Women make up the majority of the U.S. workforce and an even larger majority of knowledge, professional, and creative workers. In a provocative and controversial essay in this magazine, Hannah Rosin argues that the post-industrial economy is better suited to the types of skills and capabilities women possess. The current economic crisis has been dubbed a "mancession" by some - as men in blue-collar jobs have borne the brunt of layoffs and unemployment.
But economic opportunity for women varies widely across the globe, according to an important new measure, the Women's Economic Opportunity Index, released recently by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU). The Index provides an empirical gauge of the status and opportunity afforded women across 113 nations. Spanning 26 separate variables on women in the labor market, educational outcomes and opportunity, women's legal and social status, access to finance, and the general business environment, it is drawn from data from the World Bank, the UN, the International Labour Organization, the World Economic Forum, and the OECD, along with a series of new indicators.
The map above, prepared by Zara Matheson based on the report's data, shows the rankings for the 113 nations covered by the Index. As the map shows, women's economic opportunity is substantially better in the more advanced, wealthier nations of Scandinavia and Northern Europe, the U.S. and Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Scandinavian and Northern European nations take the top five spots. Sweden tops the list, followed by Belgium, Norway, Finland, and Germany. Canada ranks ninth and the U.S. 15th.
The Economist study finds a clear relationship between women's economic opportunity and income levels. Women have become more fully integrated into the wealthier nations across virtually every dimension. But this is not the case in less-developed countries. In too many of these nations, writes Leo Abruzzese, one of the authors of the study, "Women have fewer educational and employment opportunities than men, are more often denied credit, and endure social restrictions that limit their chances for advancement. In some developing countries, women still cannot vote, own property, or venture outside the home without a male family member."
This begs the question: To what degree is growing economic opportunity for women associated with the economic development of nations broadly? It stands to reason that economies that afford women more opportunity will gain economic advantage for the simple reason that they can tap a broader reservoir of talent and skill.
With the help of my colleague Charlotta Mellander, I decided to take a look at the the connections between women's economic opportunity and a range of key economic and social factors. We ran a basic correlation analysis and generated a series of scatter graphs of the factors that might be associated with greater economic opportunity for women. The graph above summarizes our key results. As usual, I point out that these are preliminary, exploratory analyses that simply point to associations between variables. We don't make any claims about the direction of causality, and we acknowledge that intervening variables may come into play.
Economic opportunity is closely associated with a nation's level of economic output and overall economic competitiveness. The Women's Economic Opportunity Index is closely associated with both economic output, measured as Gross Domestic Product (with a correlation of .87), and with the World Economic Forum's basic measure of economic competitiveness (.76).