Connected Research

Union policy research in the 21st century

UK slips in gender gap league

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A report published today by the World Economic Forum (link is to press release) shows the UK slipping to 15th place in a table of 134 countries on the issue of gender equality. This continues a process of gentle decline which has seen the UK slip from 9th in 2006 to 11th, 13th and now 15th.

The Forum’s gender gap index assesses how well countries are dividing resources and opportunities between men and women, regardless of the overall levels of these resources and opportunities, and combines individual assessments within four overall sub-indices: economic participation and opportunity; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.

The UK ranks top (or, rather, equal top) in terms of the indices on educational attainment, but 22nd on political empowerment, 35th on economic participation and opportunity, and 72nd on health and survival (largely owing to a rather low-looking ‘healthy life expectancy’ of 72 for women and 69 for men).

Income falls within the economic  participation and opportunity sub-index, and here the UK ranks 20th with women’s estimated earned income, in terms of purchasing power parity, standing at 70% of that of men. This is actually the UK’s best result within this index but survey figures on wage equality for similar work show a figure of just 64%  – and the UK ranks 78th, its lowest level within this whole sub-index (just for comparison, Uzbekistan ranked top on this measure).

Nordic countries, headed by Iceland, filled the first four places – the same four countries as in 2008 (albeit in a different order). New Zealand filled fifth place, as it did in 2008, while South Africa jumped from 22nd to 6th, as a result predominantly of improvements in women’s participation in the labour force and in the representation of women both in the South African parliament and the government.

The individual component figures in the survey can always be challenged, but the survey acts as a useful check on the UK’s general progress towards gender equality – or, in this case, its lack thereof. The result on pay equality is particularly poor and chimes with recent research in the UK which shows that the gender pay gap remains, in the words of the Women and Work Commission, ‘stubbornly persistent‘ despite a reducing trend. At the same time, however, it does provide an opportunity to address the factors which might provide for the step-change required for women to break through the gap which remains.

Perhaps Proposals for promoting greater transparency in the private sector, the Equalities and Human Rights Commission consultation on improving gender equality in the workplace which closes tomorrow, might provide some way forward. As far as Connect is concerned, and as we argued in our submission to the consultation, mandatory pay audits are the way forward since they lead to structured and agreed action being taken towards a closing of the gap, with subsequent publication being the trigger both for accountability and for action.


Written by Calvin

27/10/2009 at 5:47 pm

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