The economic gender gap won’t be closed for another 217 years
Image: Billion Photos/Shutterstock

The economic gender gap won’t be closed for another 217 years

8 Nov 2017

The WEF has released the 2017 edition of its Global Gender Gap Report, which indicates that the gender gap has widened for the first time since the organisation started measuring it.

Recently, we reported on figures released by ComputerWeekly showing that within the tech industry in Ireland and the UK, women earn on average 25pc less than their male counterparts across all roles, regardless of experience.

The gender wage gap has always been a contentious issue. For every 10 who acknowledge the reality of the inequality, there is at least one detractor who insists the gap doesn’t exist.

Some detractors attempt to repudiate the concept by poking holes in the figures, while others are keyboard warriors who hop into the comments section below gender-gap-related articles and denounce the chasm as a “moronic feminist myth”, or other pleasant statements to that effect.

The Global Gender Gap Report

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has been measuring gender parity globally since 2006, when it published its first Global Gender Gap Report.

The international non-profit based in Switzerland set out to create the index “in part to address the need for a consistent and comprehensive measure for gender equality that can track a country’s progress over time”, according to the preface of the 2017 report written by WEF founder Klaus Schwab.

“The index does not seek to set priorities for countries but, rather, to provide a comprehensive set of data and a clear method for tracking gaps on critical indicators so that countries may set priorities within their own economic, political and cultural contexts.”

The index tracks the relative gender gaps in four realms: economics, health, education and politics.

The four metrics

Each metric has a complex sub-index comprising a number of different mitigating factors.

  1. Health and survival examines the sex ratios at birth to examine the phenomena of “missing women” prevalent in a number of countries with a “strong son preference”. The measure also provides an estimate of the “healthy life expectancy” of men and women, accounting for “the years lost to violence, disease, malnutrition and other relevant factors”.
  2. Educational attainment details the gulf between women’s and men’s access to education “through ratios of women to men in primary, secondary and tertiary-level education”. The view of educational equality is examined long-term by assessing comparative literacy rates between men and women.
  3. Political empowerment measures the number of women at the “highest level of political decision-making” versus the number of men at this level. It compares the ratio of women to men in ministerial positions and the gender ratio in parliamentary positions. In this instance, the report noted that the lack of data “capturing differences between the participation of women and men at local levels of government” is a clear drawback, but indicates that this information will be incorporated into future reports whenever figures become available.
  4. The economic gap, which will take more than two centuries to close based on current trends, has three main concepts: the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap. It examines the gender ratios within the labour force, the gap in wages paid – which uses a mixture of hard data indicators (estimated male-to-female income ratios) – and qualitative indicators measuring wage equality for similar work. It also measures advancement by looking at gender ratios among legislators, senior officials and managers, and gender ratio among technical and professional workers.

Key findings show a pressing need for progress

Among some of the key findings were reports of how the 144 countries observed have made great strides in closing the gaps in health and survival, and educational attainment, with each gap shown to be on average 96pc and 95pc closed, respectively.

These figures, though showing that a lot of progress has been made towards achieving equality, demonstrate no progress since last year with health, and a slight decrease in progress in education.

The report also noted that the economic gender gap remains wide – only 58pc closed across the observed nations. The political gap has only been closed 23pc.

As it stands, the overall gender gap will take 100 years to close based on current trends across the 106 countries covered since the report’s inception, compared to 83 years reported last year.

The education gap has shown the most progress and could gain equilibrium in 13 years. Though the political gap is the widest, it “is also the one exhibiting the most progress” and could be closed in a little less than a century.

Infographic: Statista

It is the economic gap that presents one of the greatest challenges. Not only will it take 217 years to close, but it has continued to widen of late.

Economic participation and opportunity index

None of the countries analysed have achieved economic gender equality, but 13 countries have closed the gap more than 80pc. This includes six countries from sub-Saharan Africa – Burundi, Benin, Botswana, Rwanda, Namibia and Guinea – and two Nordic countries – Norway and Sweden.

The global average in respect to economic equality is 0.585 (weighted by population) and the gender wage gap is ranked overall globally at 0.634. This means that worldwide, women earn only 63pc of the wages that men earn.

