The Gender Gap Remains As Wide As Ever (Especially The Economic Gender Gap)

In a ranking of countries of the gap between men and women–on measures such as health, education, and political participation–the U.S. comes in a disappointing 45th.

Eighty-three years. That’s how long it will take to fully close the “gender gap” around the world, based on current trends. While several countries, like Finland and Norway, are now approaching something like full equality between the sexes, many others see nothing like it. In fact, when it comes to economic participation and opportunity, there’s been a slippage in progress in the last few years, the World Economic Forum’s latest Global Gender Gap report shows.


The analysis looks at gender equality across four fields: education and health levels, economic opportunity, and political empowerment. Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden make up the top four, as they have for many years. (In fact, they top most human progress and national well-being-type rankings.) The surprise is to see Rwanda in fifth place. It scores particularly highly for political empowerment, being only one of two countries to have more women in parliament than men.

On average, the gap in health and education outcomes are least wide: 96% and 95% respectively. The gap for economic participation is wider, at 59% (the worst result since 2008) and widest for political representation, at 23%. Only 11 countries have closed the economic participation and opportunity gap to 80% or better, including Norway, Iceland, and Sweden, and four countries from sub-Saharan Africa: Burundi, Botswana, Rwanda, and Ghana.

The U.S. does comparatively badly for an advanced country, coming in only in 45th place. The report notes that our female labor force participation rate has been “stagnating for a number of years, including among legislators, senior officials, and managers.” We’re in 26th place for economic participation. And our “health and survival” scores are terrible (62nd place), mainly because of relatively low average life expectancy. But we’ve reached gender parity in education, creating a “large latent talent pool.” So that’s good.

Will the world continue to close the gender gap, particularly in the economic realm, where it seems hardest to close it? There’s reason to worry, says the report, because many jobs employing women could be at risk from the “coming age of technological disruption known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution” (basically, robots and artificial intelligence). “This ‘hollowing out’ of female livelihoods could deprive economies further of women’s talents and increases the urgency for more women to enter high-growth fields such as those demanding STEM skills,” the report says.

See more from the analysis here (it’s meaty), or use this calculator to explore the gender gap where you live.

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.