How Long Until Women Are Treated as Equals?

A report from the World Economic Forum finds that true gender equality is still more than a century away.
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(Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

(Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

In 2006, the World Economic Forum developed the Global Gender Index—a means of measuring a country's gender disparities for health outcomes and educational, political, and economic opportunities. After collecting a decade of data, the Forum has released a progress report on global gender equality—or rather, inequality, given that a gender gap remains in every single one of the 145 countries included in the report.

Globally, the disparity in health outcomes—a catch-all term for sex ratio and life expectancybetween men and women is 96 percent closed, and the gap in educational attainment is 95 percent closed. But the inequality in indices of political empowerment (measured by the ratio of men to women in high-level decision-making positions) and economic participation and opportunities (the number of women in the labor force and in high-level positions therein) remains wide. Just 59 percent of the economic gap and less than a quarter of the political gap has been closed.

A gender gap remains in every single one of the 145 countries included in the report.

That is not to say no progress has been made: Twenty-five countries fully closed the gap in educational attainment, 40 closed the gap in health outcomes, and a full 10 have closed the gap in both. But no country has fully closed the economic or political gaps. Pushback from men in the workplace may partly explain why it has proven more difficult for women to gain an equal number of spots in the highest-ranking positions of the labor force. Alana Massey reported for Pacific Standard earlier this year on several studies that found even men who outwardly support gender equality were inwardly threatened by female leadership:

A study published earlier this month in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that, across three separate experiments, even men ostensibly committed to gender equality in the workplace often feel threatened by female bosses and act accordingly. In a simulation of salary negotiation from a starting offer of $28,500, male participants dealing with a male manager counter-offered a mean figure of $42,870. In contrast, men dealing with a female manager counter-offered a mean figure of $49,400. Because it was unlikely that participants would admit to feeling threatened by a female manager, all participants took part in an assessment wherein words flashed on a screen for under a second and then reported on the words they saw. Men dealing with female managers were more likely to see words like "risk" and "fear" than those who dealt with male managers. "We found that men exhibited higher implicit threat, indicating that even if committed to equality in theory, they felt threatened by a female manager," says Leah Sheppard, a co-author of the study.

There are innumerable reasons why closing the gender gap should be a top priority around the globe. Among them, a study covered by Tom Jacobs that found the countries with the most gender equality won more medals at the 2012 Summer and 2014 Winter Olympics, indicating that "equal rights for women may also boost the competitive prospects of men," he wrote.

At the current rate of progress, however, it will be another 118 years before the gender gap is closed. At least my great-great-granddaughters will have something to look forward to.

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