WEF Gender Index

From the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap  report comes some heavy duty and intriguing indicator work on progress towards gender equality in four areas:  the economy, health, education and politics.  I’m not a serious numbers person (more’s the pity), but you can get the essence of the report quite easily, and then spend as long as your inclination or capacity allows you digging around in the detail, including in the 136 individual country reports.  Here’s my go at extracting the overall picture, and then a few nuggets.  Maybe more in a later post.

For each of the four ‘pillars’ the report uses a number of indicators to measure equality between males and females;  adds these indicators into a single ranking for each of the four; and then aggregates these into a single overall measure, using appropriate weighting techniques so that no single indicator has undue influence on the overall results.   It ranks countries each time.  The overall champions are predictable:  the four Scandinavian countries of Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden.  The fifth is less predictable:  the Philippines – it took me some time hovering my mouse over the nifty global map to locate them.

The diagram below summarises how far progress has been made towards gender equality on the four dimensions.  Frustrated apologies, but my technical competences  don’t allow me to import the original chart,  nor to align the labels properly, so it hasn’t come out well.   Think of Economy at the north pole, Politics at the south, and Health and Education at West and East.   Then look closely for the blue lines.  The points on the diamond represent how close the world is to parity on each dimension.  So you can see that on education and health there is almost total parity (the gap has closed to 0.93 and 0.96 respectively);  but much less so in respect of the economy (0.60), still less in politics (0.21).


Health     Education





The WEF report confirms, on a global scale, the basic line of the  PP:  that of a misalignment between education and the economy, because the progress made by women in education is not reflected in their positions at work.   This overall finding is striking, since the WEF cover virtually every country in the world, not only the OECD countries which are at similar levels of economic  development.

But the report in fact greatly understates the extent of the misalignment, because the choice of scales in the measures.  Here’s why.

“To capture gender equality, two possible scales were considered. One was a negative-positive scale capturing the size and direction of the gender gap. This scale penalizes either men’s advantage over women or women’s advantage over men, and gives the highest points to absolute equality. The second choice was a one-sided scale that measures how close women are to reaching parity with men but does not reward or penalize countries for having a gender gap in the other direction. Thus, it does not reward countries for having exceeded the parity benchmark. We find the one-sided scale more appropriate for our purposes. ”  (My italics.)

In other words, if you lump together all gender inequalities whether they are male-female or female-male (as the first scale would do), then the overall results will cover up these differences, and this pretty much undercuts the whole point of the exercise.    There may well be other good reasons  for their choice (and I have written to the WEF to ask them for these).  But since we know that in education women outperform men in many countries, the contrast between this and the economic measure is quite seriously underplayed.

There is one other feature of the report that I think is misleading, and which I can’t understand – though I should make it clear that overall I think it’s a very rich resource, and put together with admirable clarity and rigour.  One of the four indicators on the Economy is the ratio between females and males in  ‘estimated earned income’.

But for some reason the WEF authors apply a cut-off point of $40000.  So four countries – Luxemburg, Norway, Singapore and Switzerland – all rank =1, because both men and women earn on average over this level, so they all score the max of 1.0, ie total parity.    If you take their actual earnings, the respective indicator scores would be 0.54, 0.78, 0.52 and 0.62.   The US is ranked 5th, with a score of 0.96, because US women earn nearly but not quite $40K and this is set against the max of $40K for men – whereas the real figure for US men is nearly $62K, giving it a score of 0.61.    It means that the inequalities in rich countries (where men earn over $40k) are heavily disguised.

The other economic indicators, in addition to estimated income,  are labour force participation; wage equality for similar work; and proportions of professional/technical workers.  It provides fascinating material for the PP work.  I’ll pick out just two items:

– Japan and Korea both show high levels of gender inequality across all the indicators.  For instance, their respective scores on the female/male ratio of women professional-technical workers are 0.85 and 0.69, putting them in 78th and 90th positions on this indicator.  Put this outcome next to those of  the recent OECD Skills Survey, where both countries came out extremely well in the levels of skills they attain overall, and it suggests that the PP is most powerfully present over in that part of the world.

– Finally, something on the UK.  As so often we do not show well in the rankings, slipping from 9th in 2006 to 18th in 2013.   On professional/technical workers we are in 70th place with 0.92 (compared with the leader Lithuania, where for every male there are 2.24 women).  Big sighs;  but as the song says, there’s no discouragement….

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