Social Mobility: Start Poor, Stay Poor?

In July 2016 Theresa May gave a speech on the steps of Downing Street in which she proposed to build a ‘country that works for every one of us’ and not just for the ‘privileged few’.

Theresa May.jpg

Seventeen months on, the board of the body charged with boosting social mobility resigned en masse, in a stunning rebuke to the PM, in protest at her failure to do more for people trapped in poverty. (1)

The chairman of the Social Mobility Commission, Alan Milburn, accused the government of being so preoccupied with Brexit that were failing to address the poverty and lack of mobility that led so many people in poorer areas to vote for it in the first place!

Earlier, the commission’s report had identified 65 social mobility cold spots, of which 60 had voted to leave the EU.

400, 000 more children have fallen into poverty since 2012 to 2013, according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which is a direct effect of Tory benefit cuts: when you are suffering material deprivation and having to do your homework in cramped conditions then it puts you in no position to be able to compete with richer kids who will have their own private study space at home.

Then there’s the fact that kids from richer households are twice as likely to get into outstanding schools as kids from poorer backgrounds, suggesting that this route to social mobility is ineffective, while Oxford remains an institution which seems to perpetuate class privilege.

So, if we’re judging Theresa May’s and the Tory’s commitment social mobility on their social policies, they clearly are not committed, which suggests they don’t give a stuff about the poor.

Sources

The Week (Print Edition, 9th December 2017)

(1) An alternative interpretation of why they resigned is that they all spontaneously realised the methods behind the report were a bit rubbish (the technical term escapes me). In that it didn’t actually measure social mobility, as such! OOPS!

Rich House, Poor House – Spreading the Myth of Meritocracy

In this Channel 5 series, one family in the ‘wealthiest 10%’ of Britain swap lives for a week with a family in the ‘poorest 10% of Britain’. As I see it this programme performs an ‘ideological control function’ – spreading the myth of meritocracy.

They two families swap houses, budgets and leisure-timetables for a week – in episode two for example, the poor family, living on the rich family’s typical weekly disposable income, have to live off about £3000 per week, while the rich family, have to live off just under £200 per week, and in this episode, both families seem to be genuinely hard working and just, well, nice.

Poor house.jpg
The ‘Poor House’

The meat of the programme consists of watching the families hanging out in their respective houses, doing whatever activities the other family would normally do, and meeting their respective friends/ work colleagues, including some running reflections on how ‘nice’ it is to be rich, and what a ‘struggle’ it is to be poor.

Rich house.jpg
The ‘rich house’

Here’s how the programme performs the function of ideological control – basically it spreads the ‘myth of meritocracy‘.

  1. It misrepresents what the top 10% look like – the narration keeps talking about how the rich family is in the top 10%, they are, but their weekly disposable income of over £3K, and the fact that they own 12 restaurants and employ 60 odd people, puts them easily in the top 1%. This fact alone really annoys me – it is the extreme minority that lives like this. I worked this out using the IFS’ income calculator)
  2. The family in the top 1% are further unrepresentative in that the father genuinely worked his way up after failing school, cleaning toilets and then getting into restauranteering. This is most definitely NOT how the majority get into the top 1%, especially since social mobility has been declining in recent years.
  3. The working class father keeps saying ‘I want my children to see this and want this’ – he seems to take the experience of his week in the rich mans world as evidence that anyone can make it if you try hard enough – in fact there is LESS CHANCE TODAY HIS KIDS than he would have had to climb the career ladder.
  4. Maybe the same point as above – the working class guy has 4 kids – I wonder what the actual chances of all four kids from one working class family independently becoming millionaires actually are? It’s probably lottery odds.
  5. The ‘luck’ word is mentioned once, apparently it’s all about hard work. NO – this view is just plain wrong, Malcome Gladwell convinced me of this in his book ‘Outliers’

Personally I think this series (if it carries on this vein) is lazy and appalling television – it wouldn’t take much to add in some depth analysis, have some commentary or stats overlying how likely it is for someone to go from working class to millionnaire, for example.

