For the first time since the World Economic Forum’s records began in 2006, the global gender gap is widening again.
The data make for depressing reading. Each year, the WEF ranks 144 countries in its Global Gender Gap Index to see how they compare on four “pillars”: economic participation and opportunity, education, political empowerment, and health and survival. The WEF crunches numbers from the world’s most respected institutions, such as the International Labour Organization, the UN Development Program and the World Health Organization, as well as WEF’s own perceptions survey.
Overall, the 2017 index showed a decrease in parity over the previous year for the first time. And the economic pillar, which looks at salaries, workforce participation, and leadership, has one of the fastest-growing gaps. Women across the world are still, on average, earning less than men by a large amount. So much so, the WEF says, that the economic gender gap will now not be closed for 217 years.
These income gaps are mostly not because of women getting paid less than men for the same jobs—across the OECD, that salary gap is just 2% (paywall). It’s because women are more likely than men to do unpaid work or be out of the workforce, more likely to work in industries with lower average pay, and less likely to be in high-paid senior positions.
Some countries are of course doing better than others. Iceland remains the world’s most gender-equal country across all indicators, and has one of the smallest gaps in income between men and women. Britain and the US, however, are struggling to close the gaps in workforce participation and wages. They’re buoyant in the parity rankings overall, but only because they have risen in other areas—for instance, there are more women in senior political positions.
Closing the gender gap, especially economically, isn’t just a must for social progression—the WEF points out it could add billions of dollars to economies. “Notable recent estimates suggest that economic gender parity could add an additional $250 billion to the GDP of the United Kingdom, $1,750 billion to that of the United States, $550 billion to Japan’s, $320 billion to France’s and $310 billion to the GDP of Germany,” says the report. China, it says, could see a $2.5 trillion GDP increase, and “the world as a whole could increase global GDP by $5.3 trillion by 2025 if it closed the gender gap in economic participation by 25% over the same period.”