Gender Gap Index Analysis

The Norwegian Football Association signed a groundbreaking agreement in 2017 that ensured that men’s and women’s players would receive equal pay from the federation. Norway had the second best Gender Gap Index score in the study we used. Ada Herberger (pictured) won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or last year but has elected not to represent Norway in the World Cup (

Another factor that could influence the success of nations women’s soccer teams is the level of empowerment of women in that country.  The level of empowerment of women is much harder to quantify than previous variables such as population or GDP Per Capita. Two studies attempting to quantify the same thing could come to vastly different conclusions.  However, since women’s rights and empowerment of women in a country is something that could potentially drastically impact the development of women’s soccer, it is important to attempt to quantify this highly complex factor.  We identified two different metrics from two different sources that attempt to rank countries based on the empowerment of women in the country.

The first metric is a Gender Gap Index published by the World Economic Forum.  The study attempts to evaluate gaps between opportunities offered to men and women in countries, rather than absolute levels of opportunities.  This could potentially be problematic for our uses because the level of opportunities available to women in the US could be greater than in Zimbabwe, but since the gap is lower in Zimbabwe (47th), they rank higher than the US (51st) in this metric.  Measuring gaps, hence, can fail to show actual absolute levels in the country.  However, the index still captures some measure of how well countries treat their women; it is just important to remember that measuring a gender gap is different than measuring the absolute level of empowerment.

The index considers the gender gap in the following four categories: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, health and survival, and political empowerment.  The index considers several factors for each category, which are all listed in the study (linked in the bibliography), and then calculates an index score for each category and an aggregate gender gap index for the country.  This is the score that was used and tested for correlation with the women’s soccer rankings.

The correlation between the Gender Gap Index and the women’s soccer rankings yielded a t-score of 2.71 and a p-value of 0.008.  The relationship could be considered as statistically significant, depending on what criteria is used (p<.05 and p<.10 are the two most commonly used criteria for determining statistical significance).  Additionally, the correlation was positive, demonstrating that the factors are positively related.  This shows that even though the study was measuring levels and not gaps, it still materially affects the performance of women’s soccer teams.  

As mentioned above, measuring gaps ignores the absolute levels of opportunity that women in those countries have available.  And when considering the development of women’s sports, it is likely that the absolute level of opportunity for women is more important than the level of opportunity available to women relative to the level of opportunity available to men.  The gender gap index still shows correlation, likely because it still provides an indication of how well women are treated in their countries.  Iceland, Norway and Sweden are the top three scoring countries and all boast strong women’s soccer teams (12th, 9th and 22nd).  But there are also countries such as Rwanda and Nicaragua, which score in the top 6 for gender gaps but are not typically thought of as countries with high levels of women’s empowerment and do not have strong women’s soccer teams (140th and 121st).  

Overall, it is very interesting that the Gender Gap would have a statistically significant relationship to women’s soccer success.  Countries that afford their women the most equal opportunities are more likely to have successful women’s soccer teams, something that must be taken into account whenever discussing the variables that impact women’s soccer development in a country!


Zahidi, Saadia, et al. The Global Gender Gap Report 2018. The World Economic Forum, 2018.


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