Poor family.jpg
The Poor Family – now none the wiser as to how they’ve been shafted by 30 years of neoliberalism

There’s also absolutely no mention of the sheer injustice of the fact that both sets of parents are doing similar amounts of ‘work’ but the rewards are so incredibly different, and no mention of how good it is that we’ve got social housing so at least the poor family have a decent house.

rich family.jpg
The rich family – nice enough, but so few these days climb the class ladder. 

In short, my intense dislike of this show stems from the misleading portrayal of the richest 1% as representing the richest 10% and from its total lack of analysis of the actual chances of social mobility occurring.

NB – It was also quite dull viewing. If you think it sounds a little like Wife Swap, it’s much less entertaining as it’s the whole family doing the swapping, so there’s much less conflict.

 

 

 

The End of Development?

20170923_100207A summary of The End of Development: A Global History of Poverty and Prosperity, by Andrew Brooks (2017)

This blog post covers Part 1: Making the Modern World

Chapter 1: environmental determinism and early human history

The argument in this chapter is that nature (as in the natural environment) does not determine human society and culture, rather it is more accurate to talk of humans shaping nature, especially since the emergence of agricultural societies 12000 years ago.

From between 12-8000 years ago, agricultural societies emerged independently in 11 distinct places, and in each region, these societies domesticated crops and animals, thus adapting to and changing local environments in different ways.

Agricultural societies eventually came to dominate hunter gather societies because they are more resistant to environmental shocks, given their greater capacity to store food to see them through famine periods.

Early agricultural societies also allowed for the development of a specialized division of labour, and were organised along feudal lines, with a tiered hierarchy of ruling classes taking tribute from those working the land. Europe in the 15th century was only one such system among many historical antecedants.

Brooks rounds this chapter off by reminding us that Europe did not colonize the rest of the world because of some kind of manifest destiny based on a unique set of environmental and cultural advantages, there were plenty of other cultures existing around the world in the 15th century that had similar features to the European feudal system.

What Europe did have was an emerging capitalist system, it is this that sets it apart and explains its rise to globalpower from the 15th century onwards.

Chapter 2: colonizing the world

This chapter outlines a brief history of colonialism, starting with the early colonial projects of Spain and Portugal in the Americas, which provided the silver and gold which kick started the global capitalist economy.

Brooks goes on to outline European colonial expansion across the globe more generally, arguing that European big business, governments and religion all worked together to dominate The Americas, Asia and Africa – often exploiting existing power structures to establish rule: profit, politics, piety and patriarchy all played a role in reshaping the colonial world from 1992 to 1945.

Brooks breaks down the history of colonialism something like this:

1500 – 1650 – Spanish and Portuguese colonialism – which involved the extraction of gold and silver, which was used to finance wars against Islam and other European nations. Spain also borrowed heavily from Holland on the basis of expected future returns from its mines in Latin America.  This led to the establishment of financial centers in Holland, and increasing wealth. Span eventually went into decline as its wars were unsuccessful and its colonial returns decreased

1650 – 1900 – Dutch and British colonialism – A newly rich Holland and Britain took over as the main colonial powers – state building was essential to this – a combination of political power and the granting of monopolies to the Dutch and British East India companies (for example) led to the increasing dominance of these two powers.

Brooks also outlines how slavery and the industrial revolution were crucial to the rise of these two powers, and includes a section on the famine in India to illustrate how brutal their colonial projects were.

It’s also important to realise that increasing inequality was an important aspect of Colonialism – obviously between Europe and poorer parts of the world, but there were also some colonies which were more prosperous (such as Australia) and also, within the the mother countries and colonies, this period of history led to increasing inequality.

The chapter rounds of by pointing out that from 1900, the base of world power is already starting to shift from European centers to America.

Chapter Three: American Colonialism 

This chapter starts with the ‘rise and fall of Detroit‘ which illustrates how industrial capitalism led to huge economic growth in America from the late 19th century to the 1960s, only to decline once industrial production moved abroad.

Brooks now argues that, following US Independence in 1776, American capitalists essentially focused on colonising the homeland rather than overseas territories, as there was so much land and so many resources within America – typically treating native Americans as non-people, who ended up in reservations.

