Performance by Subindex
The overall gender gap performance is a synthesis of performances across the four dimensions composing the index—the Economic Participation, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival and Political Empowerment subindexes. As such it masks significant differences in gender gaps across dimensions. Overall, this year’s positive result has been driven mainly by a progress on the Political Empowerment subindex, as well as by marginal improvements on the Health and Survival and Educational Attainment subindexes. Conversely, the progress towards gender parity in terms of Economic Participation and Opportunity registers a retraction.
Figure 2: The state of the gender gaps
Percentage of the gender gap closed to date, 2020
As shown in Figure 2, global gender gaps vary significantly across these four dimensions. In two subindexes—Educational Attainment and Health and Survival—96.1% and 95.7% of the gap (respectively) have already been closed so far. By contrast, differences between women and men remain significantly larger on Political Empowerment, where only 24.7% of the gap has been closed to date, and on Economic Participation and Opportunity, where 58.8% of the gap has been closed. In order of gender gap size, Political Empowerment is the area where women are severely under-represented. Despite a significant improvement from the last edition (see section below for more details), so far only 25% of the gap has been closed on this subindex, and no country has fully closed this gap yet. Iceland—with approximately 70% of its Political Empowerment gap closed—is the country where the presence of women across parliament, ministries and heads of states is the most widespread compared to all other countries assessed by the index. Iceland’s score is 10 percentage points higher than the second-ranked Norway and is almost four times higher than the global average.
The fact that only a handful of countries have closed at least 50% of their Political Empowerment gaps demonstrates how, globally, women’s presence and participation in politics is still extremely limited. For instance, considering the sum of the seats of all parliaments of the 153 countries covered by the index, only 25% of these 35,127 global seats are occupied by women. In as many as 45 of the 153 countries women take less than 20% of the seats available, and in two countries (Vanuatu and Papua New Guinea) there are no women.
When examining higher-level institutional roles the presence of women grows even thinner. Only 21% of the 3,343 ministers are women, and there are 32 countries where women represent less than 10% of ministers in office today. Among these countries, in Azerbaijan, Belize, Brunei Darussalam, Iraq, Lithuania, Saudi Arabia, Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and Thailand, there are no women ministers at all.
Further, considering head of states over the past 50 years, in 85 of the 153 countries covered by this report there has never been a woman in charge. This accounts for 56% of the countries covered, and, notably, includes emerging and advanced economies such as Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Russian Federation, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and the United States.
The second dimension where the gender gap is widest globally is the one measured by the Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex. Here, only 58% of the gap has been closed so far, and it has slightly widened since last year (see Progress Over Time section). The dispersion between the best performing countries and those at the bottom of the ranking is substantial. While the top 10 countries have closed at least 80% of the gap, the bottom 10 countries have only closed 40% of the gap between men and women in the workplace.
Among the 10 best performers on this subindex (see Table 2 below), four are from Sub-Saharan African (Benin has closed so far 84.7% of its Economic Participation and Opportunity gap; Burundi 83.7%; Zambia, 83.1% and Guinea, 80.3%); one is from Western Europe (Iceland, 83.9%); one is from the East Asia and the Pacific region (Lao PDR, 83.9%); two are from Eastern Europe and Central Asia (Belarus, 83.7%, and Latvia, 81.0%); and two are from the Latin America and the Caribbean region (Bahamas, 83.8%, and Barbados 80.8%). At the other end of the spectrum, economic opportunities for women are extremely limited in India (35.4%), Pakistan (32.7%), Yemen (27.3%), Syria (24.9%) and Iraq (22.7%).
The fact that women are persistently less present in the labour market than men contributes to the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap. On average about 78% of adult men (15–64) are in the labour force, while only 55% of women of the same cohort are actively engaged in the labour market. This means that over 30% of the global labour force participation gender gap has yet to be closed.
Further, within the labour market, gender gaps tend to widen together with seniority level. Globally, 36% of senior private sector’s managers and public sector’s officials are women, while the presence of women on corporate boards or as top business leaders is even more limited: only 18.2%1 of firms globally are led by a woman, and on average, 22.3% of board members in OECD countries are women2 with an even lower representation in emerging economies (e.g. 9.7% in China and 13.8% in India).
Financial disparities also remain important. On average, over 40% of the wage gap (the ratio of the wage of woman to that of a man in a similar position) and over 50% of the income gap (the ratio of the total wage and non-wage income of women to that of men) are still to be bridged. These figures highlight how, not only that women in similar positions as men (for seniority and skill levels) are still paid less, but also that income disparities are larger than wage gaps. This difference is due partially to that fact that women encounter challenges to get to senior roles and/or to be employed in high-reward segments of the economy.3 However, a second part of the story is that women are less likely than men to obtain revenues from non-employment activities (i.e. from financial investment, entrepreneurship) where financial gains are substantially higher.
