Is Gender Inequality Impediment to Poverty Elimination?

“This image of the woman striking a pose above a derelict and shuttered shop in New Ferry, Wirral, made me think about gender equality and how levels of inequality seem to effect the sexes disproportionately. I was drawn to the pose of the woman in the cartoon, which is defiant and strong, which I found quite ironic.” There is a tendency for women’s status to be better in more equal countries, such as the Nordic countries, as well as in the more equal US states. Japan is however an important exception. Although Sweden and Japan are among the most equal of the rich developed societies and both do well in terms of health and a wide range of other outcomes, the position of women in these two societies is extraordinarily different. Where the overall income differences in society are bigger, women seem to suffer a bigger income disadvantage compared to men.

But despite that, inequality sometimes seems to affect male health even more strongly than women’s health. It looks as if male culture in more unequal societies is more macho, with more deaths associated with risk-taking behaviour and violence. In studies of health and development in poorer countries, women’s status (usually measured by comparing men and women’s educational levels) is associated with lower death rates for men, women and infants. Remarkably, in some studies lower status for women seems even worse for men’s than women’s health. If women’s status is low, it may sometimes be an indication of more macho cultures which rebound particularly on male health. Improvements in women’s status may depend on the development of a gentler, more sociable society, less dominated by a more macho culture.