In the race for gender equality, the US is losing ground

The world has made little progress toward gender equality according to a new report out Wednesday from the World Economic Forum. Some countries did better than others. 

Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters
Women wearing traditional attire attend the Olojo festival in Ile Ife, Nigeria, on Saturday.

In the last decade, the world has made little progress toward gender equality, says the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Wednesday. Worse, the United States is moving backwards.

In its annual report on the global gender gap – or the disparities between women and men in health, education, economics, and politics – the forum found that the US ranks 45th out of 144 countries when it comes to leveling the playing field between men and women. Last year the US had a 72 percent gap in the resources available to both men and women; this year, the gulf widened to 74 percent. This makes the gap in the US larger than in Rwanda (#5), Philippines (#7), and Bolivia (#23).

“Yes, [the US] is a strong performer with lots of women in the labor force,” says Saadia Zahidi, head of employment and gender initiatives at the WEF, an international think tank. But, she adds,”The US, like the UK [#20], is stalled in terms of its progress.”

The US does outperform most of the world in one area: the parity of educational attainment between men and women. In that category, it shares the #1 spot with a several other countries, including two of the most gender-equal in the world: Iceland and Finland. But that doesn’t translate to equality in the labor force, given that US women earn $0.83 for every dollar men earn. As the Economic Policy Institute points out, however, rising inequality overall has kept everyone’s wages down in the US.

“Closing only the gap between men’s and women’s wages threatens to ensure parity in this stagnation, not parity in progress,” says Elise Gould, senior economist at EPI, a Washington think tank, in a press release. “To achieve true progress, the gender wage gap must be closed alongside the gap between economy-wide productivity and the wages of most workers.”

Globally, the wage parity picture is even more bleak. Equally educated women earn about half of men’s annual salaries while working longer hours, as the WEF has found.

WEF

“More than a decade of data has revealed that progress is still too slow for realizing the full potential of one half of humanity within our lifetimes,” WEF report authors write.

At the current pace of progress, the world could achieve equality for men and women in 170 years (the US, never). This milestone would hit in the year 2186, half a century later than the WEF predicted last year.

WEF

Government policies can help countries close their gender gaps, said the WEF in its 2015 report. These include ones that discourage discrimination in hiring, increase maternity and paternity leave benefits, and introducing quotas for women hires.

“There is ample evidence from the last decade of policy levers and business practices that have been effective in closing economic gender gaps,” wrote report authors last year.

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