Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Faulty Human Development Index?

Long before this study started I had been a fan of the Human Development Index. The HDI is a collection of United Nations committees that investigate and rank most of the countries in the world in the quality of life according to different factors. There's a committee concerning the environment, access to health care, economic growth. It's a grand assortment and the reports they send out provide all kinds of neat graphs and charts describing the states of various countries. One committee/ranking worth noting specifically however, is the ranking of countries according to their gender equality.

A 12 megabyte behemoth of a PDF, the most recent report ranks every country in the world according to their gender equality based on a variety of factors including comparing male/female literacy rates, average income, and enrollment in education. Looking just at the tables on page 326 of the study, we find the United States at 12, with women earning 15,000 less than men. The top 20 on the chart are largely dominated by the richest countries in the world. Worth noting specifically for our study, Bulgaria, which graduates women and men relatively equally in engineering and computer science is down at 53. The top of the GDI contains Scandanavian countries like Sweden at 6 and Norway at number 2. From this I always believed that Norway and Sweden had approached or were approaching some sort of magical gender equality that I couldn't imagine.

Then I picked up "Occupational Ghettos." From the very intro on they take the countries at the top of this chart to task. They put forth the claim that countries like Sweden, hailed as pinnacles of gender egalitarianism were actually more segregated than countries lower in the list. Suffice to say this was a more than adequate shock to my preconceived notions. Maria Charles and David Grusky claim that in developed countries like Sweden, high paying jobs in the nonmanual sector are well integrated. Indeed, they can't afford not to be. Claims of discrimination come with a heavy cost and are well monitored to ensure the playing field is level.

However, entering the labor sector things get significantly fuzzier. Charles and Grubsky claim that the oversights that are so common to the office life are severely lacking outside that world. In the labor sector, employment is still heavily segregated with men occupying the more desirable jobs and women suffering from lower wages and less desirable jobs. This is continually covered up by the egalitarian status these countries have received. By ranking so high on the index, this segregation gets swept under the rug as people claim the problem is already solved. This is an argument I can already feel crossing boundaries beyond just looking at gender segregation. While this highlights a problem in the way analyzes of gender equity is calculated, I have yet to dive far enough into "Occupational Ghettos" to discover their solution. As such, I am quite excited for more as this has shaped my view of the world considerably in so few pages.

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