10/29/2014 02:53 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2014

19 Countries Where The Gender Gap Is Smaller Than In The U.S.

The United States has made modest progress on gender equality since last year, according to the World Economic Forum's 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, released on Oct. 28. The U.S. ranks 20th out of 142 countries assessed, up from 23rd in 2013.

Since last year's report, public discourse on issues related to women's equality in America has been largely qualitative. National conversations have centered around work-life balance, reproductive rights, equal pay and safe work environments -- to name JUST a few.

While these concerns are not directly addressed in the global report, the results show that the U.S. has chipped away at a quantitative gender gap, with the greatest gains for women in labor force participation and political empowerment.

The Global Gender Gap Report ranks 142 countries countries based on 14 indicators of gender equality across four key areas:

1. Economic participation and opportunity, which includes the ratio of estimated female-to-male earned incomes, wage equality for similar work, and the percent of highly skilled jobs held by women.
2. Educational attainment, which measures literacy rates and the ratio of women to men at all levels of education.
3. Political empowerment, measured by the number of women holding political office beyond the local level and the number of female heads of state over the last 50 years.
4. Health and survival, which is compares female and male life expectancy and mortality rates.

The report assigns countries a score between 0 (total inequality) and 1 (total equality) for each of the 14 indicators, which are averaged to determine overall rankings.

Scores reflect the percent of its gender gap a nation has closed. Iceland is ranked first with a score of .8594, having closed approximately 86 percent of its overall gender gap. With a score of .7463, the United States has closed nearly 75 percent of its gender gap.

Ranked 20th, the United States falls just short of Canada's 19th place score of .7464. (Canada is the #1 ranked country for gender equality in educational attainment, vs. the United States' at #39.) Ecuador trails the United States in 21st place with a score of 0.7455.

Overall, the highest ranked countries are largely European nations with high degrees of educational attainment, economic participation and political empowerment in the female population. While some of the lowest ranked nations (including Saudi Arabia) have also exhibited high rates of improvement since 2006, Middle Eastern and North African countries still comprise the majority of states at the bottom of the gender equality scale.

To be sure, factors that are critical to women's quality of life fall outside the scope of the Global Gender Report. Access to reproductive services is not directly measured, and while threats to abortion access in the United States persist, it is illegal to terminate a pregnancy in Nicaragua and the Philippines -- both of which rank higher than the U.S.

The United States broke the top 20 for the first time since 2011, owing largely to an increase of women in political positions. Still, the U.S. ranks 54th in political empowerment.

Ranking fourth on the report's "Economic Participation and Opportunity Sub-index," the United States leads other nations in terms of female labor force participation and percentage of women in technical and professional jobs.

Despite modest gains in work force participation, the wage gap persists.
Unfortunately, equal pay for equal work still eludes many U.S. women, which may contribute to the U.S.' relatively poor showing in the overall rankings. Given that the United States has largely eliminated a gender gap in educational attainment -- by about 99.8 percent in 2014 -- pay equality has clearly not kept pace with progress in other areas. Women earn 57 percent of bachelor's degrees, 60 percent of master's degrees and 52 percent of doctorate degrees awarded in the U.S. Yet with a score of .66, the United States places ranks 65th in terms of "wage equality for similar work."

The top three best countries for gender equality -- Iceland, Finland and Norway -- fall in the ranks when assessed on wage equality alone. (The 1st ranked country is Burundi.) Still, the disparity between women's education attainment and workplace participation, and the financial rewards this should afford them, appears particularly pronounced in the United States.

Indeed, less than a week before the release of the report, the CEO of the Fortune 500 company Microsoft implored female employees to "trust the system" rather than ask for a raise.

According to additional data from the World Economic Forum, countries with greatest success in closing the gender gap are also among the most economically competitive. Here's hoping the United States keeps this in mind and breaks into the teens next year.

Here are 19 countries that have more overall gender equality than the United States:

19 Countries Where Women Have It Better Than In The U.S.


Equal Pay For Women