Global study finds a disturbing widening of the gender gap

The focus on talent in achieving growth and innovation is at the forefront for business, with the imperative for integrating women at all levels and across all industries.

More broadly, there is growing recognition of the connection between gender parity and economic prosperity. But is the world truly making progress in closing gender parity gaps, or are we going backwards? Recent research by the World Economic Forum (WEF) reveals a less rosy picture than expected.


Undertaken since 2006, the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Report aims to benchmark national gender gaps across the four key areas of health, education, economy (participation, remuneration and advancement) and politics; allowing for progress to be tracked over time and comparisons to be made across regions and within income groups. The methodology and quantitative analysis were built to serve as a basis for designing effective measures to reduce gender gaps.


In order to be included in the WEF report, a country must have had data available for a minimum of 12 out of the 14 indicators that make up the study. The 2017 Report benchmarked 144 countries, 106 of which have consistently been included in the report every year since the inception of the study in 2006.
The study was built on three underlying concepts:

  1. By measuring gaps in access to resources instead of levels of availability of resources, the study sought to disassociate the Global Gender Gap Index from countries’ levels of development
  2. The study looked at outcomes instead of inputs, assessing where men and women stood on the four basic indicators of health, education, economic participation and political empowerment instead of assessing country-specific policies, rights, culture or customs
  3. By distinguishing between gender equality and women’s empowerment, it focused on the gaps between women and men in the chosen indicators, rather than whether women were outperforming men in certain areas. This meant that countries were awarded points where the outcomes for women equal those for men.

The WEF also collaborated with LinkedIn for a deeper analysis of gender parity and hiring trends across industries and gender gaps in skills and fields of study.


Overall, the findings of the report were not positive, with current trends showing that the overall global gender gap across the 106 countries surveyed since the inception of the study will not be closed for another 100 years, which is 17 years longer than reported last year (83 years).

  • Stasis and regression: There was little to no improvement found in health outcomes and educational attainment, and downward trends and widening gender gaps were reported in economic participation and political empowerment
  • Supply and demand: The WEF found that although more qualified women are emerging from the education system, many industries are failing to recruit, retain and promote them – and losing out on a wealth of talent
  • Economic participation: The 2017 report showed a second consecutive year of regression in economic participation, with the lowest score since 2008. If this trend continues, it means that the economic gender gap will not be closed for another 217 years
  • Health: The health gender gap is now also larger than it was when the study started twelve years ago
  • Political participation: Whilst the political dimension holds the widest gender gap, it also presents the most progress. Current trends show that the gap could be closed within 99 years.
Which countries are the top performers?

Iceland takes the top spot for the ninth consecutive year, and remains the top performer on political empowerment. Three of the Nordic countries (Norway, Finland and Sweden) are in the Top 5. Rwanda is the country with the highest share of female parliamentarians in the world (at 61%).

The Top 10 countries on the leaderboard are:

  1. Iceland
  2. Norway
  3. Finland
  4. Rwanda
  5. Sweden
  6. Nicaragua
  7. Slovenia
  8. Ireland
  9. New Zealand
  10. Philippines
The case for gender parity

There is a growing body of research and evidence which suggests that improving gender parity results in significant economic gains. The International Labour Organisation’s Economic Impacts of Reducing the Gender Gap (What Works in Research Brief No. 10) 2017 estimated that global GDP could increase by US$5.3 trillion by 2025 if the gender gap in economic participation was reduced by just 25% over the same period. This would also achieve an additional US$1.4 trillion in global tax revenue. In the political realm, women’s engagement in public life has a positive impact on inequality across society at large – on matters affecting family life, health and education. Women’s involvement in politics also promotes greater credibility and integrity in institutions, and enhanced democratic outcomes.

Despite this, the WEF’s Future of Jobs Survey found that only 20% of business leaders recognised gender parity as a business imperative that reflects the changing gender make-up of their customer base, (noting that women now control about 65% of global household spending, estimated at US$40 trillion), as well as enhancing corporate decision-making and innovation in the current transition to a Fourth Industrial Revolution.

For more information, contact Adeline Shelley. To read the full World Economic Forum Insight Report “The Global Gender Gap Report 2017”.

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