U.S. Lags in Global Gender Gap Rankings

Yesterday, the World Economic Forum released the Global Gender Gap Report 2009 at the India Economic Summit. The United States is 31st. A quick glance at the rankings:


The 134 countries were evaluated on economic participation and opportunity, education attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment. 67% of the countries showed improved scores from 2008-2009, while 33% had deteriorated. The evaluation committee included Ricardo Hausmann, of Harvard University, Laura Tyson, a UC Berkeley professor and economic adviser to Presidents Clinton and Obama, and Saadia Zahidi, a heavy-hitter at the World Economic Forum.
The most demoralizing result of this evaluation is not just the overall rank of the United States, but rather, our sub-category rankings in Political Empowerment and Health and Survival. America ranks 17th in Economic empowerment and 1st in Educational Attainment, but 61st in Political Empowerment and 40th in Health and Survival, behind Cambodia, Mexico, the Philippines, Venezuela, and Yemen.
America is among the 33% of countries whose conditions for women deteriorated from 2008 to 2009. While disheartening, the ranking is also unsurprising, given the recession’s disproportionate impact on conditions of living for women.
The numeric determinants of political empowerment included the ratio of women with seats in parliamentary bodies to men, the ratio of women at a ministerial level to men, and the ratio of the number of years with a female head of state vs. a male head of state. It’s no wonder that the U.S. won 61st place; Bangladesh, Nicaruagua, Uganda, Angola, Malawi, China, and Pakistan all foster more women political leaders than the United States.
This evaluation could speak to the fallacy of Sarah Palin’s single-handed empowerment of all American women; it’s evident that the 2008 election might not have had such a revolutionary effect on the status of women in the U.S. As the Women’s Campaign Forum reminds us we still witness the harassment and silencing of women in Congress.

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32 Comments

  1. Unequivocal
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 10:22 am | Permalink

    This was really surprising to me, especially the extremely low ratings for Health and Survival and for Political Empowerment.
    Looking at their actual metrics though, it makes more sense. The Health and Survival metric is based on two conditions – sex ratio at birth and health life expectancy. In healthy life expectancy, the US female/male ratio is 1.06, favoring women. However, the overall rating is 63, indicating not that women in the US are disadvantaged in Health and Survival when compared to men in the US, but rather that the gap in life expectancy that favors women is even more pronounced in many other countries.
    In short, the US’ #40 rank in Health and Survival doesn’t seem to have any bearing whatsoever on any sort of gender gap that disadvantages women; the numbers say that women in the US are doing great compared to men in the US, but that women in other countries are doing even better compared to men in those countries.

  2. zes
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I would rather live in a country where women’s welfare and life chances score, say, 8 out of 10, and men score 10, than one where women score 1 and men 2 but a third of the babies die under age 5. Technically the latter is more ‘equal’. That’s how Mozambique is outscoring the US.
    That said, the US will never score highly until, as a country, it shows the slightest ounce of compassion toward the poor. That means a universal, free-at-the-point-of-need healthcare system.
    Also 40% of Americans have no access to credit. That means not only they can’t get a mortgage (clearly I am not advocating irresponsible lending on that scale, look how that turned out), they can’t get a contract phone. This, too, needs to change, or social mobility for these people will be very hard, as they cannot do business.
    Plus there should be a transport system that doesn’t depend on having cars (=expensive and for the poor, has no safety net if your car breaks and you couldn’t afford more than third-party coverage), would also help with access to better work for poorer people.
    I love America, but I do not love how the above injustices are tolerated in what is supposedly the richest country in the world.

  3. feckless
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    People do not seem to understand the health and survival statistics. Looking at the past report the USA had the exact same score than that year before. And trust me, you do not want to be in that country that lead that category, as for those at the top the life is not healthier, but the men die even earlier.

  4. Lilith Luffles
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 11:10 am | Permalink

    I’m packing my bags to visit Scandinavia to see which country I like better to live in. Who’s coming with me?

