In 84 countries, the total number for which data is available, more women work in part-time employment than men. But more men than women work in the informal sector: in only six countries are there more women involved in informal employment than men.

Almost universally, women get paid less for the paid work they do. Only in Denmark are women’s average estimated earned incomes higher than those of men, but globally women earn less than one-third the earnings of men for similar work. This gap has grown in 38 countries, but has reduced in 68 countries. Women also have less access to formal financial services in which to place their earnings: in over 100 countries men have a larger number of formal bank accounts than do women.

Demographics and gender gaps are complex, interrelated and sometimes yield unexpected outcomes. For example, countries where women work more do not necessarily have lower fertility rates. But as the global population ages, and workforces downsize, women will step into the labour force in greater numbers in many developed and emerging markets. In the absence of social support systems, however, they may end up with a dual burden of caregiving – for children and the elderly – while earning a living.

Still today, women everywhere, no matter where, are the minority in leadership roles in business. No country in the world rates the ability of women to rise to positions of senior leadership as being the same as that of men. Of the 25 countries that provide this data, women are still the minority on the boards of publicly listed companies, with countries like Canada, Germany and Japan still showing less than 10% women in such roles. Women are also not to be found among the owners of big firms. In only 17 of 107 countries are there more than 50% of firms with female participation in ownership.

The leadership gap is most pronounced in politics, particularly at the executive level. Only 52 countries have had a female head of government in the last 50 years. In other words, of the total 7100 years of leadership roles across more than 100 countries in the last half-century, only 309 – 4% – have been occupied by a woman.

These insights are based on national level indicators from more than100 countries and represent over 90% of the seven billion people on our planet. Behind these aggregate numbers are the changing lives of hundreds of millions of women – and men – and the changing social fabric and economic structures around them.

What might the next ten years hold? While change may have been slow thus far, there is one key reason to believe that the pace may accelerate in years to come. The values and ideas of women around the world now have a voice and an agency that they did not have before. Access to and use of the internet has a notable gender reverse: In 51 of 61 countries for which data is available, more women than men use the internet.

We may be heading into a new world, one in which the aspirations of the next generation of women – and their partners, parents and children – converge towards ever greater momentum for equality.


Saadia Zahidi is senior director for Gender Parity, Human Capital and Constituents, World Economic Forum.
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