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The best places for women to live and work abroad

Many of us have a desire to travel and see the world, but fitting this into holidays and short breaks never really gives us the full experience of living in another country. That’s why getting a job abroad and living in a foreign country for an extended period of time is growing in popularity, and can be a fantastic (and affordable) way of scratching that itch to travel.

However, this can be quite a daunting prospect. In addition to language barriers, there are many things that can seem like huge obstacles to achieving this dream. Finding a place to live can be a hurdle in itself, and there are other considerations such as whether you’ll meet visa requirements or if you’ll need international health insurance in case you fall ill while abroad. Luckily, most of these worries can be allayed with a little bit of research into current expat communities and government information boards.

Yet for women who want to live and work abroad, attitudes towards women in the local culture can be a major attraction, or barrier, to enjoying your time away. To help address these concerns, we’ve investigated which developed countries are the best places to live and work as a woman.

In order to gain an insight into how well each country performs for female empowerment, we’ve looked at various factors including, among others, gender wage gaps, the proportion of women who achieve tertiary education, the length of paid maternity leave, and female representation in government. This has allowed us to build a profile for each country, and rank them according to their overall female empowerment scores.

So, read on to discover the most female-friendly hotspots to live and work abroad!

 

The top ten countries for female empowerment

Having looked at eight different factors across thirty-eight countries, we’ve combined our results into a single score, allowing us to rate each country for their attitude towards women in society. We call this the Female Empowerment Score.

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1/ Iceland

Female Empowerment Score: 7.64/10

Iceland tops our list as the most female-friendly place to live and work, with a female empowerment score of 7.64. This Nordic island nation is well known for its progressive views and welcoming culture. More than half of adult women have achieved tertiary education such as a university degree, and the country scored full marks in the World Bank’s Women, Business and Law Index. In addition to the positive attitude towards women, Iceland is great to visit for its amazing geography and unique version of Scandinavian culture.

2/ Finland

Female Empowerment Score: 7.62/10

Another Nordic country makes the top three, as Finland snags second place with a score of 7.62. Finland has achieved excellent representation for women in its government, with 50% of all ministerial positions being occupied by women. It has also had one of the highest numbers of elected female leaders, with four different women leading the country at one time or another.

3/ Ireland

Female Empowerment Score: 7.22/10

Ireland takes third place in our ranking, with a female empowerment score of 7.22. Ireland also received a perfect score in the World Bank’s Women, Business and Law Index, combined with a relatively low gender wage gap of 7.99% and a very competitive 182 days of paid maternity leave for new mothers.

The worst ten countries for female empowerment

While some countries performed exceedingly well, others still had room for improvement. These are the ten countries that scored the lowest in our overall female empowerment rankings. While these countries might have performed well in some of the factors we measured, this was counterbalanced by a weak performance in other areas.

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1/ Japan

Female Empowerment Score: 3.77/10

While Japan is an extremely modern country in many respects, especially in built-up urban centres, it is also a country steeped in tradition, where old values die hard and progress can be slow on social issues. Despite having a well-educated female population with over 50% of women gaining tertiary education, the country suffers from a high gender wage gap of 23.48%, while female representation in government is very low, with only 10% of ministerial positions occupied by women. This resulted in a low female empowerment score of just 3.77.

2/ Turkey

Female Empowerment Score: 3.81/10

Turkey has the second-worst female empowerment score of 3.81. This is due to a combination of factors, including its coming last in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, where it scored just 0.635 out of 1. Women in Turkey have also received some of the lowest levels of higher education, with only 19.7% of women having attained tertiary level education.

3/ Mexico

Female Empowerment Score: 3.89/10

The third-lowest scoring country is Mexico, with a female empowerment score of 3.89. Mexico has the very lowest level of female participation in tertiary level education, standing at just 17.2%. The country has also never had a female leader of government, despite having 42.11% of ministerial positions filled by women.

Gender wage gap by country

The gender wage gap refers to when there is a difference between what women and men earn for doing the exact same work. This discriminatory practice is usually a result of historical social imbalances, and many countries are actively addressing this as part of their push for a more equal society. However, big differences still exist from country to country, and women can find themselves underpaid in certain parts of the world.

Looking at the countries that have made the most progress in closing this gap, we are able to reveal where women can get the best deal and remuneration for the work they do.

Rank Country Gender wage gap %
1 Columbia Columbia 4.00%
2 Luxembourg Luxembourg 4.14%
3 Belgium Belgium 4.19%
4 Costa Rica Costa Rica 4.73%
5 Denmark Denmark 4.86%
6 Norway Norway 4.99%
7 Slovakia Slovenia 5.00%
8 Hungary Hungary 5.06%
9 Italy Italy 5.60%
10 Greece Greece 5.91%

1/ Colombia

Gender Wage Gap: 4.00%

Colombia takes the top spot for having the smallest gender wage gap at just 4.00%. While having any wage gap is a bad thing, Colombia is the country where the work done by women is compensated as closely to the male rate as anywhere else in the OECD group. While salaries in the country may not be especially high, the pay is relatively fair between the genders.