There was some expansion overseas during the 19th and early 20th centuries – most notably with establishment of the Panama canal, but the ideology of American isolationism prevented this from happening.

It was effectively WW1 which led America to become to the world’s global hegemon – through lending money to the Allies, it built up huge economic dominance, which only grew as Europe was thrown into turmoil during WW2, following which America rose to dominance as the country which would seek to ‘develop’ the rest of the world, which is the focus of part two of the book….. (to be updated later)

 

 

 

The End of Poverty? A Documentary taking a ‘Dependency Theory’ View of Underdevelopment and Development

This 2008 Documentary seeks to answer the question of why there is still so much poverty in the world when there is sufficient wealth to eradicate it.

In order to answer this question, the video goes back to 1492, which marks the start of European colonialism and the beginning of the global capitalist system, making the argument that European wealth was built on the back of a 500 year project of extraction and exploitation of the Americas, and then Asia and Africa.

Using various case studies of countries including Venezula, Bolivia, and Kenya the video charts how brutal colonial policies made the colonies destitute while the wealth extracted led to the establishment of global finance, the industrial revolution, and the foundation of a global capitalist system which locked poor countries into unequal relations with rich countries.

Following Independence, a combination of unfair trade rules  and debt, managed through global institutions such as the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation have effectively kept these unequal relationships between countries in place, meaning wealthy countries have got richer while many ex-colonies have remained destitute.

This video is quite heavy going, and jumps around from continenent to continent a bit too much for my liking, which, combined with a lot of sub-titles (as many of the people interviewed are not English-speakers) does make it quite hard to follow. Nonetheless, this video does offer a systematic account of a Dependency Theory view of underdevelopment and development, including interviews with numerous politicians and activists from development countries as critical thinkers such as Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz and Naomi Klein, among many more.

The Myth of the American Dream

Part of the traditional American Dream is that anyone, even children from low income families, can work their way through college, get a degree and be upwardly mobile.

However, some recent research suggests that this is no longer the case – a full 50% of American university students from disadvantaged backgrounds drop out of college, and the main reason is because financial constraints means they cannot afford to pay the bills.

Sara Goldrick-Rab conducted a longitudinal study of 3,000 disadvantaged young adults attending various universities in the state of Wisconsin, USA (commenced in 2008), and some of her main findings include:

  • 50% of students from low-income households drop out of college and thus end up with college degree.
  • The experience of university is, for many poor students, quite grim – 24% of students in her study had problems with basic food security, and 13% were homeless.
  • They controlled for the amount of effort students put into their studies – and found that students did not drop out because of lack of effort, but the main reason was literally not being able to pay the bills.
  • Less than 20% of the sample managed to complete a degree within five years.

Goldrick-Rab also argues that there are clear ‘structural’ reasons why poor students cannot afford college:

  • Financial assistance (in the form of the Pell grant) is available to those from households which earn less than $30K a year, but this only covers a third of the cost of college (it used to cover the full amount, but it no longer does)
  • Job opportunities are insufficient to make up the difference – there are too few jobs, employers offer too few hours (they limit hours to avoid having to pay certain in-work benefits) and wages are too low – thus half of all poor students simply can’t earn enough to pay the rent or for food.

Goldrick-Rab concludes that low-income American families are being sold a ‘myth’ – the ‘myth of the American Dream that it is possible to be upwardly mobile by working your way through college – for 50% of poor students attempting to do so will result in no degree and a lot of debt.  They thus have an expectation which is not going to be met.

However, many families and students feel that it is there fault if they fail to complete, and feel a sense of guilt and shame if they do so.

Goldrick-Rab hopes that her research will act as a wakeup call, alerting people to the statistical facts that you only have a 50-50 chance of getting a degree if you’re poor.

She rounds off by suggesting a policy solution – to make the first two years of college free. Interestingly (which dates the research!) she talks hopefully about Obama and Hilary Clinton putting such policies into practice, but given that we’ve ended up with a Trump administration, it’s unlikely that poor kids are going to get access to fairer opportunities any time soon.

