THE BLOG

No, We Haven't Closed the Gender Gap, But We Are Getting Closer - Why Education is the Key to Equality

04/03/2014 14:54 GMT | Updated 04/05/2014 10:59 BST

Whenever I bring up the topic of gender equality, be it with friends, co-workers or acquaintances on social media, there is always someone who will try to point out that gender inequality is no longer really an issue in Western society.

After all, women can vote, go to college, and pursue the same careers as men. What more could we possibly want?

Unfortunately, this rather exasperating point of view is not only short-sighted, but also hinders further progress.

Granted, there have been huge changes over the last 50 years, which is why most women today have never experienced gender inequality in the same way their mothers and grandmothers did - and that's big progress.

But we can't put our feet up just yet; because no country has actually closed the gender gap and most still have a very long way to go.

According to the Global Gender Gap Report, the US dropped from 22nd to 23rd place on the 2013 list of 136 countries that were examined for their level of gender parity.

Australia was ranked at 24th place, a rather significant drop considering that it ranked at number 15 in 2006. The UK held its position at 18, but standing still is hardly something to be proud of.

In the workplace, the reality is that women are still vastly underrepresented in top positions; in 2012, women held less than a third of the most influential jobs in the UK, and just over 14% of executive officer positions at Fortune 500 companies.

Despite all this, the idea that we've somehow reached the pinnacle of equality seems to have become disturbingly prevalent, which is in itself an indication that we haven't.

Of course, it's not all doom and gloom, and on the bright side, there is one key area where the gender gap is narrowing quickly - education.

In many countries, including the US, the UK, Australia and Canada there are now more women than men with higher education, and this is expected to be the case in almost all countries in the world by 2050.

So what does this mean for gender equality?

An ongoing research project from the Center for Demographic Studies shows that as more women pursue higher education, traditional relationship patterns will be altered, ultimately leading to greater equality for men and women other aspects of their life.

The traditional model where the man is the main earner and the women runs the household has been the norm in relationships throughout the world for a long as any of us can remember.

And one of the most obvious reasons this model has thrived for as long as it has is that men have traditionally had easier access to education. Out of necessity, many women married "upwards" in order to secure their future.

"Educational expansion will change gender relations and erode traditional marriage patterns," notes Albert Esteve, one of the lead researchers for the study.

"The more bargaining power that women have, the more gender symmetrical the distribution of roles will be," he says.

"Our research on India shows that if we keep the traditional marriage norms, but change the composition of the population (i.e. more educated women), the system will collapse."

He also notes that one of the problems we are now facing is that men are looking for women that no longer exist, while women are looking for men that have yet to exist.

A rather fitting example of how far we haven't come is the criticism Beyoncé received when she penned a short essay for The Shriver Report titled "Why Gender Equality is a Myth."

After the (admittedly rather sparse) essay hit the Internet, people took to social media and unwittingly proved her point by largely ignoring the message she was trying to convey and criticising everything from her spelling to the way she dresses in her music videos, and even complaining that the essay "wasn't feminist enough."

Clearly, if we want to see gender equality become a reality, we need to stop pretending that we've achieved it.

Yes, progress has been made, but we're only halfway there, and education, for both men and women, is the only thing that can take us all the way there.