  5. amy_sarah
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    …But the countries that are leading overall – Iceland, Finland, Sweden – are much better in terms of real progress for women’s issues. It’s easy to write off specific aspects of this report, but the US is just no where near Iceland, Finland, Sweden, or Canada for that matter, in their progress in women’s issues, specifically around health care and political & economic power.

  6. tealy
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 11:31 am | Permalink

    If only it were that easy.
    I’m curious how much weight access to abortion is given in these findings, as Ireland (a country where it is completely illegal, even in cases of rape or where the mother’s health or life are at stake) seems to be pretty high up there despite having such an anti-woman health policy.

  7. Sloppy Sandwich
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Scandinavia!
    1, 2, 3, 4:
    Iceland, Finland, Norway, Sweden
    Oh, man! I’m going, that’s all there is to it. I’m fucking going.

  8. Unequivocal
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Sure, but right now we’re talking about this report and some of the problems with it.
    Canada, Finland, Iceland and Sweden may have far superior health care for women than the US, but this report ranks all of them except Finland as worse than the US for health and survival.
    Now when you dig through the numbers, you can get an understanding of the actual comparisons between the countries, but the snapshot provided by the report’s ranking system seems to be totally flawed and essentially worthless.

  9. supremepizza
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    OK, these results don’t make a lot of sense. I looked at the “Political Empowerment” gender gap, and the US ranks behind China, Cuba, Uganda, and Pakistan, …AND wait for it… ahead of Canada. Really?
    Really, the women in US aren’t as empowered as those in China, Cuba, Uganda & Pakistan? Seriously??? And what does that say about poor Canada…?

  10. Brittany
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    Iceland is also a fantastic place to live and the people living there have long lifespans.
    I’m going right now.

  11. prettyinblack
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 12:56 pm | Permalink

    @ Lilith
    I’m happy to live in Finland. Sweden is a close second. I’ll move with you!
    I’m going to be in Helsinki over Xmas break anyway.

  12. DalekSec
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Well this is just one example of a larger trend: every time the IMF or the UN or anybody creates a ranking of best countries at [blank], healthcare, equality, overall quality of life, or whatever, Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark nearly always crowd into the top brackets. So yeah, Scandanavia’s definitely has its attractions.
    I recommend Norway.

  13. MarissaAO
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Rwanda’s at the top because a ton of men were killed in the genocide.

  14. kandela
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    It’s also worth noting that that socre of 1.06 in favour of women actually scores as 1.00 because any score where women are better off than men is called “equality”.
    So, even though the US has 1.41 women for every man enrolled in tertiary education that scores as 1.
    Whether this means that the US is more or less sexist I’m not sure.

  15. kandela
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    You can see that by looking at the pdf of the report: http://www.weforum.org/pdf/gendergap/report2009.pdf
    Part 1 explains how the ranking are worked out in detail. For a rough idea I suggest skipping to page 184. That’s the USA’s page, the graphics give a good indication of how things are weighted (but keep in mind that >1 = 1).

  16. kandela
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Everyone always says the scandanavian countries are great (and they are) but they also tax at really high rates to achieve these rankings. If you want all the things they have in the scandinavian countries you have to be prepared to accept high tax rates, yet tell someone you want to tax them at 50% because… and they don’t hear anything after that.

  17. Lilith Luffles
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I wish I actually could, but I’m still in college and just went to Japan this past summer for a school class… so I have neither the time nor money T_T I’ll be lucky to be able to go within the next 5 years. Plus I only speak English and some Japanese…

  18. Ariel
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    I listed the requirements though: it’s about the number of women in office.

  19. ekpe
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    actually i think Rwanda has a 30% quota for women represented in its parliament and an actually percentage of 56% or so. i dont think it has to do with the ratio of men or women killed in the war

  20. feckless
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    While that might be true, please also note that (a) health care is not rated in that report and (b) this rating is indeed a bit worthless when you consider that South Africa has a life expectancy of about 40 years (out of my mind).
    In this report there is a listing which compares poor countries with rich countries, in that one the rating makes much more sense. (comparing western with western countries)
    Besides that, my initial critic still stands (from another post). The name gender gap is misleading when this report addresses womens standing only. Don´t get me wrong, they can rate it that way, but should call it that way. Men dying 14 years earlier in Russia shouldn´t give Russia the number one spot in the health section. This is not equality but the harsh opposite of it.

