Global Perspective on Gender Inequality

gender inequality

The eradication of gender inequality — in which women and men enjoy equal rights and opportunities — is an essential component of sustainable development. It is also a prerequisite for building peaceful societies, in which the potential of both sexes can be fully unleashed.

Gender inequality exists when people are systematically treated differently on the basis of their gender. This treatment can be based on distinctions rooted in biology, psychology, or the norms and beliefs of a particular culture. Gender inequality may take many forms, from the unequal distribution of paid work to unpaid care responsibilities; unequal access to education; unequal property rights and inheritance; and unequal power relationships in families and workplaces.

Over the past half-century, social scientists have documented dramatic change toward greater equality for women. This progress has been hailed as a “gender revolution.” However, recent decades have seen some indicators of progress slow or even stall. The reason for this could be that more substantial institutional and cultural change is needed if progress toward gender equality is to continue.

This article takes a global perspective on the causes of gender inequality and outlines policies that can be implemented to promote women’s economic empowerment. The policy proposals include ensuring that governments implement laws and programs to eliminate barriers to the full participation of women in the labor force; reducing barriers to entrepreneurship; promoting family-friendly policies in both high and low-income countries that support women’s balancing of work with caring responsibilities; and increasing investments in high-quality jobs and entrepreneurship for women, including in renewable energy and other sectors that are climate-friendly.

The article shows that if countries take action now to advance gender equality, they can reap significant benefits. For example, the World Bank estimates that if all countries were to reduce their gender pay gap by one standard deviation—from the mean—global GDP would rise by $12 trillion in 2030. But if those countries were to take no action, GDP would decline by $13 trillion.

A key challenge is that women are disproportionately concentrated in lower-wage occupations. This is because women are more likely to be employed in occupations that pay less than the median wage, and because, on average, they have fewer years of formal education. This chart shows how the gender pay gap has changed over time in OECD countries (the data are not directly comparable across OECD countries, because these estimates use different methodologies for measuring the pay gap).

The chart also illustrates that more than half of the gap is due to a difference in occupation. This could be reduced through supply- or demand-side changes that reduce occupational segregation, or by policies that successfully remove gender bias from decisions about the relative pay levels of predominantly male and female occupations. Individuals can also play a role by supporting talented women in their own workplaces, and by calling out unconscious bias or microaggressions when they see them. And by investing in companies that promote a gender-inclusive corporate culture.