The pandemic has pushed back gender pay parity by a generation as women suffer the brunt of a global cost of living crisis, according to new research.

The World Economic Forum’s annual report into the global gender pay gap found only a fifth of the 146 countries surveyed made progress in closing pay disparities with women, meaning it will take 132 years to close the gap across the world.

“The cost of living crisis is impacting women disproportionately after the shock of labour market losses during the pandemic and the continued inadequacy of care infrastructure,” Saadia Zahidi, managing director at the World Economic Forum, said.

The UK ranks 22nd in the global gender pay gap table with a score 0.7, where 1 equals parity, a slight rise from 2021. Iceland tops the list at 0.90 and has improved its score by 0.016 from last year, with Finland, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden making up the top five. No country has yet reached pay equality. Zahidi said governments needed to devise targeted policies aimed at returning women to the labour market or risk “eroding the gains of the last decades permanently and losing out on the future economic returns of diversity”.

“The economic and social consequences of the pandemic and geopolitical conflict have paused progress and worsened outcomes for women and girls around the world — and risk creating permanent scarring in the labour market,” she said.

Female labour force participation, pay equality and employment rates were all hit during the pandemic when women were forced to take on disproportionate burdens of care for family members and children, and were better represented in sectors that were locked down during the pandemic.

The forum’s survey found that gender parity in the workforce was at its lowest since the index was compiled, as the number of working men outstripped women. Female unemployment rates were also higher at 6.4 per cent compared with 6.1 per cent for men, despite tight labour markets in developed economies like the US and UK.

Despite the overall reversal of progress in many areas, more women are taking up leadership positions in the private sector. The report found that the share of women in senior management roles was at 36.9 per cent this year, compared with 33.3 in 2016.

Globally, the US and Canada were the regions where the race to gender equal pay had progressed the furthest and it should take another 59-62 years to close it entirely. South Asia was the worst region for equal pay and women will have to wait almost 200 years to win parity, the forum said.

“More women have been moving into paid work and, increasingly, leadership positions, yet globally societal expectations, employer policies, the legal environment and the availability of care continue to play an important role in the choice of educational tracks and career trajectories,” the report said.

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Pandemic blow to gender pay gap

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