Women’s lives have improved greatly over the past decades. Enjoying ever higher education, women have greater control over their life choices. They use those choices to participate more in the labor force; have fewer children; diversify their time beyond housework and child care; and shape their communities, economies, and societies. And the pace of change for many women in the developing world has accelerated.
But things have not changed for all women or in all aspects of gender equality. First, for poor women and for women in poor places, sizable gender gaps remain, even in education enrollments and fertility, where global progress has been great. For the wealthiest people across countries, there is little gender disadvantage, but it is large for severely disadvantaged populations at the bottom of the income distribution. Ethnicity, distance, disability, or sexual orientation, among other factors, further compound gender inequality.
Second, in some domains of gender equality there has been very little — or very slow — change, even as countries get richer. These “sticky” domains include excess female mortality in key periods of the life cycle and occupational differences in the economic sphere. In many areas of women’s agency, including political voice and representation, differences between men and women remain entrenched, even in very rich countries and despite nearly a century of women’s activism.
Third, systemic shocks, such as droughts or economic downturns, adversely affect males and females, and their precise impacts depend on the context and the shock.