Economic Measures of Gender Inequality

Instructor: Daniel Murdock

Daniel has taught Public Health at the graduate level and has a Ph.D. in Behavioral Sciences & Health Education.

In this lesson, we'll discuss prominent measures of global gender inequality that relate to reproductive health, empowerment, and labor market participation.

Gender Inequality

Gender inequality refers to the unequal treatment of individuals due to their gender. Many women and girls around the world today face discrimination and systematic disadvantages that limit their social and economic capabilities and their freedom of choice. Gender inequality is a major concern in the field of international development because it hinders economic growth and impedes human development.

There are a number of prominent indices that are used to quantify gender inequality around the world. In 2010, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) introduced a new index for measuring global gender inequality called the Gender Inequality Index (GII). The GII was introduced to address some shortcomings of previous UNDP indices. It measures gender-based gaps in reproductive health, empowerment, and labor market participation. Let's examine how the GII measures gender inequality in each of these three areas.

Reproductive Health

The GII is the first major index to include reproductive health indicators as a way to measure gender inequality. The GII uses two indicators to measure gender gaps in reproductive health. The first indicator is the maternal mortality ratio (MMR), which is calculated as the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. The GII obtains MMR data from UNICEF's ''State of the World's Children'' reports. The MMR is thought to be a good indicator of women's access to health care because a low MMR suggests that pregnant women have access to adequate health care to prevent maternal death.

The second reproductive health indicator is the adolescent birth rate (ABR), which is calculated as the number of births to women ages 15-19 per 1,000 women ages 15-19. The GII obtains ABR data from the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA). The GII measures ABR because early childbearing is associated with increased health risks for mothers and infants and can serve as a barrier to accessing higher education.


There is no universal definition of women's empowerment, but it generally refers to women's ability to participate fully in social and economic life. The GII includes two indicators of empowerment. The first, political representation, is an indicator of women's civic empowerment. Political representation is measured by the share of seats held by women in parliament. This data is provided by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), an organization that tracks international trends in political participation.

The second empowerment indicator in the GII is educational attainment. This is measured by the proportion of adult women and adult men, ages 25 and older, with at least some secondary education. This information is obtained through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). Women's access to education can greatly affect their social and economic opportunities as well as their health outcomes.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaking at a gender equity and empowerment event in 2012
Hillary Clinton speaking at an empowerment event

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