US progress in closing the gender gap stalls, WEF report finds

The US continues to lag behind other countries in closing the gender gap, a new report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) found.

According to the 2024 Global Gender Gap Report, the US ranked 43rd out of 146 economies this year. The country's gender parity score, which measures progress in closing inequalities between men and women, remained roughly the same at 74.7% since last year.

Globally, the pace of change is slowing down too, according to WEF managing director Saadia Zahidi. Given the lack of significant progress since last year, it will take 134 years to reach full parity, WEF estimated, a three-year increase from the 2023 projection.

"It could take five generations to get to [gender] parity," Zahidi told Yahoo Finance Catalysts (video above). "There really needs to be a lot more acceleration when it comes to the efforts from businesses, the efforts from governments, and ensuring that we actually unlock and use all of the human capital investment that has been made across countries."

Since its launch in 2006, the index has tracked global progress in closing the gender gap across four main categories: educational attainment, health, political empowerment, and economic participation.

No country has reached complete parity, but most economies have made forward progress. This year, the WEF report found that nearly every economy has closed more than 60% of its gender gap, a benchmark fewer countries reached nearly two decades ago.

Efforts in some areas have been more successful than others. The gap between men and women in health and survival, for instance, has closed by 96% on average, and the educational attainment gap has closed by 94.9%.

However, the gender gap in economic participation and opportunity is 60.5% closed, while the disparity in political empowerment has only seen 22.5% progress.

“We are essentially wasting all of that investment,” Zahidi said of the disparity across categories.

A woman holds an American flag as she watches the 157th Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade in New York City on May 27, 2024. (Photo by Adam GRAY / AFP) (Photo by ADAM GRAY/AFP via Getty Images)
A woman holds an American flag as she watches the 157th Brooklyn Memorial Day Parade in New York City on May 27, 2024. (ADAM GRAY/AFP via Getty Images) (ADAM GRAY via Getty Images)

For the last decade and a half, Iceland has ranked highest in the index as the only economy that has closed over 90% of its gender gap. Eight other economies aren’t far behind, having closed over 80% of their respective gaps.

European countries dominate the global top 10, holding seven spots, while countries in East Asia and the Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America hold the other three spots.

For the second year in a row, the US has ranked 43rd.

Despite achieving complete gender parity in technical and professional workers and 84.2% parity in labor force participation, the overall gap in economic opportunity increased by 1.5% since last year. Furthermore, the US has made "virtually no progress in closing the economic gender gap since 2006," the report found.

Zahidi attributed the US’s poor ranking among other economies to disparities in leadership. Although women's political empowerment improved, a significant gap between the number of women and men in political positions in the US remains.

“While its an economy that does fairly well in terms of economic participation, it’s the leadership gap in both politics and in economic participation that’s driving its ranking overall,” Zahidi said.

The WEF report highlighted how gender parity could serve as an economic tool.

A 2023 study from Moody's Analytics revealed that narrowing the gender gap in labor force participation and management in OECD countries alone could lead to a roughly $7 trillion increase in global economic activity each year. The analysis estimated that closing gender gaps in large emerging countries, such as India, would further increase this impact.

“Gender parity is a competitive advantage in an increasingly tough macro-economic and business environment,” the WEF report said.

Zahidi identified improved care systems, more female political participation, and increased female involvement in STEM and technology fields as catalysts for gender parity.

Because AI has the power to serve as a “game changer,” Zahidi noted that women assuming roles in technology allows them to be involved in the future economy and emphasized that “more diverse teams in those fields matter.”

Considering the risk of further regression, WEF decided to launch the Global Gender Parity Sprint, an intervention that brings governments, businesses, and international organizations together to expedite economic gender parity by 2030. The initiative is particularly focused on closing the gaps in leadership and pay as well as on transforming industries such as green energy and technology.

“Parity can come within grasp, but it requires decisive leadership and dedicated resources,” WEF said. “Raising the required resources to close the gap requires a fundamental mindset to recognize gender parity as an engine for new, high-quality growth.”

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