The 16 Countries Where Women Are Faring Equal To Or Better Than Men

In most countries, men have higher well-being than women. But not in all. And that’s at least some progress.

The 16 Countries Where Women Are Faring Equal To Or Better Than Men
[Top: Flickr user Intel Free Press]

When you compare the overall development and well-being of men versus women, men are clearly better off in most societies across the globe. But there are exceptions–countries where women are now doing better than men–and those countries are worth noting.


Overall, the United Nations’ latest Human Development Report shows women are 8% less well-off than men, considering concerns like education achievement, life expectancy, and income. In South Asia, for example, there’s a 17% gap between the sexes, reflecting persistent inequality and discrimination.

However, of 148 countries included, this trend does not hold true in the following 16 countries, in which females all have higher human development values than men: Argentina, Barbados, Belarus, Estonia, Finland, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Poland, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Ukraine, and Uruguay.

The reasons are varied, the UN says: “For some of these countries, this may be attributed to higher female educational achievement; for others, to a significantly longer female life expectancy–over five years longer than that of males.”

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Generally when countries do well, women do well. Among nations the UN calls the “high human development group,” there’s only a 3% gender gap, while in “low human development” countries (which includes most of Africa) there’s a 17% gap. Afghanistan scores worst: It has a 60% achievement gap between men and women. High income countries in Northern Europe typically score highest for gender equality. Norway, Sweden and Iceland consistently come out on top of gender rankings, for instance.

The report also ranks countries for gender inequality, with Europe and Central Asia showing the least problems, and Sub-Saharan Africa showing the most. The U.S. actually scores badly for an advanced country–47th overall–reflecting the measures the UN chooses to assess equality. For example, women in the United States occupy only 18% of parliamentary seats (aka Congress), compared to 38% in the Netherlands and 45% in Sweden. The United States also has a relatively low labor force participation rate for women–57% compared to almost 80% in Holland. Inequality is worst overall in countries like Yemen and Sudan.

The report finds that 1.5 billion people are living in “multidimensional poverty” across the world, with a further 800 million at risk of falling back if relatively minor setbacks occur in their lives. For overall human development, Norway comes top, with Australia, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United States making up the top five. Check out the full study here. It’s full of good stuff.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.