Scandinavian countries and New Zealand lead a league table measuring the extent to which women have caught up with men in terms of their representation in government and the workplace.
At the other end of the scale, Yemen was the most unequal country, followed by Chad, Pakistan, Nepal and Saudi Arabia. In these countries, only 45-56 per cent of the gap had been closed.
The annual study of 128 countries published on Thursday by the World Economic Forum, the Swiss-based think-tank, measures the gender gap based on economic, political, educational and health-based criteria.
The benchmarking exercise aimed at improving women’s position in society found that 96 per cent of the gap with men has been closed in healthcare and 92 per cent in education.
But when it comes to economic participation, only 57 per cent of the gap has been closed and in political empowerment - the ratio of women to men in parliament, ministerial positions and executive office - just 14 per cent of the gap has been closed.
The index focuses on the relative extent of the gender gap regardless of a country’s wealth - by assessing how well countries divide their opportunities and resources between men and women.
“The index does not penalize those countries that have low levels of education overall, but rather those where the distribution of education is uneven between women and men,” said Ricardo Hausmann, director of the Centre for International Development at Harvard University and one of the report’s authors.
Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland and New Zealand took the top five rankings, having closed about 80 per cent of the gender gap. Among the top 20, Latvia and Lithuania made the biggest advances compared to last year, driven by a rise in working women and better wages.
The United States slipped down the league table into 31st place, one place above Kazakhstan and just below Costa Rica, Namibia and Estonia.
While the US had improved its score on political empowerment, this was offset by a worsening score for economic participation.
France remained among a handful of countries to hold the number one ranking on both education and health but it ranked below the US - at number 51 - having closed only 68 per cent of the gender gap.
Italy was the lowest -ranked European country in 84th position. The Philippines and Sri Lanka were the only Asian countries in the top 20.
The report found a link between the gender gap and economic performance. “Our work shows a strong correlation between competitiveness and the gender gap scores,” said Laura Tyson, Professor of Business Administration and Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.
While she emphasised this did not imply causality, it could mean that: “countries that do not fully capitalize effectively on one-half of their human resources run the risk of undermining their competitive potential. We hope to highlight the economic incentive behind empowering women in addition to promoting equality as a basic human right,” she said.