News

Who has it best in life - men or women?

  • Date

    Thu 3 Jan 19

Gijsbert Stoet

Researchers have developed a new way of measuring gender inequality which they argue is fairer to both men and women and presents a simplified, but more accurate, picture of people's wellbeing.

The new Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI) focuses on three factors – educational opportunities, healthy life expectancy and overall life satisfaction.

Researchers from Essex and the University of Missouri used these factors to calculate BIGI scores for 134 nations, representing 6.8 billion people. Surprisingly their new measure found men are, on average, more disadvantaged than women in 91 countries compared with a relative disadvantage for women in 43 countries.

Professor Gijsbert Stoet, from the Department of Psychology at Essex, explained: “No existing measure of gender inequality fully captures the hardships that are disproportionately experienced by men in many countries and so they do not fully capture the extent to which any specific country is promoting the wellbeing of all its citizens.

“The BIGI provides a much simpler way of tackling gender inequality and it focuses on aspects of life that are directly relevant to all people. Used alongside other existing indicators, it provides additional and different information to give a more complete assessment of gender equality, making it easier for policy-makers to introduce changes to improve the quality of life for both men and women.

“We’re not saying that women in highly developed countries are not experiencing disadvantages in some aspects of their lives. What we are saying is that an ideal measure of gender equality is not biased to the disadvantages of either gender. Doing so, we find a different picture to the one commonly presented in the media.”

Until now the Global Gender Gap Index, introduced in 2006, has been one of the most established and well-used measures of national gender inequality, used by academics and policy makers across the world

But Professor Stoet argues it does not measure issues where men are at a disadvantage, such as harsher punishments for the same crime, compulsory military service and more occupational deaths. He says the complexity of the Global Gender Gap Index also means it is sometimes difficult to distinguish whether gender differences are the result of social inequalities or personal preference.

Professor David Geary, from the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of Missouri in the United States, said: “We sought to correct the bias towards women’s issues within existing measures and at the same time develop a simple measure that is useful in any country in the world, regardless of their level of economic development.”

Using the BIGI measure, researchers found the most developed countries in the world come closest to achieving equality, albeit with a slight advantage for women. In the least developed countries, women nearly always fall behind men – largely because they have fewer opportunities to get a good education. The picture is more mixed in countries with medium-levels of development, with nearly the same number of countries where women fall behind, as countries where men fall behind. Men’s disadvantage is largely due to a shorter healthy lifespan.

Professor Stoet concluded: “Internationally improvements in gender parity may be reached by focussing on education in the least-developed nations and by focussing on preventative health care, for example in regard to abuse of drugs and alcohol, in medium and highly-developed nations.

“However, resolving gender inequality is only part of what is needed to ensure that all people can reach their full potential. Overall gender parity on its own is not sufficient, because it can simply mean that both men and women lack opportunities in different facets of life quality.”

The BIGI website:  http://bigi.genderequality.info/ provides more detailed information about individual nations.