In many countries, women are significantly disadvantaged in accessing credit, land or financial products which prevent them starting a company or making a living by managing financial assets. For instance, there are still 72 countries (among those 153 covered by this report) where at least some women from specific social groups do not have the right to open a bank account or obtain credit, and 25 countries where not all women have full inheritance rights.4
Figure 3: Economic participation and time spent in unpaid domestic work
A further underlying aspect that contributes to financial disparities between women and men as well as overall economic participation and opportunities gaps worldwide is the disproportionate burden of household and care responsibilities that women continue to carry compared to men almost everywhere. In no country in the world is the amount of time spent by men on unpaid work (mainly domestic and volunteer work) equal to that of women; and in many countries, women still spend multiple-folds as much time than men on these activities. Even in countries where this ratio is lowest (i.e. Norway or the United States) women spend almost twice as much time as men on unpaid domestic work. As shown by Figure 3, the dedication of women to these activities is not only due to overall standards of living: even in advanced economies such as Japan the share of time that women spend is more than four times that of men. Across advanced and developing countries there is a negative relationship between women’s relative amount of time they spend on unpaid domestic work and economic participation and opportunity gender gaps. While this analysis is partial, it suggests that in addition to ongoing cultural and social transformations that require a long time to occur, policies that offer cost- and time-effective solutions to house-care needs (i.e. kinder-gardens within a company) or change the incentives for men and women to rebalance the burden of household and care duties (i.e. paternity leave) are likely to have a significant impact on women’s career opportunities.
The third-ranked gender gap dimension is Educational Attainment, where 96.1% of the gap has been closed so far, and therefore it is at a significantly more advanced stage than the level achieved in terms of Economic Participation and Political Empowerment.
Thirty-five countries have already achieved full parity on this subindex, and all regions feature at least one country that has completely closed this gap: nine are in Western Europe, another nine are in Latin America, eight are located in the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region, three in Sub-Saharan Africa, two from East Asia and the Pacific, two from North America, and one each in South Asia and Middle East and North Africa. Further, 120 countries have closed at least 95% of their educational gender gaps. On the other hand, eight countries have yet to close more than 20% of their gaps: Togo (77.8%); Angola (75.9%); Mali (75.7%); Benin (73.3%); Yemen (71.7%); Guinea (68.0%); Congo, Democratic Rep. (65.8%); Chad (58.9%).
As in past editions, the gap varies across levels of education. Gender gaps in literacy and basic skills are somewhat wider than those in higher levels of education: 90.4% of girls and 92.9% of boys aged 15–24 in the world are literate, and 88.2% of girls in the world were enrolled in primary education in 2018, versus 90.5% of boys.5 While these figures highlight a persistent gap at the entry-level of education, it is also important to underscore that there are still over 10% of both boys and girls who are left behind, therefore making sure that all children receive at least a basic education is as important as closing gender gaps in this dimension.
At higher levels of education, though parity across gender is more common, participation is still relatively low for both sexes: only approximately 66% of boys and girls are enrolled in secondary education.6 At tertiary education levels, women have surpassed men, but still only 40.6% of young women and 35.6% of young men who have graduated from high school globally are attending university.7 Moreover, while progress has been made to achieve gender parity, more has to be done to equip new generations, especially in developing countries, with the skills to succeed in tomorrow’s reality. In this respect, increasing formal education attainment is necessary but not sufficient to provide young men and women graduating from every level of education with the type of skills demanded by the job market in the Fourth Industrial Revolution era. Here, skills gaps remain—in terms of demand versus both supply and gender. While these types of gender gaps are becoming increasingly important, they are currently not systematically tracked by national statistics. To shed light on these new dynamics, Chapter 2 offers a deep dive into gender gaps in emerging jobs and the related skills required for those jobs.
The subindex where the average gender gap is the smallest is Health and Survival, where 95.7% of the global gap has been closed so far. Forty-eight countries have achieved near-parity, the next 71 countries have closed at least 97% of the gap, and only nine countries have yet to close more than 4% of their gap. Among the third group, four large countries–Pakistan (94.6%); India (94.4%); Viet Nam (94.2%) and China (92.6%)–trail behind, which means that millions of women in these and other countries are not yet granted the same access to health as men.
Performance on some of the specific components of this subindex shows that these results are driven by gender differences at birth. In six countries (Azerbaijan, Armenia, China, India, Pakistan and Viet Nam) the ratio is below 92%, and in China the ratio is as low as 88.5%. These examples underscore the issue of “missing women” and gender-specific gaps on access to healthcare. In most other countries, however, gender parity on sex ratio at birth has been nearly achieved: in 128 countries, the share of girls is at the natural 94% birth level, and in almost all other countries is above 92%.
Parity has also 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 above 99%.
Figure 4: Range of scores, Global Gender Gap Index and subindexes, 2020
An overview of the global distribution of subindex performances described above is presented in Figure 4. It illustrates the range of country scores for the four subindexes. The population-weighted average for each subindex is represented with diamonds. Countries’ performances are distributed unevenly among the gender gap index and the underlying subindexes. Overall, gender gap scores are clustered around the average score (69%), with a greater concentration of countries slightly above the average. The distribution is much more dispersed within the Economic Opportunity and Participation subindex, where country scores range between 23% and 85%, and most countries score somewhat above the global population-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 59% to 100%. On the Health and Survival subindex countries cluster around an even more concentrated set of values between 93% and 98%, with few outliers performing below 96%. The Political Empowerment subindex is the area where country performance is the most diverse and varied, with scores between 0% and 70%, and a stronger concentration towards the lower half of the distribution.
Table 2: The Global Gender Gap Index rankings by subindex, 2020