The U.S. Ranks 55th When It Comes to Women in Power (India Ranks 17th)


This Equal Pay Day, we at PolicyMic are exploring why, in the year 2013 in the richest country in the world, men make in 12 months what women make in 16. The World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Index gives us a look at how we rank against the rest of the world on this issue, and in which areas we can improve.

According to Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum (WEF), and Saadia Zahidi, Senior Director of the WEF, "the most important determinant of a country's competitiveness is its human talent — the skills, education and productivity of its workforce. Over time, a nation's competitiveness depends significantly on whether and how it utilizes its human resource pool." The implication: nations that use their human pool poorly are less competitive and under-using half of a nation's population is certainly poor use of its human pool.

Introduced in 2006, the Global Gender Gap Index, which represents 135 countries and over 90% of the world's population, is designed to capture "the magnitude and scope of gender-based disparities" and track their progress. The Index inspects the gap between men and women in four sub-indexes:

1. Economic Participation and Opportunity: Captured by measuring the participation gap, the remuneration gap (wage equality for similar work and ratio of female-male earned income), and the advancement gap.

2. Educational Attainment: The gap between men and women's current access to education at the primary, secondary, and tertiary levels. The long-term measure also includes the ratio of female: male literacy rates.  

3. Health and Survival: measure of the gap between women's and men's healthy life expectancy (including years lost to violence, disease, and malnutrition), and sex ratio at birth (aimed specifically at the "missing women" phenomenon).  

4. Political Empowerment: captures the gender gap at the executive, ministerial, and parliamentary levels of government, as well as ratio of women to men in terms of years in executive office. It does not include local-level politicians.

So far, the data shows that worldwide, the gender gaps in health outcomes and educational attainment are largely closed (at 96% and 93%, respectively), but the gaps in economic participation and political empowerment are wide (at 60% and 20%, respectively). The WEF also claims, "the data suggests a strong correlation between those countries that are most successful at closing the gender gap and those that are the most economically competitive."

So how is the United States doing?

The United States ranks a fairly embarrassing 22nd overall – its worst ranking since 2009. The WEF attributes the slip to fewer influential women politicians. The Nordic countries, unsurprisingly, dominate the Index, but it is worth noting that the U.S. also ranks well below developing nations such as the Philippines, Lesotho, and Nicaragua. Below are some of the United States' other key rankings:

— 16th among "high income" countries

— 8th in Economic Participation and Opportunity

— Tied for first in educational attainment (with 19 others)

— 33rd in Health and Survival

— 55th in Political Empowerment (India is 17th…)

You can't do better than No. 1, so we should be proud of our educational attainment ranking, but otherwise we should be ashamed.

Fifty-fifth percent in political empowerment is particularly troubling. In the U.S. government, women hold only 18.1% of Congress' 535 seats and only 17.4% of mayors in cities with populations over 30,000 are female. We are a democracy and a full half of our population is not properly represented. The effect of this no doubt ripples throughout the country, affecting the way businesses and societies regard women for positions of power and influence. Men are famous for not understanding women (and vice versa), yet they are overwhelmingly representing their interests.

Exploring exactly why more women aren't participating in the American political system is beyond the scope of this article, but those interested in an in-depth explanation should read this American University School of Public Affairs report on the gender gap in political ambition, titled "Girls Just Wanna Not Run," which examines why young American women simply aren't interested in running for office (spoiler alert: women are raised to regard politics as a masculine realm).

We fancy ourselves the freest, fairest, most enlightened, and greatest nation on earth, but we are, essentially, 22nd best at tapping the talents of half of our population. Political empowerment and representation show the clearest gap between the genders, but the two other non-health sub-index ratings are nothing to be proud of either. If we want to retain our competitive status in the world, both socially and economically, we must use our human talent to its full potential, instead of squandering half of it for no reason at all.