The Winner of the Gender Equality World Cup Is…

After two weeks of round robin play, the FIFA Women’s World Cup is entering the single elimination phase.

It’s been a fun tournament to watch and it is great to see women’s soccer gaining in popularity.  But I do wonder how the teams would square off against each other if victory were not decided by the number of goals scored in a contest…but by each country’s level of gender equality?  And by figuring this out, could one determine a correlation between gender equality and success in the FIFA Women’s World Cup?

I consulted the UN Development Program’s Human Development Index for statistics on gender equality. This is an index that ranks countries by social indicators like literacy rates and child mortality. In 2010, for the first time, the Human Development Index included five gender equality indicators as part of its formula to rank countries based on their human development. These included: 1) Maternal mortality ratio; 2) The male-female ratio of people who have achieved secondary education; 3) The fertility rate of women aged 15-19 years; 4) The labor force participation rate for women; and 5) the share of women in parliament.

Anyone can visit the Human Development Index website and build their own chart using the hundreds of the indicators available. I have chosen to use those five indicators above (and give them equal weight) to develop my Gender Equality Index.

Based on those statistics, the Gender Equality Index generates scores to rank countries. The Netherlands scores highest with 0.687.  Afghanistan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia tie for last with a score of 0. (Next comes Yemen, with a score of 0.096). I’ve used these scores to match FIFA Women’s World Cup teams against each other, with the margin of victory represented as the difference between the two countries’ scores on the Gender Equality Index.  (For example, if the Netherlands were to “play” Yemen, the Dutch would win by 0.591.)

So, if the FIFA Women’s World Cup were decided by the Gender Equality Index, here’s how the tournament would unfold…

Group Stage

The first phase of the FIFA Women’s World Cup is a round robin in which 16 teams square off against each other in groups of four. The top two ranked teams in each group advance  to the elimination phase.

Here were actual results from the round robin phase of the Women’s World Cup, which concluded earlier this week.

Based on the Gender Equality Index,  Germany comes out on top, followed by France. (In this case, prowess on the pitch tracks with gender equality.)  In Group B Japan and New Zealand advance.

In Group C, Sweden is the most gender equal country, followed by the United States (again, tracking with the real-soccer results.) In Group D Norway and Australia advance.

So, out of the 8 teams that have advanced to round two of the real FIFA World Cup, 6 were among the most gender equal countries in their groups. A correlation, I dare say!

The elimination phase begins on July 10, so we will have to wait for those results. In the meantime, here’s how the quarterfinals, semifinals and final match would break down according to each country’s relative gender equality.


In the first round of the elimination phase, the winner of Group A plays the second ranked team in Group B and vice versa; the winner of Group C plays the second placed team of Group D, and vice versa.

In the first quarterfinal,  Germany matches up well against New Zealand. Both are among the top 20 most gender equal countries. Both have also had female prime ministers. (New Zealand’s former prime minister Helen Clark just happens to head the UN Development Program, which publishes the Gender Equality Index.) Was she able to stack the deck in her country’s favor?

Alas, New Zealand falls to Germany in this bout. Germany posts an impressive score of  0.558 compared to New Zealand’s 0.457. Germany advances to the semifinals.

The next quarterfinal pits Sweden verses Australia. (They are actually scheduled to play each other on July 10). We will have to wait a few days for the FIFA results. But based on the gender index, Sweden takes this match easily, winning by nearly 0.17 points.

The next quarterfinal match up pits Japan v France.  This should be a good match as both are also in the top 20 of the gender-equality rankings. In a squeaker, France bests Japan by a score of 0.502 to 0.476. France advances to the semi finals.

In the last quarterfinal, the USA faces Norway. Unfortunately for the Yanks, this is a blowout by a 0.245 margin. High adolescent fertility rates in the USA basically ensure a lopsided Norwegian victory.  Norway advances to the semi finals.


The first semi-final is a great match: Germany V. Sweden.  Germany puts up a valiant effort. It ties Sweden for having the third lowest maternal mortality ratio in the world (calculated as the number of maternal deaths per 100,000 live births.) But Sweden’s comparative advantage in the other four categories propels it to a very narrow victory margin of 0.092. Sweden moves on to the finals.

The second semi-final, France v Norway is an equally close match.  Despite having a lower adolescent fertility rate than Norway, the other categories hurt France in this match-up. On labor force participation alone, France ranks 39th in the world vs Norway, which comes in at 14th.   Norway wins in a nail-biter by 0.09 points.


So it’s come down to Norway v Sweden, a battle of the social democratic powerhouses in Scandinavia.  They both have had a strong showing thus far and should be proud. But there can be only one winner.

To draw out the suspense, let’s break this down into head to head match-ups in each of the five categories.

*By the tiniest of fractions — 0.001 — Sweden ranks higher on maternal mortality.

*The gap widens ever so slightly –0.003 — in the ranking the countries by female population with at least a secondary education

*The adolescent fertility rate also tips in Sweden’s favor. Sweden ranks 15th lowest compared to Norway, which ranks at 18–a difference of only 0.04 points.

*Labor force participation rate skews in Sweden’s favor, but only by 0.007 points.

At four of the five indicators, Sweden clearly has the advantage…but only ever so slightly.

If Norway can best Sweden in the “shares of women in parliament” category, they will be dancing in the streets of Oslo tonight. Alas, Sweden has a lock down on this category. It ranks second in the world in its proportion of female parliamentarians, (only behind Rwanda.) That’s compared to 9th place by Norway.

So, by a margin of victory of 0.058 the winner of the Gender Equality World Cup is….