  21. Sandra
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    Why is it that paying taxes is held up as some sort of deal breaker? I’m happy to pay taxes and get quality social programs in exchange for them. The fact is, $5 in social program spending is going to go much further than $5 in my pocket.
    So people in Scandanavian countries pay higher taxes. So what? They live longer and healthier and happier lives. And, in any case, what should they be saving their tax dollars for? Healthcare? Provided by the government. Retirement savings? Provided by the government. Children’s education? Provided by the government.

  22. tealy
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 6:00 pm | Permalink

    I’m sure all the comments about moving elsewhere are made out of wistfulness and good intentions, but it does irk me a bit when people act like they can just up and move to wherever they please. European countries have visa programs that are every bit as strict (if not more so) than the US. The criteria for getting in are tough and require an inordinate amount of time, money and luck of circumstances to be met. So, unfortunately, it’s not as simple as “Hey, let’s move to Place X!” I’m sure you all realise this but as an expat in the UK I talk to so many Americans who truly think it’s just a matter of deciding where they’d like to live, filling out a bit of paperwork and bob’s your uncle.

  23. Savagewoman
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I’m not recommending Finland. This is not a safe country for women.

  24. Hypatia
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    More stats to convince me that Scandinavia is utopia on earth. I’m moving now!
    31?! Isn’t that our position on global healthcare rankings too?

  25. dawn_of_the_bread
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps America is rich overall partly because of inequality, which is a feature of capitalism, rather than in spite of it.
    The question is where to draw the line, at what point the level of inequality becomes harmful or immoral.

  26. kandela
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    Oh, I agree with you. I’m just saying that if you want these things you have to tax, and convincing your average American to pay higher taxes is going to be tough.

  27. zes
    Posted November 11, 2009 at 10:48 pm | Permalink

    I agree. The chance to excel and not have obstacles in your way is why I live in the US when I have the legal right to live in 27 EU countries, including the utopia that is Scandinavian, or in Israel.
    That said I think it was JP Morgan himself, an ultimate capitalist, who said you didn’t need more than a 10:1 earnings ratio of CEO to entry-level person for a firm to perform with the best. So the American model need not be so extreme to work. For example if I were more highly taxed, but didn’t have to pay $12,000 a year for couple’s health cover, we’d be net better off. We be probably out for only half that in tax while getting similar coverage – partly higher earners shouldering some of the cost, primarily economies of scale that are as valid in healthcare as any other field. We could also have extra private cover on the cheap, because the sickest people would just go on the public option thus driving down the price. And, there would be fewer people who have no cover til they are really sick and then end up a burden on the state when all they needed was some minor procedure.
    Plus I think our assessment of ‘wealth’ is a bit messed up too. If you scored countries negatively for all the people languishing in poverty with no hope of getting out, and deducted that from scores relatin to the GDP, that might be more accurate.

