Iceland does have a higher percentage of women in C-suite positions than the United States, though it still doesn’t have much to brag about. Iceland’s CEOs are only 10 percent women, a figure that has hardly budged over the past 10 years. And the pipeline is running very slowly. Icelandic women represent only 19 percent of managers overall; Norway does better, but women are still only 40 percent of managers in the public sector and 22 percent in the private sector. If you’re a woman who wants to aim high, you’re probably better off in the USA.
“Discrimination Is to Blame for America’s Large Wage Gap.”
No. Gender wage gaps are a global phenomenon. If you are a woman, or at least if you are a woman with children, chances are you are making less than your average countryman. This is true whether you live in Istanbul or Oslo, Tokyo or Stockholm. Although America’s 18 percent wage gap is about 3 percentage points wider than the OECD average, it is almost identical to the gap in Britain, Switzerland, and the Netherlands and narrower than that in Finland and Germany. (It is, however, wider than the gaps in Sweden and Denmark and, perhaps more surprisingly, Hungary, Italy, and Spain.)
But as these rankings suggest, the wage gap is not a very good measure of discrimination. Discrimination certainly plays some role in generating wage disparities — particularly in more traditional Asian societies like Japan, where the gap is close to 30 percent, or South Korea, where it approaches 40 percent — but other factors are also at play. For example, high levels of unionization and strong minimum wage laws reduce the size of gender wage gaps — just as they reduce overall inequality. Because women are more prevalent in lower-wage jobs, redistributive policies, like those in Sweden and Norway, mean smaller overall wage gaps. But there’s a tradeoff here: Egalitarian countries also tend to have higher gender wage gaps among top earners than less-regulated economies like the United States.
Far from giving us an accurate picture of women’s overall status, official wage-gap statistics actually muddy the water. Countries with a lower proportion of women in the labor force and poor records on gender equality, for example, often have relatively small wage gaps because only the most highly qualified women go to work at all. This explains why the average Italian working woman makes more relative to her male peers than the average Danish or Swedish woman. Small wage gaps don’t necessarily mean you’re progressive; they could mean just the opposite.
They could also very well reflect women’s preferences, rather than discrimination. In the OECD countries, women are more likely than men to enter lower-paying fields — say, teaching or social work, rather than computer programming or business. More importantly, women seem more willing than men to make the tradeoff between earnings and status and time with children. They work fewer hours than men across the board, even if you compare only full-time workers. They are also more likely to work in the less remunerative and less demanding public sector. Everywhere in the OECD, childless women in their 20s earn more like men than older women with children. And in the United States, those women actually earn more than childless men in their 20s.