The Global Gender Gap Index was first introduced by the World Economic Forum in 2006 as a framework for capturing the magnitude of gender-based disparities and tracking their progress over time. This year’s edition of the Report benchmarks 144 countries on their progress towards gender parity on a scale from 0 (imparity) to 1 (parity) across four thematic dimensions—Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment— and provides country rankings that allow for effective comparisons across regions and income groups. The rankings are designed to create global awareness of the challenges posed by gender gaps and the opportunities created by reducing them. The methodology and quantitative analysis behind the rankings are intended to serve as a basis for designing effective measures for reducing gender gaps. The methodology of the Index has remained stable since its original conception in 2006, providing a basis for robust cross-country and time-series analysis.
Weighted by population, in 2017, the average progress on closing the global gender gap stands at 68.0%— meaning an average gap of 32.0% remains to be closed worldwide across the four Index dimensions in order to achieve universal gender parity, compared to an average gap of 31.7% last year.
On average, the 144 countries covered in the Report have closed 96% of the gap in health outcomes between women and men, unchanged since last year, and more than 95% of the gap in educational attainment, a slight decrease compared to last year. However, the gaps between women and men on economic participation and political empowerment remain wide: only 58% of the economic participation gap has been closed—a second consecutive year of reversed progress and the lowest value measured by the Index since 2008—and about 23% of the political gap, unchanged since last year against a long-term trend of slow but steady improvement.
Despite this overall mixed picture and continued stalling of progress at the global level, the situation is more nuanced at the regional and country level. Out of the 142 countries covered by the Index both this year and last year, 82 countries have increased their overall gender gap score compared to last year, while 60 have seen it decrease. By contrast, last year’s Report found negative outcomes in more than half of countries surveyed. Moreover, as detailed in the Report, a number of countries and regions have crossed symbolic milestones on the path to gender parity for the first time this year.
Although this year’s edition of the Global Gender Gap Index sees no new entrants to its top 10 list, there have been notable rank changes. The top spots continue to be held by smaller Western European countries, particularly the Nordics that occupy the top three positions, with two countries from the East Asia and the Pacific region, one country from the Sub-Saharan Africa region, one country from the Latin America and the Caribbean region, and one country from the Eastern Europe and Central Asia region also represented. All but three countries in the Index top 10 have now crossed the threshold of closing more than 80% of their overall gender gap—up from five both last year and in 2015.
At a global level, in 2017 four regions have a remaining gender gap of less than 30%—two of which are crossing this threshold for the first time this year. Western Europe records a remaining gender gap of 25%, placing it ahead of North America, with a gap of 28%, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, with a gap of 29%, and Latin America and the Caribbean, with a gap of 29.8%. The East Asia and the Pacific region ranks ahead of Sub-Saharan Africa, with a remaining gender gap of 31.7% and 32.4%, respectively, and South Asia, with a gap of 34%. The Middle East and North Africa region, for the first time this year, crosses the threshold of having a remaining gender gap of slightly less than 40%.
On current trends, the overall global gender gap can be closed in exactly 100 years across the 106 countries covered since the inception of the Report, compared to 83 years last year. The most challenging gender gaps remain in the economic and health spheres. Given the continued widening of the economic gender gap, it will now not be closed for another 217 years. However, the education–specific gender gap could be reduced to parity within the next 13 years. The political dimension currently holds the widest gender gap and is also the one exhibiting the most progress, despite a slowdown in progress this year. It could be closed within 99 years. The health gender gap is larger than it stood in 2006.
While all world regions record a narrower gender gap than they did 11 years ago, more efforts will continue to be needed to accelerate progress. At the current rate of progress, the overall global gender gap can be closed in 61 years in Western Europe, 62 years in South Asia, 79 years in Latin America and the Caribbean, 102 years in Sub-Saharan Africa, 128 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 157 years in the Middle East and North Africa, 161 years in East Asia and the Pacific, and 168 years in North America.
A variety of models and empirical studies have suggested that improving gender parity may result in significant economic dividends, which vary depending on the situation of different economies and the specific challenges they are facing. Notable recent estimates suggest that economic gender parity could add an additional US$250 billion to the GDP of the United Kingdom, US$1,750 billion to that of the United States, US$550 billion to Japan’s, US$320 billion to France’s and US$310 billion to the GDP of Germany. Other recent estimates suggest that China could see a US$2.5 trillion GDP increase from gender parity and that the world as a whole could increase global GDP by US$5.3 trillion by 2025 by closing the gender gap in economic participation by 25% over the same period.
A key avenue for further progress is the closing of occupational gender gaps. These gaps often reflect a myriad set of factors that require adjustments within the education sector, within companies and by policymakers. In a research collaboration with LinkedIn, the Report finds that men are distinctively underrepresented in Education and Health and Welfare, while women are strongly under-represented in Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction and Information, Communication and Technology. Fair returns to skills and the availability of deeper talent pools are disrupted by existing gender biases—and the fields most affected, such as the care economy and the emerging technology sector, are losing out on the benefits of diversity.