International Women’s Day: Britain is among the worst places to be a working woman

  • Emma Finamore
  • 07 Mar 2016

The UK comes below the United States, Slovakia and Poland. Oh dear. 


In the week the world celebrates International Women’s Day, data analysis has shown that Britain is among the worst major nations in which to be a working woman.

The “glass-ceiling index” created by The Economist combines data on higher education, labour-force participation, pay, child-care costs, maternity rights, business-school applications and representation in senior jobs.

It aims to reveal where women have the best chances of equal treatment at work, each country’s score is a weighted average of its performance on ten indicators.

Britain comes in the lower third, below Italy, Czech Republic and the US. The top third includes Poland, Finland and Sweden. Slovakia sits in the middle of the list.

In Britain, 21.5% of board members are women, compared to 44% in Iceland. Child care costs here are huge, meaning that it is hard for mothers to re-enter the workplace: in Britain child care costs come to 45.7% of the average wage; compared to just 6.5% in Iceland.

Paid leave for fathers also has an impact on mothers going back to work. In Britain, fathers get 0.4 weeks full-paid leave; in Iceland it is 8.3 weeks.

In the Nordic countries at the top of the list, women are present in the labour force at similar rates to men. Finland has the largest share of women who have gone through higher education compared with men (49% of women, and 35% of men).

Norway’s gender wage-gap (6.3%) is less than half the average (15.5%).

Women have 44% of seats on listed-company boards in Iceland, and strong representation in Scandinavian boardrooms is common thanks to quotas.

Norway and Iceland also have voluntary political-party quotas as does Sweden, where 44% of parliamentary seats are occupied by women – one of the highest rates in the world.

Hungary ranks fifth, having the lowest gender wage gap, of 3.8%. Despite having few women on boards (11%) and in parliament (10%), Hungary has generous paid leave for mothers (71 weeks at 100% of recent pay) and low child-care costs. 

At the bottom of the ranking are Japan, Turkey and South Korea, where men are more likely than women to have degrees, to be in the workplace and to hold senior positions. The pay gap in these nations is also wide.


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