90% of World Population Hold at Least One Bias Against Women's Equality

by Julie Graber | on 13 Mar 2020

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) is reporting that nearly 90% of the world's population still hold at least one bias against women's equality. That is just one of the findings from the recently released Gender Social Norms Index (GSNI), and new report from the UNDP.

Using data from the World Values Survey* (WVS) from two time periods (2005-2009) and (2010-2014), the GSNI attempts to gauge the prevalences of biases against women's equality in 75 countries around the world. Using two time periods allowed the researchers to make some comparisons over time, although those results only cover the 30 or so countries appearing in both data sets. 

The GSNI reports on biases in four different areas: political, educational, economic, and physical integrity (intimate partner violence & reproductive rights). The dimensions are based on answers to seven questions from the WVS. 

  • Men make better political leaders than women do
  • University is more important for a man than for a woman
  • Men should have more right to a job than women
  • Men make better business executives than women 

Respondents were also asked to rate on a 10-point scale how essential they believed it was for women to have the same rights as men. Proxy questions were used for physical integrity, including whether or not it was OK for a husband to beat his wife. 

I dug into the data tables (of course I did). Here are some of the things I found of interest:

  • The US ranks 6th overall for the percentage of people with no biases (46% of women and 39% of men). Sweden came in first on that indicator, with 72% of women and 68% of men expressing no biases (although troubling to note that both of these are down 10 percentage points from the 2005-2009 findings). Netherlands, Australia, Spain, and Slovenia round out the top five.

  • Nearly 40% of US respondents held at least one bias against women's political empowerment/equality and 35% held biases against women's equality in physical integrity. On the other two dimensions, only 15% of US respondents held a bias against women's economic empowerment and only 6.5% held educational empowerment biases (women's right to an education).  

  • Probably not surprising: women respondents in US (and most countries according to the report) were less biased across all four dimension, although interestingly, men were nearly twice as likely to hold a bias against women's economic empowerment than women.

  • 17 out of 31 (55%) countries showed an increase from 2005-2009 to 2010-2014 in the percentage of respondents with at least one bias against gender equality (most were by a couple of percentage points).

  • Chile showed the largest decline in respondents with at least one bias (90% to 75%)


*The World Values Survey is conducted by a global network of social scientists, using a common questionnaire, and is governed by the independent World Values Survey Association. Its work dates back to 1981. The world version was built on a European Values Survey, but quickly expanded by social scientists in more that 100 countries. 

The 75 countries included in the last "wave" (2010-2014) covered more than 80% of the global population. The questionnaire is updated for each "wave," and the data is gathered through face-to-face interviews based on a probability sample of residents between the ages of 18 and 85. The minimum sample per country is 1200; the 2010-2014 wave included interviews with more than 400,000 respondents.