“Not in my lifetime,” goes the tired refrain about the social changes we’d most like to see. Well, according to a new study from the World Economic Forum, that mantra is accurate when it comes to the global gender pay gap, which is projected to persist for another 118 years.
As the Guardian notes, the pay gap has barely narrowed worldwide since the 2008 economic crash. Women’s wages lag about a decade behind men’s, meaning women make more or less what men did in 2006. “Adjusted for inflation, the picture is worse,” the Guardian points out. Men make about $20,000 a year on average worldwide to women’s roughly $11,000. But when men were making $11,000 in 2006, “in today’s money, men were earning more than $13,000.”
The United States, where women make roughly 78 cents to a man’s dollar, still manages to land in sixth place in the economic section of the WEF’s “Gender Gap Index” of 2015, which measures “the participation gap, the remuneration gap and the advancement gap.” (Our overall ranking, 28th, is dragged down considerably by the U.S.’s terrible “political empowerment” score—just one more reason that we need more women in higher office.) The WEF scored countries on a scale of 0 (total inequality) to 1 (total equality). Norway leads the economic field with a B-plus (0.868), followed by Barbados, Burundi, Sweden, and Iceland. It’s notable that in roughly the top 40 countries, the gender education gap has been all but eliminated—parity in academic credentials has not translated to parity in the workplace. The U.S. scored a 0.999 in educational equality but a 0.826 in economic equality.
The WEF also surveyed the policies and business practices in countries that have managed to narrow the wage gap in recent years and compiled a list of things that seem to be working:
• It’s a no-brainer that better maternity and parental leave enables women to participate in the workforce. It’s possible to have too much of a good thing, though: In some Nordic countries where mothers can take more than two years off, female economic participation goes down. Policies that split parental leave evenly between mothers and fathers may address this unforeseen downside—and new legislation in Iceland, Germany, Japan, and South Korea will provide a good test.
• Child care is essential. The report found, “A majority of economies have public daycare assistance with government allowance or subvention (66.7 percent) while there are fewer countries that have government allowance for private daycare (55.2 percent).” The U.S. remains in the minority of countries that do nothing to assist women and families with child care even though it’s often the most expensive item in a family’s budget, costing more per month than rent.
• Companies need to set themselves goals—or countries need to do it for them. In the U.K., a group of the biggest public companies have agreed to work toward boards that are 25 percent female. In the WEF report, 92 percent of responding countries had some legislation in place to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace: “88 percent have legislation imposing gender-neutral practices in the workplace, 12 percent have legislation for mandatory percentage of both genders on corporate boards.”
Women have a long way to go to achieve pay equity with men. In addition to these big areas for improvement, companies and legislators can also make substantial changes through smaller innovations. Research suggests that encouraging employees to negotiate their salaries means women will get the short end of the stick, for example, and transparently setting the salary for a role before seeking a candidate to fill it is more fair. A bill that didn’t make it into law in California this fall would have prevented employers from asking about job applicants’ salary histories, keeping old inequities from following women into new work. With ideas like these, maybe we’ll finally close the gender wage gap by 2133.