Global Gender Parity Insights from the World Economic Forum’s Gender Gap Report

Women represent half of the global population,  but they often do not have the same access to health, education, earning power, and political representation, as men. According to McKinsey, global GDP could increase by $12 trillion by 2025 simply by advancing women’s equality. Despite this, the world is far from achieving gender parity, as can be seen from the annual Gender Gap Report published by the World Economic Forum (WEF) in October 2016. According to the Gender Gap Index (GGI) data in the report, the world would need approximately 83 years to reach gender parity given the current situation and current trends.

The WEF has been reporting the GGI in its Gender Gap Report since the report’s inception in 2006. The index uses four categories to rank 144 countries on the basis of gender equality. The first category is economic participation and opportunity, which includes female workforce participation, participation in high skilled jobs, and wage equality. The second is educational attainment, which includes female literacy and school enrollment rates. The third is health and survival, which includes a female-male sex ratio at birth and female-male healthy life expectancy ratio. The fourth category is political empowerment, which accounts for female seats in parliament and ministerial level positions, among other metrics. The index also has three noteworthy features: First, the variable values are measured in terms of gaps instead of incidence, which is to say the difference in these metrics between men and women is considered rather than simply the metrics for women, to account for different levels of development in the examined countries. Second, the focus is on indicators that are outcomes instead of inputs. For example, the index measures the gender gap in highly skilled jobs, which is an outcome, instead of comparing the length of maternity leave, which is an input, in different countries. Finally, the index values gender parity over simply improvement in the prospects of women. For instance, countries where there is no gap between school enrollment for men and women would receive the same rank for educational attainment as other nations where the enrollment rate is higher for girls.

Analysis of the country profiles in the WEF report shows that 15 of the 19 countries where the gender gap is significantly high in economic participation and opportunity, which means more than 50 percent, are from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. In fact, Israel is the only MENA country in the top 50 of the global index; Oman, Jordan, Lebanon and Bahrain are in the bottom 50. According to the index estimates, it could take the MENA region 129 years to achieve gender equality. These findings are consistent with other reports and statistics from the OECD, the World Bank, and a recent article in Economic ModelingThe only countries to have closed more than 80 percent of their respective gender gap are the five Nordic countries: Denmark, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, and Norway. Most literature on these countries attributes this success to their high-quality child care policies and investments in women’s education.

The gender gap statistics presented above prompts the authors to conduct a deeper analysis of the sub-indexes across countries, which yields three key insights: First, a larger education gap is highly correlated with a larger economic gender gap and low economic performance. Second, women’s political leadership and wider economic participation are correlated. Third, and most importantly, a strong relationship exists between the Gender Gap Index and Human Capital Index—specifically a decrease in the gender gap is associated with a country being better able to train and deploy a talented workforce.

The discussion presented above, paired with the fact that women make up half of the world’s human capital, point to a grave need for solutions designed to address the global gender gap. Potentially, a three-pronged approach that focuses on investing in the future of women could be successful. The first prong would be policy reform in terms of facilitating work-life balance for women, a greater emphasis on early childhood education for female students, and the provision of subsidies to businesses led by women. Second, policy makers need to focus on bolstering forums that encourage the political participation of women. Greater representation of women in policymaking is essential to enriching the debate on public policy improvements for everyone and for women specifically. Finally, the MENA and Nordic country gender rank comparison indicates that ingrained cultural norms can make existing gender gaps more persistent. Thus, a third prong of continued advocacy for adjusting cultural norms to allow for female empowerment can raise awareness of this issue and lead to gender equality.

Article source: Hausmann, Ricardo, Saadia Zahidi, Klaus Schwab, and Laura D’Andrea Tyson. “The Global Gender Gap Report 2016.” World Economic Forum, 2016.

Featured photo: cc/(marekuliasz, photo ID: 151532911, from iStock by Getty Images)

Antra Bhatt
Antra Bhatt is an Economist by training with a keen interest in gender policy and methods of policy analysis. Prior to joining Harris, she was working with Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, India as Assistant Professor. At TISS, she taught quantitative research methodology and also worked on development policy related research. Prior to joining TISS, she worked as a consultant with the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations at their Rome Headquarters, Italy. She has also worked as a consultant with the Asian Development Bank on a project on ‘Sovereign Debt Sustainability in Asia Pacific’.

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