How to Measure Gender Inequality

Gender inequality refers to the fact that different sexes are routinely treated differently in societies throughout the world – with one gender being given more opportunities or benefits than another. Gender inequality can also be seen in the ways that gender biases, stereotypes and beliefs affect individuals and society. This inequality can have a negative impact on individuals’ health, economic opportunities and life chances. Gender inequality is often caused by discrimination and sexism that stem from social norms, culture and biology. It is a global challenge that requires political leadership and comprehensive policy reforms across all sectors.

A common approach is to examine a range of indicators to measure progress towards equality. These typically include measures of attaining membership in the “club” – enrolling in school, entering the labor force, becoming a national legislator or member of parliament. These are important indicators for the overall well-being of a population but fail to capture some other forms of discrimination. They also tend to be highly volatile and are sensitive to changes in demographics.

In addition, these indicators do not tell us whether or not the gap is closing. This requires a comparison of the current state of a nation’s gender inequality with its past history. This can be done using the concept of relative deprivation (Milanovic 2005).

This compares the current state of a country with its historical average over time. Depending on the indicator, this can be either a negative or a positive number, reflecting how close a country is to its historic average.

For example, the indicator measuring women’s employment rate shows that the proportion of employed women is lower than it was historically. In this case, the trend is negative despite the fact that global gender inequality in employment has been declining since 1960.

In many countries, the underlying reason for this trend is demographic change. Over the last 40 years, sub-Saharan African and MENA nations have experienced faster population growth than developed countries. This can lead to a “rebound effect” whereby a rise in gender inequality is compounded by an increase in other forms of inequality (e.g., poverty, educational attainment, mortality).

In addition to the effect of demographics, gender inequality is also influenced by the way that governments and businesses allocate resources. This is why some advocates of gender equality argue that more attention should be paid to the need for policies that support women’s economic participation. In their view, this would promote a more gender-equal economy and reduce other forms of inequality. Another argument is that gender equality is a business imperative. Creating an environment where women can fully participate in the workplace can lead to higher productivity, which in turn leads to better economic performance. This is a compelling argument that can be supported by empirical evidence from various regions and countries. However, it should be noted that even if the economic gains from gender equality were to be achieved, the current global inequality gap in education, healthcare and poverty rates is large and will require substantial progress to close.