The pandemic set back gender parity by an entire generation

U.S. women won't reach pay equity with men for at least 60 years, says the World Economic Forum.

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The World Economic Forum released its annual Global Gender Gap Report and the results are disheartening.

Despite some recent progress, it will take women in North American approximately 61.5 years to reach pay equity with men.

The statistics are worse globally: at this pace, the global gender gap will take 135.6 years to close.

"Another generation of women will have to wait for gender parity," said the World Economic Forum in a statement.

The annual report reviews four key dimensions (Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment) and tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time.

The report says that the pandemic has strongly impacted global equality.


"Preliminary evidence suggests that the health emergency and the related economic downturn have impacted women more severely than men, partially re-opening gaps that had already been closed."

The report combines data for the United States and Canada as the North American region. Here are some takeaways for our region:

  • The U.S. has closed 76.3% of its gender gap and now ranks 30th in the world on women's issues.
  • We closed 96.9% of the gender gap in "health and survival" and 100% of the "educational attainment" gap.
  • We made great strides in the "political empowerment" category, as women in government positions jumped from 21.7% to 46.2%. The report does note that a woman has only been head-of-state in Canada for 0.3 years over the past 50. The U.S. has never had a female president.
  • The report says that both America and Canada need to focus on reducing gaps in wages and income for women. Both countries have yet to close over 30% of their gaps.

On the plus side, many countries are making great strides towards equality. Iceland is the most gender-equal country in the world for the twelfth time. The top ten includes Iceland (89.2%), Finland (86.1%), Norway (84.9%), New Zealand (84.0%), Sweden (82.3%), Namibia (80.9%), Rwanda (80.5%), Lithuania (80.4%), Ireland (80.0%), and Switzerland (79.8%).

Why do reports like these matter? They certainly don't change anything in the short term. And it can be disheartening to see how little equality there really is worldwide.

These reports offer a chance at accountability. They offer quantifiable proof to our daily experiences. We know that women are underpaid and underrepresented in leadership and in the workforce. This is data that proves it—and shows that growth is possible. Other countries are getting it right. Not everything, certainly. Even Iceland, the most gender-equal country in the world, has still only achieved 89.2% equality. It's good—but not equal.

The report does offer suggestions to help countries achieve pay equity. It calls for hardwiring gender parity into the post-COVID-19 world of work; closing gender gaps with pay reviews, remediation, and improving work quality and pay standards across low-paid but essential work; enabling women's participation in the labor force through flexible work arrangements and better childcare support; and advancing more women into management and leadership roles.

These are solutions that mothers want. In responding to Motherly's 2021 State of Motherhood survey, working mothers were clear about the ways their employers can better support them: longer, paid maternity leave (64%), increased position flexibility (58%) and support for childcare, either on-site or through subsidies (53%).

We support all of these suggestions. We've got to figure out a better way to pay, care for, and represent half of the world's population.

Our children are counting on us—we can't lose another generation to inequality.

Jamie Orsini is an Emmy Award-winning journalist, military spouse, and a mom to two busy toddlers. In her spare time, Jamie volunteers with the Solar System Ambassador program with NASA/JPL and reads anything she can get her hands on. She’s currently working on her first novel.

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