The Global Gender Gap Index and the Economic Cost of Gender Inequality

gender inequality

While the world has made some progress toward gender equality, much remains to be done. Continuing societal assumptions, often based on stereotypical and biologically essentialist notions of men and women, limit women’s access to jobs and economic opportunities. These limitations can lead to poverty, stifle human development and threaten global peace and prosperity.

The Global Gender Gap Index (GII) measures the gap between women and men in three dimensions: reproductive health, empowerment, and labour market participation. It does so for as many countries with available data of reasonable quality as possible, using a methodology developed by the UN Development Programme. The GII ranges from 0 to 1, with a lower score indicating greater inequality.

In rich countries, the GII shows that women are overrepresented in the bottom two-thirds of the earnings distribution, and they earn less than men at every level of education. This is partly because of sexism in the workplace, but also because of the fact that women are more likely to take time out of work to care for children and other family members.

As a result, their lifetime earnings are substantially below those of men. And while there has been some recent progress in closing the gap at higher education levels, it’s stalled out at lower ones. In addition, a lack of economic growth is hindering efforts to close the gulf between women and men’s incomes.

The global economic cost of gender inequality is enormous. The report shows that a more gender-inclusive economy could add $12 trillion to global GDP by 2030. However, if the world takes a middle path—which means that progress on gender equality stalls out or even reverses in the years ahead—the hit to global GDP would be $5 trillion.

Gender inequality is deeply embedded in all aspects of society. It affects the decisions individuals and societies make about what careers to pursue, how to raise their families, and which healthcare options to choose. It limits the economic opportunity of girls and women, and makes them less likely to invest in their own futures. And it is also a fundamental driver of poverty and hunger because it reduces the ability of poor families to grow enough food and earn enough money to afford basic necessities.

To overcome these intractable challenges, we need to build a new vision of what it means to be a man or a woman—one that does not rely on biological differences between the sexes to determine success and failure. We need to build a world in which the choices people can make and their life chances are not dependent on, or constrained by, their sex, which would allow them to live lives of freedom and dignity. This would be a world that is not only fairer to all, but also better for everyone. The time to start is now. It’s up to us all to demand it.