The United States of America ranks 15th on the list of the best countries in the world for women. This is behind some European countries, which almost exclusively occupy the top spots on the list released by U.S. News & World Report. The gender-pay gap and lack of government-mandated, paid family leave help to put the U.S. behind many other developed nations when it comes to women.
The magazine surveyed thousands of women across the globe, asking for their perceptions about what their country offers in five key areas: human rights, gender equality, income equality, progress, and safety. As such, that means the ranking’s methodology is based in part on subjective answers and unverifiable data.
As is often the case when the best, happiest, or “free-est” countries are ranked, Scandinavian countries and other European countries take most of the top spots. And in the case of the best countries for women, this seems to be no exception. The two top spots, Denmark and Sweden, are occupied by Scandinavian nations. The Netherlands is No. 3, followed by another Scandinavian country, Norway, at No. 4. Canada is the only North American country in the top 10, at No. 5, followed by Finland, Switzerland, New Zealand, and Australia. Austria takes the 10 spot.
The U.S. is five places down from Austria, just behind France at 14 and just ahead of Italy at 16.
Perhaps not unexpectedly, the bottom is filled out by African, Asian, and Middle Eastern nations with sketchy human rights and women’s rights records. The bottom three are Myanmar (71), Kazakhstan (72), and Tunisia (73).
So why is the U.S. in such a comparatively low place? Good Morning America writer Katie Kindelan offers a couple of suggestions.
For example, the gender-pay gap is perceived as a bigger issue in the U.S. than it is in the countries that rank higher. In the U.S., Kindelan says, women earn 80 cents for every dollar men earn. In fields requiring a bachelor’s degree, women earn 74 cents on the dollar compared to men.
Similarly, the U.S. does not have government-mandated, paid family leave and is the only country among 41 industrialized nations that doesn’t have it. And while some private employers offer paid family leave on their own, absent a government mandate, the practice is relatively rare. Only 15 percent of private workers in the U.S. have access to paid family leave.
“Nordic nations… tend to have generous parental leave and childcare policies,” notes Deidre McPhillips, senior data editor at U.S. News & World Report.