Gender inequality isn’t just unfair — it’s expensive. 

Gender discrimination in both wages and work opportunities could be costing the world $160 trillion, according to a new report by the World Bank. That means, if women were paid as much as men, the combined lifetime incomes of the world’s working-age population would be approximately twice the global GDP.

“Because women earn less than men, human capital wealth worldwide is about 20% lower than it could be,” Quentin Wodon, World Bank Group lead economist and author of the report, said in a press release.

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However, while paying women equal wages for equal work is key to closing the gender wage gap and ending gender inequality, the problem goes beyond pay disparities — in fact, it starts before women even enter the workplace.

In order to empower women to realize their potential and enable them to fully participate in the workforce, governments need to invest in education and health, the report says. The world also needs to address gender discriminatory beliefs and attitudes that hold girls back early in life and contribute to continued gender inequality in the workforce.

Girls who do not have the same access to education opportunities as boys are likely to grow up to be women with lower literacy levels and fewer marketable skills than men. And in many countries, gender discriminatory attitudes and beliefs lead to girls dropping out of school to fill more traditional, less lucrative roles, like caring for family members and fetching water.

Around the world, millions of girls are married before their 18th birthdays each year, according to the International Center for Research on Women. Many of them become mothers while they are still children themselves. Often, women and girls in such positions are forced to rely on their husbands or families to survive, and are unable to become financially independent.

Read more: Iceland Starts 2018 in Style by Making Gender Pay Gap Illegal

This puts them at greater risk of gender-based violence at home, at work, and in public spaces, the World Bank study found.

With lower levels of education and cultural expectations that women should do unpaid work — including caring for children and families and household chores — many women are unable to join the formal workplace, the report says. Instead, women in these situations may seek part-time work or informal work arrangements that typically pay less.

From sports arenas to the boardroom to the silver screen, industries around the world are taking steps to address the gender wage gap. And several countries, including Iceland and the UK, have passed measures aimed at closing the gap.

But to truly tackle gender inequality, the report says, world leaders need to start focusing on its root causes.

Global Citizen campaigns to empower women and girls around the world. You can take action here in support of gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.


Demand Equity

Gender Inequality Could Be Costing the World $160 Trillion

By Daniele Selby  and  Erica Sánchez