Applications/ Relevance

Sources 

The Effects of Poverty on Life Chances in the United Kingdom

Being in poverty has a negative affect on an individual’s life chances. Being poor means you’ll struggle to make ends-meet, you’ll be stuck renting rather than buying your own house, you’ll probably be in stuck in a debt-cycle, your kids are more likely to fail their GCSEs, you’re more likely to a victim of crime, less likely to feel like you’ll belong, you’ll feel more miserable, and suffer more mental health problems during the course of your life. You’re also much less likely to save sufficient money towards your pension, but fortunately that won’t matter, because you’re also likely to die younger, so at least you won’t suffer for too many years in old-age.

This post explores some of the statistical evidence on the relationship between poverty and life chances, looking at a range of evidence collected by the office for national statistics and other agencies such as the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. The point of this post is simply to provide an overview of the statistics, and offer something of a critique of the limitations of these statistics. I’ll also provide some links to useful sources which students can then use to explore the data further.

Most of the statistics in this post use a relative measurement of poverty based on the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s definition of a low income household which is defined as one which has income of 60% of the average income, roughly equivalent to £7500 for single person households and £11000/ year for two person, or couple households in 2014-15.

According to this measurement there were 13.5 million people, or 21% of the U.K. population living in low-income households in 2014/15 (1).

Life chances simply refers to your chances of achieving positive outcomes and avoiding negative outcomes throughout the course of your life – such as succeeding in education, being happy, or avoiding divorce, poor health and an early, painful death.

How poverty affects life chances – in six statistics 

One – the poorest fifth are at least FIVE times as likely to be able to keep up with paying bills compared to the richest fifth

  • Almost half of all families with children in the poorest 20% find it ‘difficult to make ends meet’. A fifth are unable to keep up with bills.
  • This compares to 10% and approximately 3% respectively for the richest fifth of households.

 

Two – Housing: people renting are 3-4 times more likely to be in poverty than owner-occupiers

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation notes that ‘11% of owner-occupiers live in poverty after housing costs, over two in five (42 per cent) of all social rented sector tenants and over a third of private rented sector tenants (36 per cent) live in poverty (DWP, 2015b). The extent to which housing costs contribute to poverty levels is particularly acute in the private rented sector with poverty levels in this tenure doubling from 18 to 36 per cent when housing costs are taken into account.’

Rent accounts for at least a third of income for more than 70% of private renters in poverty.

Three – poor people are FOUR TIMES more likely to be in debt 

Living in a ‘low income’ household (or being ‘in poverty’) is strongly correlated with being in debt – in 2014/15 20% of people in poverty were behind with a bill (excluding housing costs), compared to only 5% of households not in poverty.

Source: The Joseph Rowntree Foudation – Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion

The ten sets of statistics below all suggest that poverty has a negative impact on life chances

Four – Educational achievement – Poor children are almost twice as likely to fail their GCSEs. 

Only 39% of Free School Meal Pupils achieve A*- C in English and Maths compared to 66.7% of all other pupils

 

Source: Department for Education: GSCE and equivalent results 2015-16

Five – Poor people are THREE times more likely to be victims of burglary

People living in more deprived areas are more likely to be a victim of crime that those living in affluent areas:

  • In the most deprived areas, the risk of households being victims of vandalism is eight per cent as compared with six per cent in the least deprived areas.
  • In the most deprived areas the risk of households being victims of burglary is three per cent as compared with one per cent in the least deprived areas

 

Six – Mental Health – The poorest 20% of children are 4 TIMES more likely to have a severe mental health condition than the richest 20%

 

 

Further Reading (selected)

Households BeDepartment for Education: GSCE and equivalent results 2015-16low Average Income (DWP)

 

https://www.theguardian.com/money/2016/jan/07/can-money-buy-happiness

Definitions

Free school meals:

Where a pupil’s family have claimed eligibility for free school meals in the School Census they are defined as eligible for Free school meal (FSM).

In 2016, 13.4% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 were eligible for free school meals, compared to 13.8% in 2015.

