The Gender Gap Around the World: Implications for Health and Happiness?2 min read
One of our previous posts speculated that tolerance may be key to health and happiness based on a comparative study of states in the U.S. That line of thinking prompted us to look for comparative data worldwide. We came up with the Global Gender Gap Report, released in 2008 by the World Economic Forum, which rates countries on the disparity between men and women on four measures: economic opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment and health and survival. The report covers a total of 128 countries that represent 90% of the world’s population.
The smallest gap is “healthy life expectancy”, which takes into account years of health lost to violence, disease and malnutrition. Across the 128 countries surveyed, women were expected to enjoy anywhere from 93% to 98% of the healthy years that men enjoy. Compare these findings to the gaps that exist for economic opportunity (25-79%), educational attainment (47-100%) and political empowerment (0-53%). Clearly health is a necessary but not sufficient condition for women to reach their potential. Rolling these subindices together on an unweighted basis, we find Sweden, Norway, and Finland grabbing the top three spots worldwide (see our chart for the rest of the Top Ten). A country that ranked surprisingly high was Cuba at number 22 in 2007 largely due to a high percentage of women in parliament and ministerial-level positions. A few other countries that ranked relatively low were France at 51 and Italy at 84 due to low income ratios and the low percentage of women among professional workers. Perhaps one of the most surprising rankings was the United States which dropped from 23 in 2006 to 31 in 2007 based on slippage in political empowerment and wage equality.
Why keep track of other countries’ progress towards closing the gap between men and women? We think distinct second-class status for women is a sign of stress in a society that may give “ethical travelers” pause when setting their itineraries and may indicate the potential for discrimination against women when accessing health services. Of course, women keep striving to overcome these disparities. In a study released by Education Week, the gender gap in reading skills grew between 2000 and 2006 but in the other direction — girls have been continually outperforming boys with Argentina, Australia, Bulgaria, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Mexico, and Spain leading the way. Perhaps these findings indicate that girls work harder in order to have the same opportunities as boys. What do you think?