It's International Women's Day: How Do We Compare on Fiscal Equality?

Women's pay
Women's pay

When it comes to best places in the world to be a woman, it's not surprising that the U.S. falls behind nations like Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark. Scandinavian countries, after all, are famed for their impressive social contracts, with the amazing health care and child care benefits that they provide. But you might be shocked to learn that in at least one key metric, American women are being surpassed by those in Mozambique, Mali, Senegal, Tanzania, and 13 other developing nations.

The World Economic Forum's 2012 report on the global gender gap ranked the U.S. as the 22nd best country in the world. But when it comes to wage equality, the land of the free and the home of the brave drops to 61st, behind Madagascar, Cambodia and Guyana. Women in America earned 67 percent of what men earned. By comparison, women in Sweden earned 69 percent, women in Canada earned 73 percent, and women in Ireland earned 77 percent.

Dig a little deeper into the numbers and it becomes clear what least part of the problem is. In many countries, unmarried women earn more than unmarried men. In Ireland, for example, the average woman without a child earns 17 percent more than the average man. After having children, however, Irish women make more than 10 percent less, on average, than men. In America, the female-to-male pay gap jumps by almost 15 percentage points after children enter the picture.

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The reasons for this decline in wages aren't hard to figure out. Women with children are more likely to leave the workforce, work part time, or otherwise adjust their schedules to deal with child care. Added to this, the high cost of raising a child -- a cost that inordinately falls on women -- further cuts into household budgets.

In some countries, there are programs to mitigate these factors. Ireland, for example, has government-mandated paid maternity leave. Then again, so does every other country in the world, except for Papua New Guinea, Swaziland ... and the U.S.

And these aren't the only areas in which the U.S. falls well behind the pack. In terms of labor force participation based on gender, the U.S. is 43rd in the world, behind Uganda, Mongolia and Benin. Put another way, 68 percent of able-bodied, adult American women are at work, while 80 percent of able-bodied, adult American men are at work.

Part of this, again, is due to child-rearing, as America's lack of publicly-funded child care makes it harder for women in this country to juggle family and work. And the situation looks like it's going to get worse before it gets better. As The International Business Times reported earlier this week, the sequester budget cuts will further erode women's health care programs, Head Start classes, food stamps, and other government services that help U.S. women.

In 2011, the U.S. was ranked 17th in the world when it came to the position of women in society. By 2012, it had fallen five places. And now, with Washington's budget battles poised to slash federal programs and the social safety net, 2013 is shaping up to be another rough year for America's gender gap.

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971

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