The World Economic Forum warned Wednesday that women around the world face “centuries of inequality ahead” without a change in the rate at which the gender pay gap is being closed. It could take 257 years if policymakers and employers don’t speed up efforts to pay women equally to men for equal work, the Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap Report found. Gender equality across all areas the WEF studied—including pay and economic empowerment, political representation, health, and education—is not expected to be seen for 99.5 years.
“None of us will see gender parity in our lifetimes, and nor likely will many of our children,” the report reads.
That “sobering finding” is significantly worse than the report’s conclusions last year, when the current rate of change was expected to lead to 202 more years of pay inequality.
The U.S. fell two spots from last year to 53rd out of 153 countries in the world for women’s overall equality. As has been the case for the past 11 years, Iceland ranked at the top of the list.
Iceland was followed by several other Nordic countries—Norway, Finland, and Sweden. Nicaragua rounds out the top five.
“The reason behind this is that they broadly tend to value human capital and their economies,” said Saadia Zahidi, managing director of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in a video posted to social media about the top-scoring countries. “Second, they have good social safety nets in place, and third, they make it possible for parents to combine work and family.”
The top four countries all allow new parents to take more than 20 paid weeks off, while U.S. employers are not required to provide any paid parental leave.
Around the world, economic equality and the pay gap were the only areas in which countries did not improve from 2018 to 2019, according to the report. There are still at least 72 countries in the world where women cannot open a bank account or obtain credit and 25 countries where women don’t have the same inheritance rights as men.
The pay gap persists partially because women are “highly represented in jobs being displaced by automation, aren’t entering professions with high wage growth and spend more time than men in caretaker and volunteer roles,” wrote Marisa Fernandez at Axios.
The advocacy group A Better Balance tweeted that the “root causes” of the gap must be addressed.
“We have to recognize and act on the fact that the current economic models are not protecting and supporting women’s rights,” added Phumzile Mlambo, executive director of UN Women.
Education and health were the best-performing areas, with about 95% of the global gap closed.
Although the pay gay is predicted to last decades longer this year than it was last year with the current rate of change, the gender disparity in political representation is still the most severe gap across all regions, according to the WEF.
With women holding 25% of parliamentary seats and 21% of ministerial positions, the gender gap is expected to persist for at least 85 years to achieve equality in political representation—a disparity which will help to prolong the wage gap.
“To build fairer and more inclusive economies we must instill gender parity across education, health, politics, and economic participation,” tweeted the WEF.