2/ Luxembourg

Gender Wage Gap: 4.14%

Luxembourg has the second-lowest gender wage gap of 4.14%. This small European nation is a great place for women to work abroad, as, in addition to the fair wages, the country has very low unemployment and active expat communities from all over Europe, which make it a very multicultural place to live.

3/ Belgium

Gender Wage Gap: 4.19%

Belgium takes third place, with a competitive wage gap of 4.19%. Having come fourth in our overall female empowerment ranking, the country also achieved the highest possible score in the World Bank’s Women, Business and the Law Index.

The countries with the most days of paid maternity leave

The way in which a country responds to the needs of its workforce is a great indicator of whether it is a good place to work. When applied to maternity leave, this is also a good indicator of how understanding the national attitude is towards women’s health issues, as well as longer periods of maternity leave being a positive thing in general.

Rank Country Length of paid maternity leave (days)
1 Slovakia Slovakia 238
2 Czech Republic Czech Republic 196
3 Ireland Ireland 182
4 Hungary Hungary 168
5 Italy Italy 150
6 Finland Finland 147
7 Poland Poland 140
7 Estonia Estonia 140
9 Columbia Columbia 126
9 Denmark Denmark 126
9 Lithuania Lithuania 126
9 Chile Chile 126

1/ Slovakia

Days of Paid Maternity Leave: 238

Slovakia is the country with the longest period of paid maternity leave, with new mothers receiving 238 paid days off to be with their new child. 

2/ Czech Republic

Days of Paid Maternity Leave: 196

In second place is the Czech Republic, where new mothers can expect to receive 196 days of paid maternity leave.

3/ Ireland

Days of Paid Maternity Leave: 182

The third best country for paid maternity leave is Ireland, where new mothers receive 182 days of paid time off to bond and care for their newborns. 

 

Countries with the largest proportion of highly educated women

Supporting women into education is an integral part of levelling the playing field in terms of job prospects between the sexes, and encourages women to break out of the traditional roles that society might have once assigned them simply due to their gender.

Higher education encourages women to aim for more influential positions, to question oppressive societal norms, and to take a more active role in decision making, all of which aid the empowerment and equality of women in general.

Rank Country Women achieved tertiary education (%)
1 Israel Israel 88%
2 Canada Canada 64.4%
3 Finland Finland 53.1%
4 Japan Japan 52.8%
5 Iceland Iceland 52.8%
6 Estonia Estonia 51.2%
7 Australia Australia 50.8%
8 Ireland Ireland 50.6%
9 United States United States 50.4%
10 Sweden Sweden 50.1%

 

1/ Israel

Women Achieved Tertiary Education: 88.0%

Israel has by far the highest proportion of women who have achieved tertiary level education, at 88.0%! This could, in part, be due to the fact that Israel is a relatively young country, which has had a policy of welcoming Jewish immigrants from across the world. Such immigrants will often be younger people who are, in turn, more likely to be well educated. However, even with this edge, 88% is an extremely high rate of tertiary education, which other countries don’t even come close to achieving.

2/ Canada

Women Achieved Tertiary Education: 64.4%

Canada has the second-highest level of tertiary education among women at 64.4%. This indicates a highly engaged female population that can challenge the status quo and steer the country towards a more progressive and equal society. This reflects Canada’s high score on the female empowerment scale, where the country places sixth with a score of 6.83.

3/ Finland

Women Achieved Tertiary Education: 53.1%

Finland takes third place for women in tertiary education, with 51.3% having reached this level of studies. This is to be expected from one of the highest performing countries for female empowerment, and once again shows off Finland as a great place for women to live and work. 

Countries with the greatest female representation in government

Female representation in government is a crucial part of any nation’s effort to create a more balanced and equal society. Without female representation, there would be no one to act on womens’ issues with first-hand experience of their needs and wants. 

Seeing women in positions of power, authority and responsibility is also a great source of inspiration for younger women who are able to feel that they too can reach for competitive and important roles in any aspect of life.

Proportion of women in ministerial positions

We’ve gathered World Bank data which reveals which countries have the highest percentage of ministerial positions filled by women. Check out the top ten countries for female representation in government below.

Rank Country Proportion of women in minesterial positions (%)
1 Belgium Belgium 57.14%
1 Sweden Sweden 57.14%
1 Austria Austria 57.14%
4 Costa Rica Costa Rica 52%
5 Canada Canada 51.43%
6 France France 50%
6 Finland Finland 50%
6 Spain Spain 50%
9 Netherlands Netherlands 47.06%
10 United States United States 46.15%

 

1/ Belgium, Sweden and Austria

Ministerial Positions Occupied by Women: 57.14%

Belgium, Sweden, and Austria are the three countries that tied for the highest proportion of ministerial positions in government occupied by women at 57.14%. 

