The apparently neutral phrase, “gender inequality,” is not neutrally understood in our society. It normally conjures up women’s lower numbers in male-dominated corporate directorships and STEM professorships or other high-status domains that are in fact accessible only to a sliver of the male population, never mind the narrower female sliver.
Social scientists allegedly strive for a much more holistic picture, especially when setting nations beside each other for a global assessment of gender inequality.
One frequently cited authority is the Global Gender Gap Index (GGGI), introduced in 2006, and relied on by policy makers worldwide. But a provocative new study, released Jan. 3, takes critical distance from GGGI premises, providing its own set of metrics for analyzing gender inequalities and arriving at some startlingly disparate conclusions.
Entitled “A Simplified Approach to Measuring National Gender Inequality,” authors Gijsbert Stoet from the U.K.’s University of Essex, and David C. Geary from the University of Missouri, contend that the GGGI is unreliable, because it is “biased to highlight women’s issues.”
They argue that the GGGI does not measure men’s areas of disadvantage, such as compulsory military service, harsher punishments for the same crime, and workplace deaths — 95 per cent male.
By definition, they say, the GGGI “excludes the possibility that men can be less well off than women – this is because the GGGI focuses on women’s advancement.” As well, they contend that the GGGI uses indicators that are only relevant to elite women, and that the GGGI includes indicators more reflective of choice than of discrimination.
The researchers propose a truly gender-neutral set of metrics for calculating equality scores, named the Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI). BIGI focuses on three factors: educational opportunities (literacy, years of primary and secondary education), healthy life expectancy (years expected to live in good health), and overall life satisfaction which, taken together, are the “minimum ingredients of a good life.”
These metrics can be applied anywhere, regardless of income level, cultural paradigm or national economic development tier. In the words of the study abstract, because of its focus on issues that are important to all men and women in any nation, BIGI “better captures variation in gender inequality than other measures, with inclusion of outcomes that can be favourable or unfavourable to either sex, not simply unfavourable to women.”
Stoet and Geary calculated BIGI scores over five years (2012 through 2016) for 134 nations, representing 6.8 billion people. They relied on GGGI reports published by the World Economic Forum and the Gallup World Poll for data.
To their surprise, they found that using the BIGI as a yardstick, men are on average disadvantaged in 91 countries, while women are disadvantaged in 43 countries, most of them economically under-developed.
Sometimes the deviations from parity are quite small or even negligible, as for example in the case of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Turkey, China and Switzerland.
Saudi Arabia is a highly developed nation in which women fall behind in education, but score higher on healthy life expectancy and life satisfaction. This may seem counterintuitive to Western women, but culture, with the expectations it imposes, is a strong determinant of what constitutes “satisfaction.”
A Saudi wife in a polygynous marriage to a wealthy husband might find life quite satisfying, while a poor Saudi man with almost no marriage prospects at all may find life quite unsatisfying.
Canada’s figures put it amongst the countries with a slight female advantage. Feminists may not be delighted to hear this. But given the BIGI metrics, it makes sense.
Canadian women’s life expectancy is seven years longer than men’s. Men’s health in Canada is on average poorer than women’s. They are more prone to alcoholism and drug abuse, and more vulnerable to violence.
Male suicide rates are considerably higher, especially during Family Court battles, where women are greatly advantaged (and which causes great life dissatisfaction in fathers).
Canadian men are nine times more likely than women to be imprisoned. They perpetrate more crimes, to be sure, but they also receive harsher sentences for the same crimes, even when committing the same crime in tandem.
Men constitute about 85 per cent of homeless adults. Canadian men show higher dropout rates at every level from primary school to university. Canadian women own a disproportionate share of private wealth. (I could go on.)
This is an important study, not nearly as simplistic as it may seem in this reductive summary, and worth reading — without gender bias if possible — before judging.
Barbara Kay is a columnist with Canada’s National Post, where this article was first published. Republished with permission.