Disadvantaged Pupils

Pupils are defined as disadvantaged if they are known to have been eligible for free school meals in the past six years (from year 6 to year 11), if they are recorded as having been looked after for at least one day or if they are recorded as having been adopted from care.

In 2016, 27.7% of pupils at the end of key stage 4 were disadvantaged, 0.4 percentage points higher than 2015 (27.3%).

There was a 12.2 and 12.6 attainment gap between ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘Free School Meals’ pupils respectively in 2016.

 

What is Poverty?

Poverty is not having access to the basic things in life, considered normal in a society.

A working definition of poverty is: The condition of not having access to those things considered ‘basic’ or ‘normal’ within a society (1)

Origins of the Concept

  • The academic use of the concept can be traced back to Seebohm Rowntree’s (1901) study of Poverty in York, which set the tone for much later work which sought to uncover the extent of poverty in society.
  • In the late 1950s Peter Townsend developed a relational concept of poverty based on lifestyles, from which he distilled 12 recurring items, such as ‘household does not have a refrigerator’, into a poverty or deprivation index. This is a relative, rather than an absolute concept of poverty.
  • Later studies have used questionnaires to find out what people themselves define as necessities in order to measure ‘relative poverty’.
  • Today national governments also use ‘poverty lines’, which is usually set at 50-60% below the national average household income.

Absolute and Relative Poverty 

Sociologists generally recognize two definitions of poverty – absolute and relative

Absolute poverty is grounded in the idea of material subsistence -the basic needs which must be me in order to sustain a reasonably healthy existence, mainly food, shelter and clothing. By these standards, there are still hundreds of millions of people around the world who live in absolute poverty, mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa and rural India.

However, the problem with the concept of absolute poverty is that there is no universal definition of it, and definitions of need are culturally variable: for example the !Kung bushmen do not regard themselves as living in absolute poverty, but many people in the West may define them as suffering from this condition.

Most sociologists today use the concept of relative poverty, which relates poverty to the standards of living in a particular society. The main reason for using relative poverty as a measurement is that as societies ‘develop’, people tend to adjust their ideas of what counts as a ‘necessity’ upwards – for example in poor areas of less developed countries, running water and flush toilets are not generally regarded as necessities, while in more developed countries refrigerators and telephones may be regarded as necessities.

Critics of the relative poverty measurement argue that it detracts our attention away from the more serious issue of ‘absolute poverty’, which is potentially life threatening, whereas those living in relative poverty (in the UK and other developed countries at least) tend not to be starving.

However, measuring relative poverty is useful as it highlights injustice in society and groups which experience discrimination and marginalization – women, some ethnic minorities, the young and the old are more likely to be in relative poverty than other groups.

Individual and Social-Structural Explanations of Poverty

Explanations of poverty tend to either blame the individual (‘blame the victim’ approaches) or blame society (structural, or ‘blame the system’ approaches).

Blame the victim approaches tend to argue that poverty has always been with us, and always will be, they see society as generally fair and offering opportunities to individuals for advancement: if individuals fail to take advantage of these opportunities it is down to their own lack of effort, and those individuals who fail to ‘rise up’ in the system have no one else to blame but themselves.

Such ideas were popular in 19th century Britain, when work houses were developed to deal with the poor (the ‘failures’), and had a resurgence in the 1980s when New Right/ neoliberal ideas explained poverty as the fault of individuals themselves, probably the most classic statement of this being Charles Murray’s theory of the underclass in which he blamed persistent poverty on an over-reliance on benefits and an unwillingness to work on the part of the long term unemployed.

‘Blame the system’ approaches can be traced back to R.H. Tawney who argued that poverty is a key factor in explaining social inequality which results in extremes of wealth and poverty.

These approaches focus more on how the structure of society systemically disadvantages some groups rather than others – inequalities in class, gender, ethnicity and physical ability all make it more difficult for some to take advantage of opportunities, and this is no fault of the individual when discrimination or cultural capital possessed by the elite class effectively block opportunities for some while opening them up for others on an unequal basis.

Blame the system approaches also point out that major structural changes in society can also affect poverty levels – the decline of manufacturing in the UK from the 1970s for example led to declining job opportunities for large sections of the traditional working classes, while the flexibilisation of work patterns as part of neoliberal working regimes have locked millions of workers in the UK into temporary, low paid jobs during the 1980s and 1990s.

