Women Slowly Close Gender Gap with Men

Robert Engelman | Mar 09, 2011


Women’s well-being and social participation relative to men improved steadily though slowly and unevenly during the last half of the past decade, according to the “gender gap” index developed by the World Economic Forum. The index's median country score in 2010 was 68 percent, meaning that in half of the 134 countries in the index, women had closed more than that percentage of the possible gender gap with men in health, education, and economic participation and opportunity.1 In the other half they had closed less than 68 percent of the gap. (See Table 1.) But gender gaps vary widely around the world, and in a few countries they have worsened in recent years.

Since 2006 the World Economic Forum has been tracking gender gaps in four broad categories—health, education, economic participation, and political participation—in dozens of countries for which data can be differentiated by sex. Each autumn, the Forum releases the country rankings based on an index with scores on how closely women approach men in each of these categories. The Forum report does not provide a single aggregate gender-gap score for the world as a whole, but it does average gender gaps in each of the four categories. And it counts the countries in which gaps have narrowed and those in which they have widened.

In 2010, Iceland was the best country for women’s equality, the index found, with a score of 85 percent. This indicates that women experience social outcomes that average 85 percent as good as the outcomes for men across all categories and indicators within each category. Other Nordic countries—Norway, Finland, and Sweden—were right behind Iceland. In the bottom-ranked country, Yemen, with a score of 46 percent, women’s social outcomes average less than half those of men.


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