No single country has closed the income gap between men and women, according to a new report by the World Economic Forum, and if current trajectories hold it will be nearly another century before pay equity for women is finally achieved.
Among the key findings in WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report 2014 (pdf), women currently have 60 percent of the economic opportunities men have worldwide, an increase of just four percentage points since WEF began its study in 2006.
"Much of the progress on gender equality over the last 10 years has come from more women entering politics and the workforce," said Saadia Zahidi, head of the WEF Gender Parity Program and lead author of the report. "While more women and more men have joined the workforce over the last decade, more women than men entered the labor force in 49 countries."
Globally, gender gaps persist across all four sectors studied in the report: economy, politics, health and education.
Out of the 142 countries studied, the U.S. sits at number 20 in the overall gender gap index. Among the sub-indexes, the U.S. is 4th in economic participation, 39th in educational attainment, 54th in political empowerment, and 62nd in health and survival. Notably, the health and survival index does not take reproductive health into account.
Despite some advances in closing the pay gap over the past nine years, the U.S. is still struggling with the less visible issue of unpaid work—such as cleaning and caring for family members—a responsibility which most often falls on women, as United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights Magdalena Sepúlveda told the General Assembly last year. WEF found that the average amount of time spent per day on unpaid work in the U.S. is 248 minutes for women, 161 for men.
Elsewhere, the U.K. slipped in the rankings, falling below the U.S. to 26 in the overall global index, down six points from the last WEF report.
In many parts of the world, progress on education has not only stalled, but reversed, WEF found. Some countries, such as Norway, New Zealand, Botswana, and Namibia—which have vastly differing rankings in health and economic opportunities for women—have all completely closed their educational attainment gender gap. But six countries have actually lost prospects for women’s advancement: Sri Lanka, Mali, Macedonia, Croatia, Jordan, and Tunisia.
"Achieving gender equality is obviously necessary for economic reasons. Only those economies who have full access to all their talent will remain competitive and will prosper," said Klaus Schwab, WEF founder and executive chairman. "But even more important, gender equality is a matter of justice. As a humanity, we also have the obligation to ensure a balanced set of values."
Nordic countries continue to lead the world in creating equal opportunities for men and women. Iceland, which is number one in narrowing the gender wage gap—to 85 percent—tops the list, followed by Finland (2), Norway (3), Sweden (4), and Denmark as the top five.
Despite those rankings, some of the most remarkable advancements belong to developing nations. Saudi Arabia is the most improved relative to its starting point in the sub-index of economic opportunities, while Burkina Faso has made the most gains in educational attainment, Angola for health and survival, and the United Arab Emirates for political empowerment.
Zahidi added, "These are far-reaching changes—for economies and national cultures, however it is clear that much work still remains to be done, and that the pace of change must in some areas be accelerated."