Norway was the only country within Europe to place in the top 10 on the economic participation index, coming in at 8th place, followed by Sweden in 12th place.

Ireland ranked 50th overall and was designated a score of 0.710 (zero representing no parity and one representing absolute parity), which beats the global average of 0.585. It came 40th in wage equality, with a score of 0.696.

This still means, however, that women have only demonstrated 71pc the economic participation of men. In Ireland, the wage gap indicates that women are paid a little under 70pc the salary of their male counterparts.

The UK came 53rd in the overall economic ranking and is measured at 0.705. It achieved the same ranking of 53rd in wage equality, which comes in at 0.671.

The US finished in 19th place and has an overall ranking of 0.776. The nation ranked 27th on wage equality, with women making on average 73 cents for every dollar a man makes.

Of all the European countries, Italy had the lowest economic ranking and came in at 118th with a score of 0.571, well below the global average. It performed even worse in the wage equality rankings, with 126th place an indication that women in Italy earn 51pc less.

Malta has the second-poorest performance within Europe, ranking at 107th place with a score of 0.610. This still puts it above the global economic average and, furthermore, Malta’s wage gap came in 42nd place with a score of 0.695, also above the global average.

The current stagnation in economic progress

The report notes that global labour force participation has been in decline globally across all genders, but it “has been particularly accentuated for women”.

It continued: “Second, in absolute terms, earned incomes of both men and women have been increasing. But this upward trend has been steeper for men than for women, suggesting that the growth in prosperity is not equitably distributed along gender lines.”

Women’s share among senior positions, both in the public sector and in business, is less than halfway towards parity, and the trends don’t indicate that this is going to be remedied any time soon. Currently, only 22pc of individuals in senior management positions are women.

The report explains that these trends observed over the past year “point to a continued underuse of the ever-increasing numbers of educated women”.

What’s more, this underutilisation of women and their talents could be costing economies. Female talent is, in the report’s words, “one of the most underutilised business resources, either squandered through lack of progression or untapped from the onset”.

It continued: “Across all countries, making full use of women’s capabilities paves the way to optimising a nation’s human capital potential.

“In other words, top performers in the Global Human Capital Index have succeeded in maximising the development and deployment of their nation’s talent by also narrowing their gender gaps.”

Disparity in skills

The report briefly nods to the argument often made that certain instances where gender parity hasn’t been achieved can be chalked up to “potential behavioural and cognitive differences between men and women”.

Research has, however, “cast doubt on interpreting such differences as ‘natural’ or ‘hardwired’”. Gender-based skill differentials and variation in mathematical ability, analysis indicates, are largely influenced by sociocultural factors.

“In a wide range of economies, a variety of social circumstances limit girls’ and women’s access to technology and therefore their ability to gain proficiency in its use.” These factors include lower participation in the labour market, which can be caused by prohibitive legislation or cultural expectation that women will be homemakers or leave work to care for children, and lower technology in the home.

Furthermore, when women do have the relevant maths and technology skills, “unconscious biases can influence their peers’ recognition of their capabilities”.

Industry focus: the gender gap

The Global Gender Gap report makes note of the gender imbalances in specific fields of study. Men tend to be underrepresented in health and education, whereas women tend to be underrepresented in engineering, manufacturing and construction as well as information, communication and technology fields.

Yet these field imbalances are not of sufficient enough size to account for gender disparity.

Additionally, in women-dominated sectors such as healthcare, non-profits and education, the gender ratio does not translate into progression. There are more women in these industries but nevertheless, there are more men in leadership positions than women.

Research also indicates that the women who do enter male-dominated industries, such as STEM, do not remain in these industries.

Across European countries, “only 20pc of women aged 30 and over who hold ICT-related degrees decide to stay in the technology industry, with research on women’s motives for leaving STEM jobs pointing to the effects of workplace culture”.

For more information, you can view the report here.

Eva Short
By Eva Short

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic, specialising in the areas of tech, data privacy, business, cybersecurity, AI, automation and future of work, among others.

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