The 20 best countries for women—the U.S. isn’t one of them


No country has yet achieved full equality between men and women — but some countries are doing a better job of closing the gender gap than others.

That’s according to a new report from the World Economic Forum, which estimates that global gender inequality will persist until at least 2154.

The Global Gender Gap Report, now in its 17th year, compares countries’ gender gaps across four dimensions: economic opportunities; educational attainment; health and survival; and political empowerment.

Iceland ranked at the top of the WEF’s list for the 14th consecutive year, followed by Norway, Finland, New Zealand, and Sweden. 

Here are the 20 best countries for women, according to the WEF’s report:

  1. Iceland
  2. Norway
  3. Finland
  4. New Zealand
  5. Sweden
  6. Germany
  7. Nicaragua
  8. Namibia
  9. Lithuania
  10. Belgium
  11. Ireland
  12. Rwanda
  13. Latvia
  14. Costa Rica
  15. United Kingdom
  16. Philippines
  17. Albania
  18. Spain
  19. The Republic of Moldova
  20. South Africa

The U.S. ranked 43rd out of 146 countries, compared to 27th in 2022. 

This is partly due to a change in how the WEF established its ranking, giving more weight to countries where women hold a significant number of ministerial positions or are heads of state says Saadia Zahidi, the managing director at WEF. 

In the U.S., this would include the number of women serving in the president’s cabinet. There are currently 12 women serving in President Joe Biden’s cabinet.

Overall, American women remain “woefully behind” their European counterparts when it comes to political participation, says Noreen Farrell, executive director of the non-profit Equal Rights Advocates, pointing out that less than 30% of congressional seats are held by women.

Nordic countries, such as Finland and Iceland, have been exemplary in this regard, having elected several female heads of government. 

In the last year, progress on achieving global gender parity has been driven by a “significant improvement” on the educational attainment gap, the report notes, as well as women’s political empowerment and participation in many countries. 

Europe has the highest gender parity compared to any other region at 76.3%, surpassing North America, where 75% of the gap is closed. 

There are a number of reasons why Europe has been more successful in closing the gender gap than the U.S., says Zahidi. One reason is that European countries have invested more in care infrastructure, offering affordable child care, paid parental leave, and universal health care. 

“These policies make it easier for women to participate in the workforce and relieve financial pressure on families,” Zahidi explains.

While access to reproductive care wasn’t a factor the WEF considered in its ranking, Zahidi acknowledges that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade in June 2022, which effectively removed all federal protections for abortion, could hurt women’s economic participation and life expectancy in the U.S., causing the country to fall further in the ranking. 

“Gender parity is not an issue you can catch up on year to year,” adds Farrell. “It’s going to take a much longer time for women in the U.S. to overcome these very entrenched barriers to their progress.”

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