Education and Skills

5 surprising facts from this year's Gender Gap Report

A man and a woman are silhouetted as they walk on an overpass at a business district in Tokyo, Japan, November 5, 2015. REUTERS/Yuya Shino - RTX1UVI5

Shadow economy ... women still work more, earn less than men Image: REUTERS/Yuya Shino

Till Leopold
Head, Inclusive Economies Practice, Centre for the New Economy and Society, World Economic Forum
Vesselina Stefanova Ratcheva
Head of Metrics, Communication Strategy and Coordination, World Economic Forum
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Gender is a key discussion point at this year's World Economic Forum Annual Meeting. For more information, watch the Disrupting the Status Quo of Gender Roles here.

The headlines from this year’s Global Gender Gap Report don’t make pleasant reading for anyone who thinks that the world might be a better place if there were greater parity between women and men.

Countries across the world are stalling on economic gender parity, despite many reaching or nearing equality in education. With only 59% of the economic gender gap closed, there is a long way to go before the world makes better use of all its talent.

So where is this gap the widest? And why haven’t prospects for women improved more, particularly since the great recession? The Global Gender Gap Report doesn’t have all the answers, but year on year it shines a light on selected corners of the global economy, and aspects of the wider system that help us understand where to focus our collective efforts.

1) Progress in North America and Europe is slowing down for women at work

It may not be surprising that improvements in the fortunes of women are unequal around the globe. But measuring the economic gender gap between the years 2006 (when we first started measuring gender inequality) and today does throw up some insights. The sharpest decline is in North America and Western Europe, while the otherwise poorly ranked Middle East and North Africa region is one of the most improved in the world.

2) Western Europe will close the economic gender gap in 47 years

Given its strong starting point, Western Europe is set to close the gap fastest, despite overall sluggish progress. North America, on the other hand, has been moving backwards since 2006. Latin America is the emerging region seeing some of the fastest pace of change, while in South Asia, progress has been so slow that it may not reach parity for another 1,000 years.

Despite starting at nearly the same point South Asia is at today, the MENA region is set to close the gap in a relatively short three centuries. This reflects the significant – and often under-appreciated – improvements that have been happening across workplaces in the region.

Sub-Saharan Africa is relatively near the top of the list. While this is undoubtedly promising, the region’s economies must help their hard-working women achieve greater reward for their efforts, and see a larger share of higher-paid, higher-skilled work than they tend to at present.

3) Education alone is not the answer

When it comes to enrolling as many young women as men in schools, college and university, the world has been relatively successful: the gap in tertiary education has been closed completely for 95 countries, and in secondary the gulf has been breached for 90 countries (the figure drops to 60 countries for primary education).

Of course, this doesn’t mean 100% of young adults are benefiting from education, but at least opportunities between the sexes are the same. In the chart below, we see that while girls and young women are generally leaving all stages of education with the same qualifications as the other half of humankind, there continues to be a “glass ceiling” in the world of work.

4) Women spend more than four hours a day on unpaid work – versus one hour 30 minutes for men

Why do women find it so hard to break into more senior positions? In part it is because they have so much going on outside the workplace. The below graph just about sums this up.

These figures are global. There are regional, national, not to mention socio-economic differences within countries. Still the overarching trend is that women work longer hours each day than men – by nearly one hour. Until unpaid work is better balanced between women and men, it will be hard to achieve parity in formal, paid work.

5) The value of care

If women are sacrificing careers to focus on care work, it helps to have an idea of how such care work is valued. This chart comes courtesy of (first used in our Human capital Report 2016) and is US-centric. But what it reveals is that generally low value is attached to care work, even when it’s paid for.

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Related topics:
Education and SkillsEquity, Diversity and Inclusion
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