While the world has made progress closing the gap between women and men in health, education, economic participation, and political empowerment over the last decade, the United States is not keeping up.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) just released its 2015 Global Gender Gap report, which showed that the gap has dropped by 4 percent in the last ten years. While this marks progress, it could take another 118 years to completely close the gap. Gender equality will not be reached until the year 2133 at this rate.
Progress also isn’t even across the globe. Over those 10 years, Nordic countries have consistently been doing the most to close the gender gap. Iceland came in at number one over the past six years, followed by Norway, Finland and Sweden.
The United States, on the other hand, has actually moved backward. On the list of 145 countries, the United States has never broken into the top 15 countries with the lowest gender gap. Worse, it fell eight places over the last year, to a rank of 28 for overall gender equality. The authors of the study credit this fall to slightly “less perceived wage equality for similar work and changes in ministerial level positions.” Though the U.S. has nearly closed the gender gap in education and health, the largest gaps stills remain in labor force participation, wage equality for similar work, and political empowerment.
The U.S. fell 18 spots in the ranks for political equality from last year, landing at number 72. The number of American women in cabinet-level positions dropped to just 26 percent from 32 percent last year, and only 19 percent of Congressional positions are held by women. As of last year, white men held 65 percent of elected offices in the United States even though they make up 31 percent of the population. The number of women in legislative and cabinet roles is “an area where the U.S. does considerably less well than other countries,” Saadia Zahidi, head of the Global Challenge on Gender Parity at the World Economic Forum,told NPR.
The U.S. has also made little progress in closing the economic opportunity gap between the sexes, even as more women enter the workforce, thanks to policies regarding paid parental leave and childcare. The countries that lead in reducing the gender gap support both mothers and fathers with paid parental leave and increased childcare opportunities. Iceland has the longest paid parental leave, at 90 days. But the U.S. is the only developed country that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. Only 12 percent of workers in the U.S. have access to paid family leave through their employers.
Studies have also found that about 10 percent of the overall reason why there is a such a wide wage gap between men and women in the U.S. is because women are much more likely to take breaks from work to care for family members. Women who get paid family leave also tend to see their wages increase when they go back to work than those who don’t get paid time off. The wage gap between men and women of color is also larger, which the WEF data does not account for.
Health and education are two areas where women in most high-income countries have successfully closed the gender gap. There are more women than men enrolling in universities in 97 countries, although men still outnumber women in skilled jobs within 68 countries and there are only four countries with majority women leaders. A quarter of a billion women have entered the world’s labor force since 2006, yet the annual pay for women only now equals the amount men were earning a decade ago. This indicates a lack of correlation between education and women’s ability to earn a living, particularly through skilled or leadership roles.
“There’s a strong correlation between economic and political empowerment: these two areas seem to reinforce one another, as women get ahead at work and seek better representation in politics; and as female politicians set policies to support women’s professional lives,” Ceri Parker, Associate Director and Commissioning Editor of Forum Blog at World Economic Forum, wrote in a blog post. “If we want a world with no gender gap, we need changes in policies, in business practices and in cultural attitudes.”