The World Economic Forum's 2012 report on the global gender gap ranked the U.S. as the 22nd best country in the world. But when it comes to wage equality, the land of the free and the home of the brave drops to 61st, behind Madagascar, Cambodia and Guyana. Women in America earned 67 percent of what men earned. By comparison, women in Sweden earned 69 percent, women in Canada earned 73 percent, and women in Ireland earned 77 percent.
Dig a little deeper into the numbers and it becomes clear what least part of the problem is. In many countries, unmarried women earn more than unmarried men. In Ireland, for example, the average woman without a child earns 17 percent more than the average man. After having children, however, Irish women make more than 10 percent less, on average, than men. In America, the female-to-male pay gap jumps by almost 15 percentage points after children enter the picture.
In some countries, there are programs to mitigate these factors. Ireland, for example, has government-mandated paid maternity leave. Then again, so does every other country in the world, except for Papua New Guinea, Swaziland ... and the U.S.
And these aren't the only areas in which the U.S. falls well behind the pack. In terms of labor force participation based on gender, the U.S. is 43rd in the world, behind Uganda, Mongolia and Benin. Put another way, 68 percent of able-bodied, adult American women are at work, while 80 percent of able-bodied, adult American men are at work.
Part of this, again, is due to child-rearing, as America's lack of publicly-funded child care makes it harder for women in this country to juggle family and work. And the situation looks like it's going to get worse before it gets better. As The International Business Times reported earlier this week, the sequester budget cuts will further erode women's health care programs, Head Start classes, food stamps, and other government services that help U.S. women.
In 2011, the U.S. was ranked 17th in the world when it came to the position of women in society. By 2012, it had fallen five places. And now, with Washington's budget battles poised to slash federal programs and the social safety net, 2013 is shaping up to be another rough year for America's gender gap.
Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971
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