How Gender Inequality Affects Women and Girls Around the World

Gender inequality continues to harm women and girls around the world in multiple ways. They are more likely to be denied education, experience physical and mental health problems, have lower incomes, face violence and are less politically and economically empowered. Gender inequality also prevents women from passing on the benefits of development to their children, creating an intergenerational cycle of disadvantage.

The good news is that gender equality on most measures is improving across countries. This is largely because the gender gap tends to close in rich countries, with the exception of the pay gap. The data on which this visualization is based includes both OECD and non-OECD countries and covers the years 1960 to 2005 (the intervals are shorter for some indicators). The calculations are based on Milanovic’s Concept 2 inequality, which is comparable to his idea of unweighted international inequality (Hausmann, Tyson, and Zahidi 2007).

As the global economy has improved, the gender gap has declined in many places. But it is still a stubborn, persistent problem. One reason is that it takes time to overcome the barriers that prevent women and girls from entering the club of the economically active population, becoming literate or attaining a national legislature seat. It is not enough to just get in the door; once members of the club, they must achieve equality within it.

Another obstacle is that men and women have different preferences for occupations. The resulting “gendered-occupation” wage gap explains some of the remaining pay gap, but not nearly as much as is widely believed. The fact that men are more attracted to certain occupations also reflects very real structural obstacles in those sectors, such as low wages and segregated work environments.

While some policies can help, more fundamental changes are needed to make a difference. As we have written before, this requires tackling the entrenched culture that permeates every level of society and that reinforces gender stereotypes. This culture is fuelled by popular culture and the messages that we receive from our family, friends and community. It is reflected in the stereotyped way that boys and men behave, such as through the promotion of violent masculinity. It is also reflected in the way that we perceive and treat each other.

Reducing gender inequality will benefit everyone. It will make our economies stronger, create stable and resilient societies and give every child a chance to thrive. But it will take continued commitment to changing the culture of inequality that has endured for centuries. That is why it is important that all of us — both male and female — continue to speak out against injustice, wherever it exists.