Women still lag in wages, workforce participation: Report

Mandatory paternity leave, post-maternity re-entry programs can reduce gap

NEW YORK (Reuters) — Women are almost on par with men around the world in health and education, but they still lag in economic and political participation and opportunities, according to a recent World Economic Forum report.

The Global Gender Gap Report found 96 per cent of gaps in health and 93 per cent of disparities in education had been closed, compared with less than two-thirds of economic gaps and only one-fifth of gaps in political participation.

"While women are starting to be as healthy and as educated as men, they are clearly not being channeled into the economy and into decision-making structures in the same numbers," said Saadia Zahidi, a senior director at the World Economic Forum and one of the authors of the report.

Topping the ranking of 135 countries was Iceland, followed by Norway, Finland, Sweden and Ireland, while the bottom five were Saudi Arabia, Mali, Pakistan, Chad and Yemen.

"While many developed economies have succeeded in closing the gender gap in education, few have succeeded in maximizing the returns from this investment. The Nordic countries are leaders in this area," the report found. "On the whole these economies have made it possible for parents to combine work and family," it found, adding that the policies have even led to a rising birth rate.

Some of the successful policies of the Nordic countries identified by the report were mandatory paternity leave, generous parental leave benefits provided by a combination of social insurance funds and employers, tax incentives and post-maternity re-entry programs.

The report measured gender gaps in salaries, workforce participation, highly-skilled employment, access to basic and higher level education, representation in decision-making structures, life expectancy and sex ratio.

The United States moved up two spots to 17, as did Germany to 11, while Britain dropped one spot to 16. Canada moved up two spots to 18. China was unchanged at. 61, Russia rose two spots to 43, as did South Africa to 14. France dropped two places to 48 and Japan fell four places to 98.

The report found that while the United States ranked sixth in terms of economic participation and opportunity, "the perceived wage inequality for similar work remains high, placing the United States 68th in the world on this variable."

In China, almost three-quarters of women work but men’s wages are growing faster, the report found.

Women make up almost one-half of those in Japan receiving tertiary education "but only about nine per cent of those occupying senior leadership positions, indicating an inefficient use of the female talent available in the country," the report said.

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