From this structuralist point of view, social policy is the solution to poverty, two recent examples being the introduction of the minimum wage and the expansion of in-work benefits.

Criticisms of the Concept of Poverty

Absolute poverty is difficult to measure because there is no universally agreed concept of ‘needs’, and the same criticisms can be applied to relative poverty – if we are to base the definition of this on not having certain items, then it is impossible to escape subjective interpretations of what the cluster of ‘necessary items’ should be.

The concept of relative poverty has also been criticised as only actually measuring inequality, rather than poverty, so the concept lacks clear meaning – – at least the concept of ‘absolute poverty’ helps us to identify people in real need, whereas it is not necessarily possible to say this about someone who is in ‘relative poverty’ when they level of it keeps rising with increasing standards of living.

Focusing on relative poverty detracts attention away from those in absolute poverty.

Some sociologists have moved away from the concept of poverty in favour of ‘social exclusion’ which focuses instead on the processes which deny poorer people access to certain citizenship rights.

Continuing relevance

Research on poverty has demonstrated that a substantial amount of people in both the United Kingdom and the United States are in poverty at any one time, and that there is a clear link between socio-economic structures and the persistence of poverty in modern societies.

Signposting and related posts

Poverty is one of the most important concepts within A-level sociology.

I teach poverty along with the related concept of relative deprivation as part of my introduction to sociology module in first two weeks of the course.

You might like to read this post next to understand more about the extent of poverty in the UK.

Having a critical understanding the concept of poverty in society is crucial to understanding how social class affects life chances.

The concept is especially relevant to the Marxist theory of society.

It is directly relevant to the concept of material deprivation in education, as a part explanation of why so many children do so badly at school, and the related concept of relative deprivation is part of left realist explanations of crime.

It is also absolutely integral to the global development module which is all about explaining why some countries are poor while others are rich!

Sources/ Find out More

(1) Giddens and Sutton (2017) Essential Concepts in Sociology

Global Gender Inequalities – A Statistical Overview

Gender inequality is an extremely important aspect of development. Even if we put aside the significant social justice issues associated with the historical power differences between men and women, when you have half the population that are disempowered with less access to education, employment and healthcare, that alone is enough to drastically skew the social development statistics downwards!

Hence there is an argument that promoting gender equality should be the primary development goal, simply because it’s the easiest way to have a positive knock on effect in every other area of social life.

Global Gender Inequalities in 2020

The United Nations notes that

The commitment to achieving gender equality remains unfulfilled:

  • In 2019, one in five young women aged 20 to 24 was married in childhood (down from one in four in 2004). In Sub-Saharan Africa, one in three young women was still married in childhood.
  • In 2020, almost 25% of MPs in national parliaments were women (up slightly from 22.3 per cent in 2015). Women hold 36 per cent of elected seats in local parliaments.
  • In 2019, 28 per cent of managerial positions in the world were occupied by women (up from 25 per cent in 2000).
  • Women are still less likely to work than men. They make up half of the world’s working-age population but only 39 per cent of the world’s workers.
  • Only 55% of married or in-union women aged 15 to 49 made their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • In 2019, 73 per cent of the laws and regulations needed to guarantee full and equal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights were in place (based on data from 75 countries).
  • At least 200 million girls and women have been subjected to female genital mutilation (data from 31 countries where the practice is concentrated). The harmful practice is becoming less common, but progress is not fast enough to meet the global target of its elimination by 2030.

The coronavirus pandemic is hitting women and girls harder than men:

  • Globally, women make up three quarters of medical doctors and nursing personnel.
  • Women already spend three times as many hours as men on unpaid care work at home. The closure of school and day-care centres has put an extra burden on women to provide home-learning for their children.
  • Reports from several countries suggest that domestic violence against women and children is also rising during the global lockdown.

Statistics on Global Gender Inequality

The World Economic Forum produces the Global Gender Gap Report, which in 2020 noted that none of us will see global gender equality in our life time as it will take almost 100 years to achieve global gender equality at current rates of progress!

