Earlier this month, the World Economic Forum published its 2010 Global Gender Gap Report, which compares 134 countries based on 5 years’ worth of data.

The overall purpose of the report is to emphasize the positive relationship between economic success and gender equity.  “Women and girls,” says Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the Forum, “must be treated equally if a country is to grow and prosper.”

The Report’s country-by-country rankings give them something of the flavor of a horse race:

“And, at the front of the pack, we have the Nordic countries, with Iceland (#1) ahead by a nose…followed closely by Norway, Finland, and Sweden (## 2, 3, & 4), with Denmark (#7) just a few paces behind….”

“France, this year, fell out of the top 20 to place at #46 due to fewer women in ministerial positions in the government…”

And, most important to those of us here in the U.S., “The U.S, for the first time, finishes in the top 20 at #19!  Yes, folks, that’s the U.S. at #19!” (Unlike France, the U.S. ranking reflects more women appointed by the current administration, as well as a narrowing of the wage gap between men and women.)

Horse race or not, this is important stuff, and it prompts me to pull up the U.S. Report to take a closer look.

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With the aid of my internet binoculars, I can see more closely what is happening.

The overall ranking for each country is based on a “Gender Gap Index,” which in turn is based on four “Gender Gap Subindexes”:

1.     Economic Participation and Opportunity

2.     Educational Attainment

3.     Health and Survival

4.     Political Empowerment

We in the U.S. can start out by congratulating ourselves on our #1 (yes, that’s #1) ranking in Educational Attainment:  With respect to relative literacy rates and enrollment in primary, secondary, and tertiary education, we are second to none.   Bravo!  (In fact, more women than men proportionately are enrolled in post-secondary education, which may have its own associated issues, but that’s not our story here…)

On Economic Participation and Opportunity, we come in at #6.  Not bad!  We’re a bit uneven in this category:  High ratings on earned income overall and opportunities for senior, managerial, professional, and technical workers are compromised by low ratings on wage equality (we’re #64 on that one) and labour force participation (#43).  There’s obvious room for improvement, but we seem to be headed in the right direction.

Less encouraging is that we are lagging several lengths behind in the other two subindexes:  We are #38 in Health and Survival and #40 in Political Empowerment.  Here we seem to have some heavy weights in our saddlebags.

In my next post, a little close-up investigation of what we might be carrying that’s holding us back…  Stay tuned.