Performance by Subindex
The overall gender gap performance does mask important differences in performances across the four aspects composing the index—the Economic Participation, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment subindexes.
As Figure 2 shows, global gender parity has almost been achieved on two subindexes– Educational Attainment and Health and Survival—where gaps of just 5% and 4%, respectively, remain to be filled. However, gaps between women and men on Political Empowerment and Economic Participation and Opportunity, are far from being bridged.
Political Empowerment is where the gender gap remains the widest: only 23% of the political gap—unchanged since last year—has been closed, and no country has yet fully closed political empowerment gaps. Even the best performer in this subindex, Iceland, still exhibits a gap of 33%, and this gap has widened significantly over the past year. Just six other countries (Nicaragua, Norway, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Finland and Sweden) have closed at least 50% of their gap. On the other end of the spectrum, almost one-quarter of the countries assessed has closed less than 10% of their gender gap, and the four worst-performing countries—Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman and Yemen—have yet to bridge over 97% of their gap.
The global Political Empowerment gender gap reflects low representation of women in all political roles and a particularly sporadic presence of women among heads of state. Over the past 50 years, the average tenure of a woman as head of state or prime minister across the 149 countries has been just 2.2 years. Most women in head-of-state positions have been elected in the past decade. Despite these recent developments, there are still just 17 women head of state or prime ministers across the 149 countries in 2018, including the prime minister of Romania who was elected this year.13 As a result, globally, only 19% of the gender gap in terms of head-of-state roles has been closed so far.14 Women are slightly better represented among ministers and congresswomen; yet here, too, gender parity is still far from being achieved. Only 18% of ministers worldwide are women, and in six of the 149 countries, there are no women in ministerial positions at all. In addition, women elected in national parliaments represent just 24% of available seats across the globe. In Yemen, there are no women in the parliament and in 18 countries, female representation does not exceed 10 percent.
The second subindex where the gender gap remains very large is Economic Participation and Opportunity. Globally, just 58% of this gap has been closed, with minimal progress since last year. Nineteen countries—predominantly from the Middle East and North Africa region—have yet to close over 50% of their gap, 94 countries have yet to close 30% gap or more, and just 14 countries are above the 80% milestone. These countries are fairly distributed among five regions: two are from the East Asia and the Pacific (Lao PDR and the Philippines); two are from Eastern Europe (Belarus and Latvia); two are from Latin America and the Caribbean (Barbados and Bahamas); six are from Sub-Saharan Africa (Benin, Botswana, Burundi, Cameroon, Guinea and Namibia); and two are Nordic countries (Sweden and Norway). Lao PDR is the best performer on this subindex, having closed 91% of the gap.
In the workplace, women still encounter significant obstacles in taking on managerial or senior official roles. When we consider only managers for the subset of countries for which recent data are available, just about 34% of global managers are women. When we include data on managers, senior officials and legislators in the set of 144 for which we have data, 68% of the world gap remains to be closed.15 This contrasts with significantly lower gender gaps in labour market participation and technical roles, where 67% and 74% of the respective gap has been bridged. This comparison highlights how, while there are still relevant gender-biased labour market outcomes, the presence of women in management roles is today one of the main barriers to overcome, both in the public and private sector, in order to achieve full economic gender parity.
Managerial opportunities for women are particularly uneven across countries, and even more pronounced than the heterogeneity observed at the subindex level. While women and men are already equally likely to attain managerial positions in five countries (Bahamas, Colombia, Jamaica, Lao PDR and Philippines), there are six countries (Syria, Lebanon, Algeria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Pakistan) where the gap is 90% or more. As for the evolution since last year, 60 countries have reduced the gap on this indicator and 50 have regressed, while the gap has remained the same for 34 countries.