It measures gender inequality by using 14 indicators in 4 categories:

  • Economic Participation and Opportunity
  • Educational attainment
  • Health and Survival
  • Political Empowerment

It reports similar global stats to the United Nations, but is more useful for finding out the country rankings by gender inequality. If you download the report and scroll to the back, you can even look at each individual country’s score card for each indicator.

Another ‘gender equality world ranking’ system is The Women Peace and Security Index. This is a bit more niche/ focused than the WEF report and measures gender inequality in countries by using 11 indicators in 3 categories:

  • Inclusion
  • Security
  • Justice

The world country rankings for both the above two monitoring tools are similar:

2019-2020Global Gender Gap ReportWomen Peace and Security Index
Top five countries for gender equalityIceland
Norway
Finland
Sweden
Nicaragua
Norway
Switzerland
Finland
Denmark
Iceland
Bottom five countries for gender equalityDRC
Syria
Pakistan
Iraq
Yemen
South Sudan
Pakistan
Syria
Afghanistan
Yemen

The countries with the highest ‘Peace and Security Scores’ for Women.

Discussion Questions

Explore the rankings above. (1) Are you surprised by any of the results. (2) Do you think any of these indicators are more valid/ important than others as measurements of gender equality?

Sources

The United Nations – Progress towards SDG Five – improving gender equality.

The World Economic Forums The Global Gender Gap Report

The Women Peace and Security Index – findings summarised by National Geographic

Related Posts

SignPostin

NB the material below is from 2017 and is pending an update, which will be forthcoming! (You know the score, not enough time to update everything as often as you’d like!)

Gender Inequalities in Employment

For every dollar earned by men, women earn 70-90 cents.

Women are less likely to work than men – Globally in 2015 about three quarters of men and half of women participate in the labour force. Women’s labour force participation rates are the lowest in Northern Africa, Western Asia and Southern Asia (at 30 per cent or lower).

When women are employed, they are typically paid less and have less financial and social security than men. Women are more likely than men to be in vulnerable jobs — characterized by inadequate earnings, low productivity and substandard working conditions — especially in Western Asia and Northern Africa. In Western Asia, Southern Asia and Northern Africa, women hold less than 10 per cent of top-level positions.

When all work – paid and unpaid – is considered, women work longer hours than men. Women in developing countries spend 7 hours and 9 minutes per day on paid and unpaid work, while men spend 6 hours and 16 minutes per day. In developed countries, women spend 6 hours 45 minutes per day on paid and unpaid work while men spend 6 hours and 12 minutes per day.

Gender Inequalities in Education

The past two decades have witnessed remarkable progress in participation in education. Enrollment of children in primary education is at present nearly universal. The gender gap has narrowed, and in some regions girls tend to perform better in school than boys and progress in a more timely manner.

However, the following gender disparities in education remain:

  • 31 million of an estimated 58 million children of primary school age are girls (more than 50% girls)
  • 87 per cent of young women compared to 92 per cent of young men have basic reading and writing skills. However, at older age, the gender gap in literacy shows marked disparities against women, two thirds of the world’s illiterate adults are women.
  • The proportion of women graduating in the fields of science (1 in 14, compared to 1 in 9 men graduates) and engineering (1 in 20, compared to 1 in 5 men graduates) remain low in poor and rich countries alike. Women are more likely to graduate in the fields related to education (1 in 6, compared to 1 in 10 men graduates), health and welfare (1 in 7, compared to 1 in 15 men graduates), and humanities and the arts (1 in 9, compared to 1 in 13 men graduates).
  • There is unequal access to universities especially in sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia. In these regions, only 67 and 76 girls per 100 boys, respectively, are enrolled in tertiary education. Completion rates also tend to be lower among women than men. Poverty is the main cause of unequal access to education, particularly for girls of secondary-school age.

Gender Inequalities in Health

Women in developing countries suffer from….

