Global Gender Inequality By The Numbers: Is Slow And Steady Fast Enough?

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, modified by Curiousmatic.

Disparity in gender is nothing new, and though women’s rights have increased significantly over time, there are still notable gaps in equality that are only slowly and steadily narrowing.

The World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Equality Gap Report, which ranks nations based on gender equality to measure their individual and collective growth, focuses on the closing (or widening) gaps between men and women in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, political empowerment, health and survival, and education attainment.

On a global level, there is great news: health and survival and educational attainment gaps have all but been closed, at a narrow 96 and 94 percent respectively.

aha75pxIconAs of 2014, 25 countries have fully closed their educational attainment gaps.

Economic and political outcomes have closed much less, at only 60 percent for economic outcomes and a less-than-satisfying 21 percent for political outcomes (political outcomes, however, have seen the most improvement since 2006).

Rankings are calculated by converting data percentages into rations in primary areas and calculating the gap on a 1-point scale, 1 being total equality and 0 being none. For example, if 20 percent of women are in ministerial positions, the ration is 20-80, and the number .25.

Though, as the Wall Street Journal states, gender equality may not be completely susceptible to quantitative measurement, the report is able to shed some much needed perspective on the matter.

Where is the gap narrowest?

The country closest to complete gender equality is Iceland, for the fifth year running, followed by Finland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark. These Nordic countries have all closed over 80 percent of their gender gap.


Other nations in the top 20 include South Africa, Rwanda, and Nicaragua, all ranking above the U.S.

The United States has risen to 20th place from 23rd in 2013. The U.S ranked as low as 31 in 2007 and 2009, and as high as 17 in 2011.

Even so, the United States has completely closed both the education and health gap, with both at 100 percent. North America as a whole excels in three of the four categories, but lags behind in the political empowerment spectrum.

Where is it the widest?

Yemen ranks last at 142, with Pakistan, Chad, Syria, and Mali not far ahead. Still, countries like Yemen have improved by their own standards over the past years, while other low-ranking countries like Jordan, Kuwait, and Zambia have showed deterioration since 2006.

Over the nine years of available data, however, improvement is notable worldwide.

Political empowerment has gone from 14 to 21 percent, economic participation from 56 to 60 percent, education 92 to 94 percent, and a surprising though minimal decrease in health disparity from 97 to 96 percent.

Income and work disparity

While North America holds the top spot in Economic Participation and Opportunity, with 82 percent of the gap closed, there is still a notable income disparity between genders. This is especially true for women of color.

Women are nationally and globally paid less than men. In America, the average is 77 cents to a man’s dollar, though women make only a little over half in some states, according to Slate, with Utah being the worst at 55 percent. The chart below shows median salaries of men and women, both black and white, by education.

Chart courtesy of Family Inequality

Inequality is also high within various industries. For example, a report on gender inequality in the restaurant industry shows systematic discrimination, due to “a conscious business model of confining women to the lower-paid positions within restaurants.”

Other examples include Hollywood, which is nowhere near gender equality; the same goes for the financial sector.

Women are also still highly unrepresented in positions of power, despite being better educated: only 8 percent of top executives are women, who despite being in the top ranks of Corporate America earn an average of 18 percent less than their male counterparts.

Though no country has reached gender equality yet, as there are always prejudices and stereotypes to overcome, the current trajectory suggests progress will come slow and steadily.

aha75pxIconAt this rate, it’s suggested that worldwide equality will take another 81 years.

Originally published on December 3, 2013. 

We measure success by the understanding we deliver. If you could express it as a percentage, how much fresh understanding did we provide?
Jennifer Markert