Predicting the Women's World Cup: Which country would win based on gender equality rankings?

Predicting the Women's World Cup: Which country would win based on gender equality rankings?

National football teams (or soccer teams, if you are in the US) compete in the Women’s World Cup every four years. After the qualification rounds, the competition sees 24 teams, including the host country – this time France - battle it out to be declared champions, with the standings decided by a points system.

Last year, my colleague John Gallagher ‘predicted’ which teams would advance from the ‘group’ round to the ‘knockout’ round of the Men’s World Cup, based on Gross Domestic Product (GDP). It was just for fun, but his theory was that maybe there would be a correlation between the performance of each team and the team country’s economic wellbeing (as represented by GDP).

According to his own rankings, France (the winning team of the whole tournament) would advance to the ‘knockout’ round, but the second-placed team, Croatia, would have been eliminated if GDP was the deciding factor.

Despite some overlap between the predictions and the real results, there was not enough to suggest that GDP could be a reliable predictor for the tournament.

However, we had fun with the experiment, so we’re at it again.

This time: what if we looked at a country’s gender equality ranking as a predictor of success in the 2019 Women’s World Cup?  

Isabell Herlovsen (L) of Norway view with Marion Torrent of France during the group A match between France and Norway at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in Nice, France on June 12, 2019.

Isabell Herlovsen (L) of Norway view with Marion Torrent of France during the group A match between France and Norway at the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in Nice, France on June 12, 2019.

Looking at football through the gender equality lens

It would be hard to miss the increasing scrutiny over gender pay gaps and a growing awareness of the importance of diversity across the corporate landscape and in politics. It is therefore no surprise that this year our focus has moved to football and the World Cup, where pay disparities continue to exist and access to the game has been historically limited for female players.

Many countries banned the sport for women until the 1970s. In England, The Football Association barred women from playing in 1921, saying ‘the game of football is quite unsuitable for females and ought not to be encouraged’. The first official Women’s World Cup did not even happen until 1991, whereas the men’s tournament has been in existence since 1930. 

And even now that women have been in the sport for decades, there is a still a wide enough gap to suggest they are newcomers. The total prize money for the the 2018 Men’s World Cup was $400 million, with $38 million going to the winning team. Meanwhile this year’s Women’s World Cup has total prize money of $30 million, just 7.5% of the Men’s World Cup prize, with the winning team set to receive $4 million.

Gender equality grievances in the sport aren’t only about pay - there have been debates over topics such as unfavourable scheduling too.

Continuous attempts are being made to create opportunities across the gender divide, with the big European leagues investing in the women’s game. FIFA (the Federation Internationale de Football Associaton) presented its annual football award, the Ballon d’Or, to a female recipient, Ada Hegerberg of Norway, for the first time last year.

The world’s gender equality ranking

I took findings from the World Economic Forum’s 2018 Global Gender Gap Report, which ranked 150 countries using measures for gender equality.

‘Predicting’ the winning teams in the Women’s World Cup based solely on where they ranked in this study would see Norway and Sweden in the final showdown. Norway is ranked second-best and Sweden is in third place for gender equality. Norway and Sweden earned their high rankings in part due to sustained progress towards increased female political empowerment and closing economic disparities.

But will this be how the football tournament ends? We will have to see as the knockout phase starts this Saturday.

Why gender equality matters

Even though GDP does not have a total correlation with the outcome of sports tournaments, there is evidence to suggest that gender equality does have an impact on the sustainability of economic growth.

As outlined in the International Monetary Fund’s study, Pursuing Women’s Economic Empowerment, gender equality improves both economic growth, resilience and productivity, as well as supporting higher corporate profits and bank stability.

Increasing the number of women in work across the OECD’s (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) 36 member countries would increase GDP across the OECD by $6 trillion, or 12%, according to professional services firm PwC’s Women in Work Index

Meanwhile McKinsey & Co’s Delivering through Diversity report suggested greater diversity across genders and ethnicity was strongly correlated to higher profitability and value creation.

 A diverse company can help attract top talent, improve customer propositions and lead to better decision-making.

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