  • Poor Maternal Health (support during pregnancy) – As we saw in the topic on health and education, maternity services are often very underfunded, leading to hundreds of thousands of unnecessary female deaths as a result of pregnancy and child birth every year.
  • Lack of reproductive rights – Women also lack reproductive rights. They often do not have the power to decide whether to have children, when to have them and how many they should have. They are often prevented from making rational decisions about contraception and abortion. Men often make all of these decisions and women are strongly encouraged to see their status as being bound up with being a mother.

Gender Inequalities in the Experience of Overt Violence

Around the world, women are more likely to be…

  • Victims of Violence and Rape – Globally 1/3 women have experience domestic violence, only 53 countries have laws against marital rape.
  • Missing: More than 100 million women are missing from the world’s population – a result of discrimination against women and girls, including female infanticide.
  • At risk from FGM – An estimated 3 million girls are estimated to be at risk of female genital mutilation/cutting each year.
  • Girls are more likely to be forced into marriage: More than 60 million girls worldwide are forced into marriage before the age of 18. Almost half of women aged 20 to 24 in Southern Asia and two fifths in sub-Saharan Africa were married before age 18. The reason this matters is because in sub‐Saharan Africa, only 46 per cent of married women earned any cash labour income in the past 12 months, compared to 75 per cent of married men

Gender Inequalities in Politics

  • Between 1995 and 2014, the share of women in parliament, on a global level, increased from 11 per cent to 22 per cent — a gain of 73 per cent, but far short of gender parity.

Sources

Most of the above information is taken from the sources below…

The World’s Women: Trends and Statistics (United Nations)

The Global Gender Gap Report (Video link) (Rankings)

WomanKind

Don’t Fall in Love with a Foreigner, at least if you’re poor.

It’s official – the poorest 40% of UK citizens aren’t allowed to bring their foreign born spouses to the UK…

The Supreme Court recently upheld a decision that breaks up families in which a UK spouse earns less than £18.6K and is married to someone outside of the EU.

The government regards such poorer families as a “burden to the state” and so forces its own citizens who fall in love with non-EU citizens to shove off and set up their family life elsewhere.

According to research conducted by Oxford University, nearly 40% of the working UK population wouldn’t be eligible to live here with their non-EU partner – that breaks down to 27% of men and 55% of women. The majority of young people don’t earn enough either. And the statistics are worse if you have a child. So, if you’re a young women and you fall for a handsome stranger from a distant land, it is highly unlikely the Home Office will allow you to remain in this country if you want to live together.

This is a nice link to the families and households topic, showing how immigration and cross-cultural marriage is only for the rich. The poor, it seems, are doomed to marry locally. It’s also a nice tie-in with the social class and family sub-topic.

The Role of Non-Governmental Organisations in International Development

There is a very wide range of non-governmental organisations (NGOs). NGOs are groups of concerned citizens who are independent of the government and business, and are thus nominally non-political and non-profit organisations. NGOs typically have charity status and raise funds through a combination of voluntary donations from the public, but also grants from governments and other international development institutions.

Many NGOs are tiny, focusing on development in one region and specializing in one area, others, however, are global institutions, have huge budgets and work in several countries on numerous types of development project. This section focuses on these larger ‘aid organisations’ with an international focus – such as Oxfam and Action Aid. Although such organisations have an international focus, they still have a tendency to divide their attention so they focus on hundreds of different micro-level projects at one time.

Commentators generally point to four functions of NGOs in development

  1. The development function – Probably the most obvious – This typically involves focusing on small scale aid projects such as local irrigation schemes, or developing rural health and education schemes in conjunction with local communities.
  1. The Empowerment Function – More so than with private companies and Governments – NGOs aim to ‘empower’ local communities – This involves striving to give local communities a role in how aid projects are developed, but also lobbying International institutions like the European Union to establish trade rules which do not unfairly advantage Western companies and farmers. (We’ll come back to this point later).
  1. The Education Function – Oxfam is a good example of an NGO that puts a lot of money into developing education for schools and advertising to keep developing world issues in the public consciousness.
  1. The ‘emergency aid function’ – when natural or social disasters occur – Earthquakes, Hurricanes, Famines for example – NGOs are often the front line in the delivery of emergency aid.
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