The United States has fallen behind in overall gender equality, now ranking below Slovenia, Mozambique and Moldova, according to an annual global ranking of the gender gap in health, economics, politics and education.
Worldwide, the overall gender equality gap has closed only slightly in the past 10 years, and progress on pay equity has stalled. At the current rate it will take 118 years before women earn equal pay to men, said the 2015 Gender Gap Report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), released this week.
The United States fell from 20th place in 2014 to 28th in 2015, due to slightly less perceived pay equity at work and because of changes in women holding high-level government positions.
Nordic countries have the highest levels of gender equality, with Iceland ranking No. 1 on the list of the 145 countries measured. At the bottom is Yemen, where women are unable to leave the house without the permission of a male relative, according to the report.
WEF leaders said achieving gender parity is essential to ensuring sustained economic growth, particularly at a time when the elimination of many jobs due to increased automation threatens to worsen economic inequality around the world.
“We need to create a world where women’s contributions and ideals are as valued as those of men,” said Klaus Schwab, the forum’s founder and executive chairman. “Gender parity in our thinking and actions will be critical in helping to ensure that the future is served by humanity and not threatened by it.”
Education has shown mixed progress in the 10 years that the WEF has been measuring the gender gap. The global gap now stands at 95 percent, 5 percent away from parity. Education disparities between males and females have widened in 22 percent of the countries measured continuously over the past decade, while 22 countries have reached equity. The greatest gains have been in university education, with nearly 100 countries, including the U.S., now having more women than men students in higher education.
But more education doesn’t always translate into women getting better jobs or increased political power. Although 97 countries including the U.S. now have more women than men enrolling in university, only 68 have more women than men in skilled or professional jobs, and in only four countries do women outnumber men in leadership roles in the workplace or politics.
On pay, an additional quarter of a billion women have entered the workforce since 2006, but only now are women on average earning what men did a decade ago, the report said.
Affordable child care is critical for women’s economic progress, the report says. Additionally, a forum blog post notes 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,” wrote Ceri Parker, the forum blog’s editor.
Closing the gender gap will require changes by government and business, and in societal attitudes, Parker wrote.
“Developed countries should support affordable child care and parental leave, with better protections for low-wage and part-time workers,” she wrote. “Developing countries need legal reforms to give women equal rights in land ownership, inheritance and access to credit.”