In the 2013 World Economic Forum (WEF) Global Gender Gap Report, which measures women’s economic, political, educational, and health equality, the United States ranks at number 23 out of 136 countries around the world. The country falls behind many Nordic countries as well as Nicaragua, Cuba, and Burundi, among others.
The country also falls at number 17 out of the 49 high-income countries measured. Its ranking has dropped over the years, down from number 22 in 2012 and 17 in 2011, although not all countries are counted each year. While its overall scored improved over last year, its ranking dropped thanks to faster improvements in other countries.
The U.S. ranks at number six for “economic participation and opportunity” and ties for the top slot with many other countries for educational attainment, but it falls at 33 for “health and survival” and 60 for political empowerment. The country made a slight gain in women’s representation in Congress this year and there were also small gains in women’s labor force participation rate and the gender wage gap. The report notes, “The United States has fully closed its gender gap in education and health.”
Where it doesn’t take top rankings is on the economic and political front, both of which go to the Nordic countries. Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden hold the top spots. The report notes, “Although no country has yet achieved gender equality, all of the Nordic countries, with the exception of Denmark, have closed over 80% of the gender gap and thus serve as models… [T]hese countries emerge as top performers and true leaders on gender equality.”
They have high rates of labor force participation among women, low pay gaps, and women more easily rise through the ranks. The report points to their policies, which include generous, mandatory paternity leave as well as maternity leave, reentry programs for women returning to work after giving birth, and gender quotas for women on boards. “[T]hese economies have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, resulting in high female employment, more shared participation in childcare, more equitable distribution of labour at home, better work-life balance for both women and men and in some cases a boost to declining fertility rates,” the report notes.
Denmark, Sweden, and Norway also introduced voluntary gender quotas for political parties in the 1970s, which has led to large numbers of women in politics. Denmark’s was so successful that it abandoned the quota policy. Sweden has one of the highest percentages of women in its parliament in the world, approaching parity at 44.7 percent.
The U.S., meanwhile, doesn’t mandate gender representation in either politics or the corporate world, and the one rule it does have for women’s representation on boards is rarely followed. It doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave, let alone paternity leave, joining just three other countries out of 178.