Globally, women make up 33.3% of researchers (in head counts), according to data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics for 107 countries covering the years 2015–2018.
More countries are collecting and reporting sex-disaggregated data on researchers than 20 years ago, as this animated diagram demonstrates.
However, large data gaps remain. Sex-disaggregated data on researchers are not being collected regularly by most countries in the Caribbean, Oceania, South Asia, Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, or by the populous countries of Bangladesh, Brazil, India and Nigeria. Moreover, UNESCO estimates exclude North America and China on account of the international incomparability of these data. The observed data gaps make it difficult to draw conclusions for most regions.
There are sufficient data, however, to confirm the trend observed in the previous UNESCO Science Report (2015) towards gender parity in Central Asia, Southeast Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean. These regions are home to 10 of the top 20 countries for the share of women researchers, namely Venezuela (61%), Trinidad and Tobago (56%), Argentina (54%), North Macedonia and Kazakhstan (53%), Serbia 51%), Montenegro (50%), Cuba, Paraguay and Uruguay (49%). The persistently high ratio of women researchers in many European and Asian countries is a legacy of the Soviet Union, which valued gender equality. This is true, for example, of Azerbaijan (59%), Georgia and Kazakhstan (53%), Serbia (51%) and Armenia (50%).
More women participating in research in developing countries
In South and Southeast Asia, a growing number of countries have achieved gender parity. This is the case for Malaysia, Myanmar and Thailand, for instance. The most recent addition is Sri Lanka, where women accounted for 46% of researchers in 2015, up from 24% in 2006.
In sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa has attained gender parity, with women accounting for 45% of researchers since 2015. Mauritius also attained gender parity in 2015 but has since shed a percentage point. Senegal stands out for having raised the share of women from 10% to 29% of the research pool between 2006 and 2015.
A growing number of Arab countries have attained gender parity. Many have made remarkable progress over a short space of time, including Algeria (from 35% in 2005 to 47% in 2017), Egypt (from 36% in 2007 to 46% in 2018) and Kuwait (from 23% in 2008 to 53% in 2018). Tunisia now has a slight imbalance in favour of women in its research ecosystem (56%). Also of note is the rapid progress made by Oman between 2015 (28%) and 2018 (36%). Among those countries reporting data in the Arab world, only Jordan (20%) and Mauritania (24%) fall below the global average.
Many OECD countries have a low density of female researchers
There is no guaranteed correlation between a country’s wealth and its success in achieving gender parity. Among countries having reached this status, only a handful are OECD members, including Iceland, Latvia and Lithuania. Other OECD countries still have a strikingly low proportion of women researchers, including the Republic of Korea (20%) and Japan (17%), which also have the largest gender pay gaps among OECD countries. In France and Germany, just over one in four researchers (28%) is a woman, less than the global average (33%).
These findings are drawn from a chapter in the forthcoming UNESCO Science Report, entitled To be Smart, the Digital Revolution will Need to be Inclusive, This chapter was published on 11 February to mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.
The complete UNESCO Science Report: the Race against Time for Smarter Development, is scheduled to be released on 31 May 2021. Produced with the generous support of the Fondation Ipsen, the report tracks trends and developments in science governance worldwide every five years. The forthcoming edition will have a dual focus on the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals and on the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Download: To be Smart the Digital Revolution will Need to be Inclusive
Two-minute video on study’s findings
Share of women among researchers worldwide, 1996–2018