Image: Anton Watman / Shutterstock

Closing the Global Gender Gap

Women around the world face many challenges that go well beyond obtaining equal pay for equal work. They also still have to overcome hurdles with regard to education, health outcomes and their representation in politics. We wonder: At the current rate of progress achieved since 2006, in how many years would the global gender gap for all these various areas be closed?

A. 13 years
B. 61 years
C. 100 years
D. 217 years

A. 13 years … is not correct.

The global gender gap in education will reach parity soonest. Based on the rate of progress achieved since 2006, it could close in just 13 years from now.

This means that overall literacy rates, the net enrollment rates for primary school and secondary school as well as “tertiary” (university-level) education enrollment for women and girls will at least be at par with the respective statistics for men and boys.

Improvements in educational attainment are key determinants for a country’s long-term economic prospects, its fertility rate and people’s income prospects.

This projection comes from the World Economic Forum’s 2017 report. It examines a range of key inequities between women and men by issue and region. The annual report has tracked 106 countries continuously since first issued in 2006 and now monitors 144 countries altogether.

34 countries have completely closed the education gap already (or have more educated women than men). The lowest-ranked country is Chad, in Central Africa, with women less than 60% on the way to parity.

Currently, the education gap at the global level is 95% closed. That is second only to the women’s health and survival gap. The latter is 96% closed (measured on the baseline variables of sex ratio at birth and expected years of healthy life compared to men). Unlike education, that gap has widened over the past 10 years, rather than closing.

B. 61 years is … not correct.

The world region where the overall gender gap will close fastest is in Western Europe (61 years). This is followed by South Asia (62 years) and Latin America (79 years).

In sub-Saharan Africa, the gender gap is 102 years away from closing, based on current trends. The Middle East is 157 years away from gender equity. Just behind that timetable is East Asia-Pacific (161 years).

Some of these results may be surprising. However, closing the gender gap depends on two factors: First, how large it still is at present – and second, how fast regions or countries manage to close it.

For Western Europe, the overall gap to reach gender parity is currently the smallest, although still at 25%. The gap is very similar for the United States (28%). China and India both have larger gender gaps at (33%).

However, the fact that Western Europe’s gap is expected to take another 61 years to close, compared to South Asia’s 62 years, is an indication that, over the past 10 years, progress has been faster in South Asia than in Europe. If that trend continues, then South Asia and Europe would be closing their respective gender gap at around the same time.

Among the G20 countries, France is the nation that has achieved the highest progress towards gender parity (ranking 11th worldwide), closely followed by Germany (12th), the United Kingdom (15th), Canada (16th), South Africa (19th) and Argentina (34th).

South Korea (118th), Turkey (131th) and Saudi Arabia (138th) make up the lower ranks of this group.

Remarkably, the United States (49th) would take 168 years to reach gender equity. North America has registered the slowest regional rate of progress since 2006.

C. 100 years … is correct.

The global gender gap between men and women across all categories – education, economics, politics and health – could reach parity in 100 years, if it continues to close at the same rate as it has since 2006.

Coincidentally, closing the gender gap with regard to political empowerment will take nearly as long as closing the overall gender gap – 99 more years. This measure tracks the percentage of women in national parliaments and governments, as well as years of leadership by a woman politician in the given country’s top job.

The United States ranks toward the lower end of the scale in political empowerment (96th place, out of 144 countries).

Iceland has the narrowest overall gender gap, while Yemen has the widest. (They also rank as the first and last for political empowerment.)

Four Nordic countries make the top five, with Rwanda ranked fourth. The sixth through 10th places go to Nicaragua, Slovenia, Ireland, New Zealand and the Philippines.

D. 217 years … is not correct.

With 217 years to go, the gender gap in economic participation and opportunities is expected to be the second-slowest gap to close, based on the current rate of progress over the past decade.

The progress of women in this area is measured based on five dimensions: relative labor force participation; wage equality for similar work; earned income ratios; the share of women in managerial, senior official or legislative roles; as well as the share of female professional and technical workers.

Surprisingly, the small and impoverished East African nation of Burundi ranks first worldwide for economic participation and opportunities for women.

Word count: 847