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Socioeconomic Gender Gap Is Closing Worldwide, but Far from Eliminated

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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An image promoting gender equality, a man and woman holding hands, in Denmark The world’s gender gap along economic, political and other social dimensions continues to narrow, according to a new report released by the World Economic Forum, but lack of equality for women remains a major roadblock in most countries, including the U.S. The report quantified how close countries have come to gender parity and shows improvement on various measures since last year’s report in 86 of 133 nations studied. Iceland proved to be a leader in gender equality overall for the fifth year running, with other Nordic countries—Finland, Norway, and Swedentaking the next top three spots. For the first time, the Philippines made the top five as well.

The researchers measured gender equality by evaluating the gaps between men and women in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, which is measured through salaries and participation in highly skilled employment; education, measured by access to basic and higher levels; political empowerment, based on representation of each gender in decision-making structures; and health and survival, which measures a nation’s sex ratio (to detect signs of high rates of sex-selective abortions or infanticide) and life expectancy. By converting these measures into ratios—if 20 percent of college graduates in a country are women, for example, a variable of .25 is assigned to reflect a ratio of 2:8—the researchers ensured they could measure the gaps between attainment levels in men and women for each area studied.

For health and survival, as well as in education, the numbers were good: The global gender gap for health care stands at 96 percent closed, and gaps in education around the world are 93 percent closed. In fact, 25 countries evaluated have completely closed their educational gender gaps. But although women are educated nearly as many years as men in most countries, their roles in paid labor and leadership have yet to catch up. Gender gaps for economic equality and political participation worldwide were only 60 and 21 percent closed as of last week’s report, respectively.

This lag is unsurprising, says WEF Head of Gender Parity Saadia Zahidi. “In most countries, health and education are the bare minimum criteria for women to enter the workforce,” she says. “It is only once this has been achieved that it becomes possible to focus on helping optimize economic and political equalities.” There are exceptions, she notes: In Malawi, Mozambique and Burundi, women are highly integrated into the work force despite a large gender gap in primary education access. In another example, India ranks ninth in political empowerment, but falls to 101st overall when health and education are factored in. But for most countries, women’s health and education measures perform better than measures along other dimensions.

What’s left for countries like the U.S., which have closed gender gaps in education and health but fall short (in the case of the U.S., 23rd) in overall ranking? The big difference between top-ranking Finland and most other countries is the government’s unique level of commitment to helping women combine work and family life: With mandatory paternal leave, Zahidi says, comes more equal distribution of childcare and housework. This leaves women more able to rise to positions of power in the workplace, and has helped narrow the salary gap between men and women. “Almost every government can do better when it comes to generating returns on their investments in women’s health and education,” Zahidi says. “Only a comprehensive approach to ensuring women’s integration in the economy or in public life will address the current reality,” where employers can all too easily justify hiring a man over a woman.





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  1. 1. rationalrevolution 6:45 pm 10/28/2013

    “The researchers measured gender equality by evaluating the gaps between men and women in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, which is measured through salaries and participation in highly skilled employment; education, measured by access to basic and higher levels; political empowerment, based on representation of each gender in decision-making structures; and health and survival”

    This doesn’t rally make any sense. Why would you measure income but not consumption?

    I mean, if person A goes out into the woods, and forages up a basket full of food, then brings it back to the cave and gives the entire basket to person B, claiming that person A is advantaged because they have a higher “income” than person B makes no sense.

    Measuring only who receives income without measuring who consumes income gives a very incomplete picture. It is basically a method that is designed to present differences gender roles as inherently “unfair”.

    For example, if a man and woman are married and the man works and brings in $50,000 in income a year, but he then divides that income equally with his wife, giving her $25,000 a year to spend, according to the statistics measured, this would be a highly unfair and situation, where the women is considered to be horribly off and the man is greatly advantaged, when that is in fact not the case.

    Even further, if the one person works, brings in $50K a year and the other doesn’t work, but lives in the house paid for by the worker, and eats the food bought by the worker and has a car paid for by the worker and has clothes paid for by the worker, who is really the advantaged one in this scenario?

    I’m certainly not advocating that, but I think in order to get a complete picture of economic gender equity, it has to be taken into account.

    I think the reality is that this particular methodology presents every dollar of income received by a man as a dollar kept by a man, when in fact, huge sums of money are transferred from men to women. And in many cases, not all, those transferred of money from men to women are themselves as form of female empowerment, and even women with high incomes receive high levels of wealth transfer from men to them, that is also a fact.

    Let’s not look just as incomes, but also, who ultimately benefits from those incomes. I’d guess that on average in the US, women are the direct recipients of about 1 out of every 4 dollars earned by men, i.e. 1 out of every 4 dollars earned by men are either given directly to women or are spent buying goods and services for women.

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  2. 2. Archimedes 7:06 pm 10/28/2013

    Feminism has it’s origins in Bolshevik Marxist ideology not republican principles. As a result, it wages class war fare against men, as the oppressor class, using traditional Bolshevik Marxist tactics and strategies which include: 1. Terror (political correctness-political, economic, social, legal, and cultural oppression and discrimination against individuals and groups who oppose and/or who appear to oppose feminist unjust objectives );2. Indoctrination-feminist political, study, social, and cultural groups accomplish this indoctrination; 3. Sustained guerilla war (against men, men’s rights, and men’s just interests, for example affirmative action and other laws which grant women privilege while politically, economically, legally, and socially disenfranchising men).

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  3. 3. tuned 12:38 pm 10/29/2013

    I am even more concerned with the overall wealth inequality worldwide.
    Like pollution, it just keeps getting worse.

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  4. 4. rshoff2 12:51 pm 11/4/2013

    Socioeconomics and gender equity are separate issues. They may overlap, but the two cannot be thrown together with any expectation of a solution.

    They each warrant attention and improvements, separately, after which you will find less of a socioeconomic gender gap.

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  5. 5. sault 6:52 pm 11/4/2013

    The pay gap in the U.S. at least is real, but it is not as bad as the numbers frequently reported would make someone believe. First of all, the numbers are calculated by finding the average wage for men and comparing it to the average wage of women. This misses several key factors:

    1. Men work more hours per week and also work more overtime hours than women.

    2. Men are more willing to relocate for job opportunities.

    3. Women work more part-time jobs or work intermittently in order to take care or just be with their children more often than men.

    4. The highest-paying fields like Engineering, Science and business have lower female participation. Sexism as well as social conditioning and baseline interest in these fields all play a part, but it is unclear what their relative controbutions are.

    While there are ALWAYS exceptions, when you talk about averages like the U.S. gender pay gap, you MUST talk in general terms to have an apples to apples comparison.

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