World Cup of Gender Equality 2018

11 Jun

The men’s football World Cup is about to kick off for the 21st time in Russia.  Back in 2014, when Brazil hosted the tournament, I thought it would be fun to compare how women fared in the competing countries, while everyone was engrossed in the male game.  I collated a few indicators and wrote a blog.  It seems only natural to return, and see how we are doing in 2018.

Of course, each time there’s a World Cup, the participating countries change.  So it’s impossible to compare all of the same countries over time.  This year’s teams are quite an interesting spread, with 20/32 having taken part last time, and two first-timers: Iceland and Panama.  The competition will feature the highest number of Nordic countries ever (3 – Denmark, Iceland and Sweden) alongside the highest number of Arabic-speaking countries (4 – Egypt, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Tunisia).

First among my gender equality indicators is the proportion of women in parliament, a reflection of women’s political participation, and easy to find data for all countries:




In 2014, none of the countries in the top 3 on this measure had parliaments with more than 40% female members, but in 2018 this is true of 4 countries.  Iceland and Sweden are famous for their high rates of female representation, with 48% and 44% of members of parliament, respectively, being female; Senegal (42%) and Mexico (43%) are probably less well-known for progressiveness in this regard.  Back here, I have to use UK figures for England, and the figures have gone up quite a bit, with 32% of MPs women, compared to just 22% in 2014.  At the lower end of the table, Iran has doubled its proportion of women in parliament since 2014, from 3% to 6%.  Nigeria is one of a small number of countries to have reversed the trend,  with the proportion of women falling from 7% to 6%.  In 2014, Costa Rica headed the World Cup countries’ table with 39% of its parliamentarians female, compared to 35% today.


Next I’ve looked at gender pay gap data, a much more high profile issue in terms of equality, now, than it was back in 2014.  It’s considerably harder to get comparable data across the globe for this, but once again I’ve used a combination of OECD and Wage Indicator data to maximise coverage across World Cup countries.  The Wage Indicator data comes from surveys, rather than population data, but covers a wider range of countries:





In 2018, South Korea is just about tied for the highest gender pay gap with Brazil – albeit measured on different scales.  Whereas South Korea’s gender pay gap is virtually static on OECD measures since 2014, Brazil’s gap on Wage Indicator data has widened considerably.  Costa Rica has the lowest gender pay gap standing at 1.8% – unfortunately there was no information for this country in 2014.  However, Belgium, which had the lowest gender pay gap of World Cup countries then, has reduced its gap further, from 6% to 4.7% this year.  The UK, Germany and France are still reasonably close together in the middle of the table, but France has seen a bigger reduction in the gender pay gap since 2014, dropping to under 10% while the UK and Germany remain nearer to 15% on the OECD scale.  Of the Nordic countries, Denmark has the lowest gender pay gap, while data is much more patchily available for countries in the Middle East and Africa.


Finally, I turned to the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) Gender Gap Index, for an overall indication of women’s relative position in World Cup countries. For many years, Nordic countries have topped this Index, which looks at gaps between men and women in health, education, economics and politics.  Iceland, a World cup newcomer, is number one on the Gender Gap Index showing the greatest equality between men and women in 2017.  In the 2014 World Cup, Switzerland was the highest-ranking participating country, charting at number 9, in the Gender Gap Index for 2013.  The Swiss have now dropped to 21st place,  Here’s how the World Cup countries rank overall:



And here’s how the position of the 20 countries who appeared both in World Cup 2014, and again this year, have changed:



That so many countries have fallen down the WEF Index over four years, is a reminder that gender equality is rarely achieved in a linear fashion: countries can go through periods of both progress and decline, with women’s position fluctuating over time.  The tough economic situation of the last few years has probably impacted on women’s position in many nations.  And it should also be borne in mind that countries tend to ‘bunch’ on health measures, like gender gaps in life expectancy, and, at the top of the index, in matters of educational equality between men and women.  So changes in ranking can be particularly influenced by changes in political representation – the Russian World Cup hosts have declined in position since 2014, and rank relatively low in terms of political equality between men and women.  France has recently seen increases in both its proportion of women in parliament and at the top of government, and this is important in its relatively big shift up the Index; by contrast Brazil’s political empowerment rating has dropped recently, accounting for its lower position in 2018.  Among countries playing in the World Cup this year, but not 2014, Peru and Senegal have been making progress on the Gender Gap Index.


So who would win a World Cup of Gender Equality?  Iceland tops two of my tables so has to be up there, and Costa Rica has the lowest gender pay gap.  Neither of these countries is hotly tipped for the football finals.  Simon Kuper reminded us in the FT Weekend that the World Cup’s relationship to other trends can be overhyped: ‘It often reflects sociological reality but doesn’t shape it’, he concluded.  I read elsewhere that Gary Lineker once said ‘Football is a simple game.  Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes, and at the end the Germans always win’. If the look Angela Merkel gave Trump the other day is anything to go on, could it be that women’s empowerment and men’s footballing prowess are set to converge?? Perhaps it’s of some comfort in England that many argue that football World Cups are essentially unpredictable …





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