- A recently published report suggests a new method for measuring gender inequality.
- The report suggests that men are falling behind women in 91 of the 134 countries being studied.
- That result largely reflects that women have longer life spans than men in most countries.
A pair of researchers recently published a report outlining an alternative measure of gender inequality.
The paper, by Gigster Stoet of the University of Essex and David Geary of the University of Missouri, was published in the PLOS ONE journal, and aimed to make a simpler measure of gender inequality than existing indexes.
Other common measures of gender disparity, like the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index – which the authors of the new study discuss in their paper – are designed to focus on measuring how far countries are from closing gaps between women and men, and thus are scored in such a way that women outperforming men on a particular metric counts the same as achieving absolute gender parity.
As the World Bank put it in its most recent Global Gender Gap Report, “the Index rewards countries that reach the point where outcomes for women equal those for men, but it neither rewards nor penalizes cases in which women are outperforming men in particular indicators in some countries.”
That marks a significant difference for the Basic Gender Inequality Index. The researchers included scores for indicators where women outperformed men, with the stated objective of including “outcomes that can be favourable or unfavorable to either sex, not simply unfavorable to women.”
According to their index, then, they found the possibly surprising result that in 91 of the 134 countries evaluated in the study, women faced fewer net disadvantages than men.
To get a sense of how that result came about, it helps to take a closer look at how the index was constructed.
The measure, which the researchers call the “Basic Index of Gender Inequality,” is composed of three metrics:
- Basic educational opportunity: This is based on primary school enrollment, secondary school enrollment, and literacy rates. The index incorporates whichever of those three measures has the highest absolute gender gap.
- Healthy life span: This is a measure of how many years an individual can expect to live a healthy life.
- Life satisfaction: This is based on a Gallup World Poll question asking respondents to rate their lives on a scale from zero to ten.
For each of the metrics, the researchers calculated the ratio between their values for women and men, showing how much of a gap there was between sexes. They then subtracted each of those ratios from one to make each metric centered on zero: Negative scores indicated an advantage for women on that metric, while positive scores indicated an advantage for men. To create the overall gender inequality index, they took the average of the three sub-indexes.
The three sub-indexes all have specific characteristics that cause them to interact in interesting ways. The following chart from the paper shows the three metrics for each country. The horizontal axes show the value of the subindex, and the vertical axes show the countries’ Human Development Index, a basic score showing a rough level of economic and social development.
On the left is basic educational opportunity, in the center is life satisfaction, and on the right is healthy life span. Countries are colour-coded based on the largest contributor to the overall index – purple for healthy life span, red for life satisfaction, and green for education:
A few things stand out in this chart. First, educational opportunities show far more variation than either of the other two measures, particularly in the less-developed countries towards the bottom of the chart. Second, men fell behind women on the healthy life span metric in almost every country, and there was comparatively little variation among countries on that measure.
Those two patterns explain much of the overall results in the index. Countries with overwhelming educational disadvantages for women tend to have a total BIGI score showing women falling behind men overall. Meanwhile, countries with smaller educational disadvantages or even small educational advantages for women combine with the overall tendency for women to have longer healthy lives to result in an index score indicating men falling behind.
Professor Geary suggested in an email to Business Insider that those disparities could imply areas where various countries could improve, writing “to improve gender equality, developing nations need to invest more in the educational opportunities of girls, and developed and highly developed nations need to invest in progress that will improve men’s health.”
Another difference between the BIGI and other gender inequality measures is the inclusion of a life satisfaction measure, which is not factored into other measures, including the World Bank’s Global Gender Gap Index. The researchers argued that people’s own subjective happiness is an important factor in a good life, and that self-identified life satisfaction could be another useful tool in measuring overall gender inequality.
They wrote in their paper, “The idea is that while it is very difficult to determine the degree to which men and women are disadvantaged in any particular aspect of life, an overall assessment of life satisfaction likely reflects the combination of advantages and disadvantages they have experienced, whatever they might be.”
The index provides some possibly counterintuitive results. One prominent example is that, per the BIGI, Saudi Arabia is the third-most gender egalitarian nation in the world. This result came about because a large advantage for men in educational opportunities was counterbalanced by moderate advantages for women in life span and life satisfaction, resulting in a small overall index score.
The report noted that having a low overall score doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to be done to improve outcomes for both men and women. The authors wrote, “Indeed, Saudi Arabia has much to do, because girls fall behind considerably in educational opportunities while men fall behind in both healthy life span and life satisfaction.”
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