  28. A male
    Posted November 12, 2009 at 12:10 am | Permalink

    “Perhaps America is rich overall partly because of inequality, which is a feature of capitalism, rather than in spite of it.”
    Partly? America (and many other currently industrialized countries, particularly the western or “white” ones) is rich because it exploited foreign nations, their natural resources, and foreign and US based labor, before the US and the rest of the world finally began to take a stand against that sort of imperialism and exploitation. Being on top with a thriving economy and industrial base after two world wars while much of Europe and Asia were bombed and burned out did not hurt either. Nations like early 20th century Japan, the former Soviet Union, 1991 Iraq, or today’s China are not allowed those same opportunities, lest they be condemned, sanctioned or beaten down for committing acts of foreign aggression. The US is rich because of slavery and the cotton industry. The US is rich because people of European descent took the American continent (and other territories like the Kingdom of Hawaii) or tricked indigenous people out of their land and resources. They “discovered” and “settled” the east coast. They “bought” the Louisiana Purchase from the French for $15 million. They “tamed” the west, while “defending themselves” from the natives, Mexicans and Spanish. They “bought” Alaska from Russia for $7 million. They “saved” the Kingdom of Hawaii from alleged political instability. America continues to be rich because over the centuries it gained control over keys to wealth like access to foreign oil or high technology, that other nations did not have the opportunity to build, buy or take. America has enough fertile land to feed the entire earth. Average Chinese and Asian Indians will not be able to have an American style standard of living (should they choose it), regardless of how hard they work, because the earth’s natural resources and land area will not allow it, and other nations would decry the level of consumption or pollution that would result.
    America did not become rich and great simply out of the pioneer spirit, hard work and ingenuity. Much of the world had to suffer for it over the centuries. Ignoring how America reached this point is like middle or upper class college educated white people sitting around wondering out loud why underprivileged people don’t simply study and work hard and have (in the space of a few years or a single generation) what those whites may have been born with.

  29. TD
    Posted November 12, 2009 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    From the lectures I’ve heard, Tutsi men who managed to survive the genocide in addition to having to deal with having lost their family, are viewed with suspicion for not having died. And instead they are assumed to be cowards, collaborators, and are treated as outcasts. So I wouldn’t be so quick to denounce the effect of the genocide.

  30. dawn_of_the_bread
    Posted November 12, 2009 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    “America did not become rich and great simply out of the pioneer spirit, hard work and ingenuity.”
    But it did require those things. That’s why “partly”, to answer your initial (rhetorical) question.
    I was referring to domestic inequality anyway, but you bring up a good point about inequality between nations. Lenin accurately predicted that overall rising prosperity in capitalist countries would shift the proletariat to the second world.
    The genius of capitalism, properly regulated to avoid its excesses, is that it tends to allocate resources in an efficient and productive way. As such it is the best system currently for producing wealth. See: China over the past 30 years.
    Bye.

  31. A male
    Posted November 12, 2009 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

    “America did not become rich and great simply out of the pioneer spirit, hard work and ingenuity.”
    “But it did require those things.”
    One of the more racist things I heard while living in Japan was the response I got when asking people why people of developing nations were not rich like Japanese. The common response was, “They don’t study and work hard like Japanese people.”
    I’ll see who can spot the problems with such sentiments. Hint: white supremacists make the same claims about early white Europeans living in harsh northern climates who had to adapt to survive vs. cultures in more temperate climates that did not for example, develop the wheel, ride on the backs of animals, or forge metals, while shaking their heads at the state of many underprivileged people today who don’t simply get their lives together and achieve like successful people who were all but born that way.
    “The genius of capitalism, properly regulated to avoid its excesses, is that it tends to allocate resources in an efficient and productive way. As such it is the best system currently for producing wealth. See: China over the past 30 years.”
    I believe in capitalism. The problem is giving everyone willing and able to work their desired standard of living without exhausting the earth of its natural resources and space, and not polluting it to death.
    China is not a good example of a capitalist country with “proper” regulations, which is why certain regions of rural China are known for their cheap, disposable labor force (largely women). In previous decades, Americans supported their families doing jobs like those. Irony is Wal-Mart giving low paying jobs to unemployed Americans in a declining industrial region, while Wal-Mart underpays even Chinese suppliers and laborers.
    Even in China, 23 cents per hour, 14 hours a day, seven days a week without paid overtime does not go far. If China operated under the same environmental and labor regulations that the US does, or were obligated to limit or reduce CO2 emissions, they would not be able to develop the way the US has, because the US has land, a decent supply of water, and some of its own energy reserves; and built its wealth over centuries, not decades, of exploiting foreign resources and people of color.

  32. utilitytester
    Posted November 16, 2009 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

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