World's Best Place to Be a Woman

While the United States endlessly debates the notion of women having it all, Iceland has simply made it a reality. That’s the conclusion, at least, of the annual Global Gender Gap Report, released by the World Economic Forum this week. Iceland tops the list of 136 countries ranked in terms of gender equality for the fifth year in a row — followed by fellow Nordic countries Finland, Norway, and Sweden — and a big part of the reason is the attainable work-life balance that exists there. Unlike in the United States, which came in at No. 23.

More on Yahoo Shine: Best Places to Be Born in 2013

“These [Nordic] economies have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, resulting in high female employment, more shared participation in childcare, more equitable distribution of labor at home, better work-life balance for both women and men and in some cases a boost to declining fertility rates,” the near-400-page report notes. “Policies in some of these countries include mandatory paternal leave in combination with maternity leave, generous federally mandated parental leave benefits provided by a combination of social insurance funds and employers, tax incentives, and post-maternity re-entry programs.”

More on Yahoo: Twitter Responds to Criticism Over Lack of Women in Leadership Positions

Add to that dreaminess the fact that all Nordic countries achieved a near-100-percent literacy rate for both sexes decades ago — and that there are top-down approaches to promoting women’s leadership (including a law in Norway requiring publicly listed companies to have at least 40 percent of each sex on their boards) — and you may just want to pack some warm sweaters and hop a flight to the land of Björk and skyr.

The report, issued annually since 2006, measures a range of issues to determine its rankings: health, education, workforce participation, political involvement, and global competitiveness. And it’s a good reminder that gender parity is just about not only equal rights, but also efficiency.

“Many countries have closed the gender gap in education, for example, but gender-based barriers to employment minimize their returns on that investment; their highly educated women aren't working,” notes Foreign Policy. “The highest ranking countries in the index have figured out how to maximize returns on their investment in women, and are consequently more economically competitive, have higher incomes, and higher rates of development.”

Rounding out the ranking's top 10 are the Philippines, Ireland, New Zealand, Denmark, Switzerland and Nicaragua.

Meanwhile, the United States is behind Cuba, Canada, and the African country of Burundi. That’s partly because of not being able to close wage gaps and participation gaps when it comes to senior and leadership positions, as well as a lack of laws mandating maternity leave, although the United States has, thank goodness, “fully closed its gender gap in education and health,” the report notes.

America has some serious work to do for women—and not only according to this particular ranking. Earlier this year, the annual Save the World’s Mothers report ranked 176 countries based on five indicators of a mother’s well-being: the risk of maternal mortality, mortality rate of children under 5, educational status, economic status and political participation. The Nordic countries swept here, as well, followed by Spain, Belgium, and Germany. The United States came in at a barely respectable No. 30 due to poor scores in mortality rates (both child and mother), as well as political status, as compared with other highly developed nations.

Earlier this year, the Economist created a “glass-ceiling index,” in honor of International Women’s Day, which judged 26 countries based on data including wage gaps, male-female ratios and leadership positions. New Zealand topped that list, followed by Norway and Sweden, while the United States slid in at No. 12, just behind France.

It’s incredibly important to remember and be grateful that we’re not living in Chad, Pakistan or Yemen, which came in dead last in the Global Gender Gap Report, or in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which ranked last in the Save the World’s Mothers list. But still, icy climates are suddenly looking better and better…

Women's Status Worldwide: Best and Worst Places
Former CFO Erin Callan Regrets Not Having Children, Reignites Work-Life Balance Debate
Opt Out or In? New York Times Magazine Sparks Working-Mom Debate. Again.