Another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021. As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be felt, closing the global gender gap has increased by a generation from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.
The Global Gender Gap Index benchmarks the evolution of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment) and tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time.
This year, the Global Gender Gap index benchmarks 156 countries, providing a tool for cross-country comparison and to prioritize the most effective policies needed to close 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. The Global Gender Gap Index measures scores on a 0 to 100 scale and scores can be interpreted as the distance to parity (i.e. the percentage of the gender gap that has been closed).
The 14th edition of the report, the Global Gender Gap Report 2020, was launched in December 2019, using the latest available data at the time. The 15th edition, the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, comes out a little over one year after COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic. Preliminary evidence suggests that the health emergency and the related economic downturn have impacted women more severely than men, partially re-opening gaps that had already been closed.
The 2021 report’s findings are listed below.
Global Trends and Outcomes
- Globally, the average distance completed to parity is at 68%, a step back compared to 2020 (-0.6 percentage points). These figures are mainly driven by a decline in the performance of large countries. On its current trajectory, it will now take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide.
- The gender gap in Political Empowerment remains the largest of the four gaps tracked, with only 22% closed to date, having further widened since the 2020 edition of the report by 2.4 percentage points. Across the 156 countries covered by the index, women represent only 26.1% of some 35,500 parliament seats and just 22.6% of over 3,400 ministers worldwide. In 81 countries, there has never been a woman head of state, as of 15th January 2021. At the current rate of progress, the World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 145.5 years to attain gender parity in politics.
- Widening gender gaps in Political Participation have been driven by negative trends in some large countries which have counterbalanced progress in another 98 smaller countries. Globally, since the previous edition of the report, there are more women in parliaments, and two countries have elected their first female prime minister (Togo in 2020 and Belgium in 2019).
- The gender gap in Economic Participation and Opportunity remains the second-largest of the four key gaps tracked by the index. According to this year’s index results 58% of this gap has been closed so far. The gap has seen marginal improvement since the 2020 edition of the report and as a result we estimate that it will take another 267.6 years to close.
- The slow progress seen in closing the Economic Participation and Opportunity gap is the result of two opposing trends. On one hand, the proportion of women among skilled professionals continues to increase, as does progress towards wage equality, albeit at a slower pace. On the other hand, overall income disparities are still only part-way towards being bridged and there is a persistent lack of women in leadership positions, with women representing just 27% of all manager positions. Additionally, the data available for the 2021 edition of the report does not yet fully reflect the impact of the pandemic. Projections for a select number of countries show that gender gaps in labour force participation are wider since the outbreak of the pandemic. Globally, the economic gender gap may thus be between 1% and 4% wider than reported.
- Gender gaps in Educational Attainment and Health and Survival are nearly closed. In Educational Attainment, 95% of this gender gap has been closed globally, with 37 countries already at parity. However, the ‘last mile’ of progress is proceeding slowly. The index estimates that on its current trajectory, it will take another 14.2 years to completely close this gap. In Health and Survival, 96% of this gender gap has been closed, registering a marginal decline since last year (not due to COVID-19), and the time to close this gap remains undefined. For both education and health, while progress is higher than for economy and politics in the global data, there are important future implications of disruptions due to the pandemic, as well as continued variations in quality across income, geography, race, and ethnicity.
Gender Gaps, COVID-19 and the Future of Work
- High-frequency data for selected economies from ILO, LinkedIn and Ipsos offer a timely analysis of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on gender gaps in economic participation. Early projections from ILO suggest 5% of all employed women lost their jobs, compared with 3.9% of employed men. LinkedIn data further shows a marked decline of women’s hiring into leadership roles, creating a reversal of 1 to 2 years of progress across multiple industries. While industries such as Software and IT Services, Financial Services, Health and Healthcare, and Manufacturing are countering this trend, there is a more severe destruction of overall roles in industries with higher participation of women, such as the Consumer sector, Non-profits, and Media and Communication. Additionally, Ipsos data from January 2021 shows that a longer “double-shift” of paid and unpaid work in a context of school closures and limited availability of care services have contributed to an overall increase of stress, anxiety around job insecurity and difficulty in maintaining work-life balance among women with children.
- The COVID-19 crisis has also accelerated automation and digitalization, speeding up labour market disruption. Data points to significant challenges for gender parity in the future of jobs due to increasing occupational gender-segregation. Only two of the eight tracked “jobs of tomorrow” clusters (People & Culture and Content Production) have reached gender parity, while most show a severe underrepresentation of women.
- Gender gaps are more likely in sectors that require disruptive technical skills. For example, in Cloud Computing, women make up 14% of the workforce; in Engineering, 20%; and in Data and AI, 32%. While the eight job clusters typically experience a high influx of new talent, at current rates those inflows do not re-balance occupational segregation and transitioning to fields where women are currently underrepresented appears to remain difficult. For example, the current share of women in Cloud Computing is 14.2% and that figure has only improved by 0.2 percentage points, while the share of women in Data and AI roles is 32.4% and that figure has seen a mild decline of 0.1 percentage points since February 2018.
- This report also premiers a new measure created in collaboration with the LinkedIn Economic Graph team which captures the difference between men and women’s likelihood to make an ambitious job switch. The indicator shows that women experience a bigger gender gap in potential-based job transitions in fields where they are currently under-represented, such as Cloud Computing, where the job-switching gap is 58%; Engineering, where the gap is 42%; and Product Development, where the gap is 19%.
- Through the combined effect of accelerated automation, the growing “double shift”, and other labour market dynamics such as occupational segregation, the pandemic is likely to have a scarring effect on future economic opportunities for women, risking inferior reemployment prospects and a persistent drop in income. Gender-positive recovery policies and practices can tackle those potential challenges. First, the report recommends further investments into the care sector and into equitable access to care leave for men and women. Second, policies and practices need to proactively focus on overcoming occupational segregation by gender. Third, effective mid-career reskilling policies, combined with managerial practices, which embed sound, unbiased hiring and promotion practices, will pave the way for a more gender-equal future of work.
Gender Gaps by Economy and Region
- Iceland is the most gender-equal country in the world for the 12th time. The top 10 includes:
- The five most-improved countries in the overall index this year are Lithuania, Serbia, Timor-Leste, Togo and United Arab Emirates, having narrowed their gender gaps by at least 4.4 percentage points or more. Timor-Leste and Togo are also among the four countries (including Cote d’Ivoire and Jordan) that have managed to close their Economic Participation and Opportunity gap by at least 10 full percentage points in one year. Three new countries have been assessed this year for the first time: Afghanistan (44.4% of the gender gap closed so far, 156th), Guyana (72.8%, 53rd) and Niger (62.9%, 138th).
- There are significant disparities across and within various geographies. Western Europe remains the region that has progressed the most towards gender parity (77.6%) and is further progressing this year. North America is the second-most advanced (76.4%), also improving this year, followed by Latin America and the Caribbean (72.1%) and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (71.2%). A few decimal points below is the East Asia and the Pacific region (68.9%), one of the most-improved regions, just ahead of Sub- Saharan Africa (67.2%) and surpassing South Asia (62.7%). The Middle East and North Africa region remains the area with the largest gap (60.9%).
- At the current relative pace, gender gaps can potentially be closed in 52.1 years in Western Europe, 61.5 years in North America, and 68.9 years in Latin America and the Caribbean. In all other regions it will take over 100 years to close the gender gap: 121.7 years in Sub-Saharan Africa, 134.7 years in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 165.1 years in East Asia and the Pacific, 142.4 years in Middle East and North Africa, and 195.4 years in South Asia.
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