Having such a large number of women in positions of national responsibility is a fantastic show of each country’s progress in creating role models for young women, and empowering them to aim for whatever profession they choose.

This positive attitude towards women in senior roles makes all three of these countries attractive propositions for women looking to spend time living and working abroad.

Countries with the most elected female heads of state or government

We’ve gather CFR data showing which countries have had the most elected female heads of state and leaders of government. Those with the highest number are shown below.

Rank Country Countries with the most elected female heads of state
1 Switzerland Switzerland 5
2 Finland Finland 4
3 Iceland Iceland 3
3 New Zealand New Zealand 3
3 Lithuania Lithuania 3
3 Poland Poland 3

 

1/ Switzerland

Elected Female Leaders: 5

Switzerland is the country that has had the most elected female leaders of government, with five different women having held the top job. This marks Switzerland as a country that respects leadership ability regardless of gender and points towards a more equal society where women are just as able to reach the same positions of power as men.

2/ Finland

Elected Female Leaders: 4

Finland comes second for having the most female leaders, having had four women being elected to the most senior job in government. This is just another way in which Finland marks itself out as a leader in gender quality and female empowerment.

Countries with the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy

We also looked into levels of teenage pregnancy in each country. This can often be a result of women not receiving adequate sexual health information or access to contraception while being pregnant as a teenager can greatly impact your future prospects and ability to take control of your own adult life. 

Therefore, we’ve identified which countries have the lowest rates of teenage pregnancy, regarding this as an indicator of a society that looks after the health and wellbeing of its young women.

Rank Country Teenage pregnancy births per 1000 women aged 15-19
1 South Korea flag South Korea 1.26
2 Switzerland Switzerland 2.52
3 Slovenia Slovenia 3.53
4 Japan Japan 3.55
5 Netherlands Netherlands 3.62
6 Denmark Denmark 4.22
7 Luxembourg Luxembourg 4.48
8 Belgium Belgium 4.49
9 France France 4.75
10 Italy Italy 4.98

 

1/ South Korea

Births per 100,000 Women (15-19): 1.26

South Korea is the country with the lowest rate of teenage pregnancy, with only 1.26 births per 100,000 women aged between 15 and 19. As a country that has strong traditions and values which can impact the way women live and the roles they play in society, South Korea has scored relatively low in several of the other categories. 

However, on this issue, the country performs very well, with its young women avoiding the life-changing pressures and responsibilities that come with parenthood at such a young age.

2/ Switzerland

Births per 100,000 Women (15-19): 2.52

The country with the second-lowest rate of teenage births is Switzerland, where 2.52 babies are born to teenage mothers for every 100,000 teenagers in the country. Another positive performance by Switzerland helps to cement its place as a nation that empowers its women and takes an active interest in supporting their wellbeing.

3/ Slovenia

Births per 100,000 Women (15-19): 3.53

Slovenia has the third-lowest teenage pregnancy rate, with 3.52 birth per 100,000 teenage women. Slovenia performs fairly well across most issues of factors of female empowerment and has a relatively small gender wage gap of only 5.00%, showing that it is making strides to become a country where women are empowered to live their lives on equal terms to the men of their country.

Thinking of moving abroad in 2021?

With the end of the pandemic in sight, there has never been a better time to think about starting a new life. In 2021, we have created a guide with a list of best places to live and move abroad for expats, and we have considered healthcare as one of the biggest factors when you make a move. Wherever you decide to move, just make sure you have the confidence of global health insurance. At William Russell, we have been providing worldwide health cover for 30 years, helping expats like you and their families to settle into their new homes. Speak to us today to find out more about how global health insurance could support you.

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Methodology

We wanted to find out which countries are the best locations for women who want to live and work abroad. To do this, we decided to measure how each country treats its women across a range of factors. The results from each factor could then be combined into a single score to represent how much women are empowered in each country, which in turn makes it a more attractive place for women to work and live.

We started by gathering data across four different factors from the World Bank. These factors were the paid maternity leave in each country, the proportion of women in ministerial positions, the teenage pregnancy rate of each country, and how each country performed in the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law Index.

Next, we collected OECD data on the size of each country’s gender wage gap, as well as the proportion of women in each country that achieve tertiary-level education.  Additionally, we collected CFR data on the number of female leaders that each country has elected and data from the World Economic Forum showing how each country performed in their Global Gender Gap Index.

We then combined all eight of these factors into a single score, weighting them equally. This allowed us to assign each country a Female Empowerment Score and rank them accordingly to reveal the best and worst country for female empowerment. We then analysed the highest and lowest scorers for this cumulative score, as well as investigating the best performers for several of the individual factors.

We chose to use OECD countries for this study as they often provide good opportunities for living and working abroad, making them relevant to the initial question of “which countries are the best for women to live and work abroad?”.