The Global Gender Gap Report: Orwell Would Understand

One of my favorite whipping boys has always been the World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Report.”  Its combination of self-conscious gravitas with laughable hypocrisy is irresistible.  Contrary to what the name suggests, it neither attempts to, nor actually measures gaps between the sexes.  On the contrary, its only concern is for women; anti-male inequalities go entirely unmentioned.

Most remarkable are the lengths to which the GGGR goes to avoid acknowledging those male-unfriendly inequalities.  If you’ve read it, or any of my pieces on it over the years, you know that it examines four areas of human life – economic and political participation, education and health - in each of 156 countries.  Each area in each country is then given a score between zero and one, depending on how close to “equality” that country is in that area.  A score of ‘1’ indicates perfect equality between men and women (although sometimes, it doesn’t) and a score of ‘0’ perfect inequality.  A 0.9 would be very good, but not perfect, a 0.3 would be pretty bad.

Except a ‘1’ doesn’t necessarily signify equality.  That’s because the GGGR assigns a ‘1’ – perfect equality - to any area in which men do worse than women.  So for example, the U.S. gets a rating of ‘1’ for college attendance, despite the fact that only 43% of enrollees are men.  According to the GGGR, a score of ‘1’ can either mean perfect equality between the sexes or extreme inequality that’s adverse to men.  To the WEF, anti-male inequality = gender equality.  Orwell would understand.

Now some may argue that the GGGR is only about the status of women and not men, so ignoring male inequalities is appropriate.  There are numerous problems with that take.  For one, if it were true, the publication wouldn’t be littered with remarks like this:

We hope that this report will serve as a call to action to leaders to embed gender parity as a central goal of our policies and practices to manage the post-pandemic recovery, to the benefit of our economies and our societies.

The only way to “embed gender parity” in “policies and practices” would be to address both male and female inequalities, which the WEF doggedly doesn’t do and never has.  Further, if it were honest, the WEF would give its publication a name that accurately reflects its contents – the Global Women’s Empowerment Index, perhaps.  That would let people know what is actually being measured and promoted.  As it is, the GGGR is assumed by most readers to be exactly what it says it is - an indicator of the relative status of men and women throughout the world, even though it’s not.  And sure enough, when it comes out every year, journalists and other commentators routinely make precisely the assumption that the WEF desires.  Here’s an example from the Sydney Morning Herald:

Perhaps the most telling statistical outcome from the 2021 GGGI is that Australia ranks equal first for educational attainment among women and girls, but 70th for economic participation and opportunity … The state of gender equality in Australia is, put simply, shameful.

(I’ll say more on that in my next piece.)

If the WEF accurately named its report and removed all suggestions that it has anything to do with actual gender equality, it could then publish a second yearly report that uses the same methodology but instead deals with male inequalities.  Unsurprisingly, the WEF has never done so and shows no sign of even acknowledging male inequalities, much less taking them seriously.

In short, the GGGR is less a scrupulous analysis of gender inequalities than it is an activist tract.  Its purpose is to convince all and sundry that women are hard done by, even when and where they’re not. 

Nothing demonstrates the fact quite as clearly as its treatment of the life expectancies of men and women.  Since one of the GGGR’s categories is health and since longevity is an important indicator of health and since women generally live longer than men, the WEF was faced with a knotty problem – how to convince readers that, regarding lifespans, it’s women who hold the short end of the equality stick. 

What to do?

If you’re the WEF, you simply jettison the rating system used everywhere else in your Report.  Instead of the usual 0 – 1 rating system, for longevity, a 0 – 1.06 system was put in place.  What’s the justification?  Because, in the WEF’s “thinking,” women live longer on average than do men, so, in order to attain equality, a country’s women must live longer than the average male-female differential.  Anything less than the average indicates – you guessed it – anti-female inequality.  Therefore, if women live on average five years longer than men and if country A’s women live only four years longer – presto! – anti-female inequality, despite their living significantly longer than men. 

As before, inequality = equality.

Given its general absurdity and frank bias, I was pleased that none other than Dr. David Geary took to the pages of Quillette recently to take down the GGGR a further notch.  Geary is a Curators’ Distinguished Professor in the Department of Psychological Sciences and the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Program at the University of Missouri.  His book, Male, Female: The Evolution of Human Sex Differences, is to date the best description of the science of sex differences written for laypeople.  More than just about anyone, Geary knows a thing or two about the sexes and communicates it effectively.

I’ll get into his essay next time.

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