The gender gap: some are more equal than others

Gender equality would be good for the global economy, with India and the Middle East set to gain the most 

Achieving gender equality at work could yield an extra $12 trillion for the global economy in 2025, with India and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) standing to gain the most from closing the gender gap, a report has found.

If each country in the world could make progress towards gender equality at the pace of the fastest-improving country in its region, it would deliver an 11 per cent boost to global GDP, according to the study by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI).

Women already account for about 40 per cent of economic output in the US and western Europe; but just 17 per cent in India and 18 per cent in MENA.

Closing the gap would deliver a $0.7 trillion boost to India’s economy, and $0.6 trillion to the MENA region.

MGI’s study also revealed what would happen if women worked on a completely equal footing to men, although it acknowledged such progress was unlikely to materialise in the next decade. Full gender parity could add $28 trillion to the annual global economy by 2025. That impact is “roughly equivalent to the size of the combined US and Chinese economies today,” said the study.

“Our analysis suggests that the highest potential boost could be in India, the rest of South Asia, and MENA at 60 per cent, 48 per cent, and 47 per cent, respectively,” said the report.

The study measured the gender gap in 95 countries around the world. Complete equality of the sexes when it comes to work, access to essential services, economic opportunity, legal protection and representation earned a country a score of 1.00 in MGI’s Gender Parity Score (GPS).

India is one of the worst performers in the study, with a GPS of 0.48, while the rest of South Asia is even further from parity with a score of 0.44. The Middle East and North Africa fares little better, with a GPS of 0.48. North America, Australia and New Zealand were the best performing areas (although a way off total parity) with 0.74 out of 1.00.

Boosting women’s access to education, financial and digital inclusion, legal protection and help doing household chores would all help push forward progress, according to MGI.

The biggest obstacle to the prize is lack of social change, said the report. There are many hurdles still facing women around the world, including violence, poor maternal and reproductive healthcare, and restricted access to education. Traditional attitudes about women’s roles are also a significant challenge, as 75 per cent of the world’s total unpaid work – such as cleaning and childcare – is done by women.

Still, getting the benefits of increased women’s equality at work needs different remedies in different regions. For example, shifting women into higher productivity sectors would work best in sub-Saharan Africa where many women already work, whereas closing the gap in number of hours worked would help western Europe.

In India and MENA, simply getting more women into paid work would yield significant benefits.

“In India and the MENA region, boosting female labour-force participation would contribute 90 and 85 per cent, respectively, of the total additional economic opportunity [for those regions],” said the study.