In addition to professional level disparities, the index shows that income gaps are particularly persistent. On average, 63% of the wage gap and 50% of estimated earned income gap have been closed globally so far. These income gaps not only highlight persistent differences in pay (which, according to the International Labour Organization, stands at 19%16), but also suggest that economic power is still typically in the hands of men, who remain a household’s primary economic reference point, often maintaining control of financial assets, although women may have indirect influence on consumer spending. These hypotheses tend to be confirmed by available data. Women have as much access to financial services as men in just 60% of available countries, and to land ownership in just 41% of the countries considered. These facts, albeit partial, suggest that in most countries still half of the female population does not have direct control over economic resources and assets. In addition, women tend to perform the majority of unpaid tasks (i.e. housework, household care and other unpaid activities). In the 29 countries for which data are available, women spend, on average, twice as much time on these activities than men, with a peak of five to one in Japan, Korea and India.
In contrast to the economic and political empowerment subindexes, the Educational Attainment gender gap is significantly smaller. On average, only 5% of the gap remains to be closed. Thirty-six countries have now achieved full parity and another 49 countries have closed at least 99% of the gap. Even the worst performer (Chad) is more than half way to parity (57%), while the second- and third-worst performers (Guinea and Congo) have bridged two thirds of the gap. Further, progress towards smaller gender gaps in education is ongoing in most countries: 74 countries among those covered in the report have reduced their gap, and eight of them (Burkina Faso, Eswatini, Lao PDR, Liberia, Morocco, Mozambique, Senegal and Thailand) have reduced their gaps by at least 2% this year.
Within the subindex average, gender gaps vary by level of education. On average, gender gaps have closed by 88% in literacy, 74% in primary education, 97% in secondary education and 93% in tertiary education. Average performances, however, mask specific underlying issues. First, in terms of literacy, not only is the gender gap large in many countries, but many women are still illiterate today. At least 20% of women are illiterate in 44 countries, and in Chad (the worst performer) just 13% of women can read are write. Second, parity in higher education enrolment conceals lower participation among both boys and girls as the level of education increases. On average, 65% of girls and 66% of boys have enrolled in secondary education. Although in some countries—such as Algeria for example—the gender parity is fully achieved, just half of the boys and half of the girls attend high school. Similarly, when it comes to tertiary education, although the average participation of women is higher than that of men, just 39% of women and 34% of men are enrolled in college today. As a consequence, gender gaps cannot be considered fully closed as long as human capital is significantly underdeveloped.
Finally, the Health and Survival subindex is where the global gender gap is the smallest: 4% on average. While no country has yet achieved full parity, 74 countries have already closed 98% of their gap, and all 149 countries have closed at least 90% of their gap.
Looking at the components of this subindex, parity has been essentially achieved in all countries in terms of life expectancy. Women tend to live longer in all countries, except Kuwait, Bhutan and Bahrain, where the ratio is about 99%. Gender parity on sex ratio at birth is also very advanced: in 113 countries the share of girls is at the natural 94.4% birth level, and in almost all other countries is above 92%. In four countries (India, Azerbaijan, Armenia and China) the ratio is below 91%. These examples underscore the very real issue of “missing women” and gender-specific gaps on access to healthcare.
Figure 3 provides a snapshot of cross-country heterogeneity in gender gap performances. It illustrates the range of country scores for the four subindexes. The population-weighted average for each subindex is represented with blue diamonds. Similar to the results of 2017’s edition, countries’ performances are distributed unevenly across the overall Index and the underlying subindexes. Overall, gender gap scores are clustered around the average score (68%), with a greater concentration of countries slightly above the average. The distribution is much more dispersed within the Economic Opportunity subindex, where country scores range between 26% and 92%, and most countries score somewhat above the global weighted average. The fact that populous countries such as India and Mexico perform below average contributes to reducing the global average result. The distribution of scores on the Educational Attainment subindex ranges from 57% to 100%. On the Health and Survival subindex countries cluster around an even more concentrated set of values between 91% and 98%, with only few outliers performing below 92%. The Political Empowerment subindex is the area where country performance is the most spread, with scores between 14% and 67% and a stronger concentration towards the lower half of the distribution. Table 4 provides detailed rankings by subindex.