Marina in the central business district of Lagos

Globally, countries are losing $160 trillion in wealth because of differences in lifetime earnings between women and men.

This amounts to an average of $23,620 for each person in the 141 countries studied in a new report by the World Bank Group.

The report titled: “Unrealised Potential: The High Cost of Gender Inequality in Earnings,” examined the economic cost of gender inequality in lost human capital.

“The world is essentially leaving $160 trillion on the table when we neglect inequality in earnings over the lifetime between men and women,” World Bank Chief Executive Officer, Kristalina Georgieva said.

“This is a stark reminder that world leaders need to act now and act decisively to invest in policies that promote more and better jobs for women and equal pay at work,” Georgieva added.

According to the report, in nearly every country today, women face barriers to fully participate in the work force and earn as much as men. Because of this, women account for only 38 percent of their country’s human capital wealth, defined as the value of the future earnings of their adult citizens—versus 62 percent for men.

In low income and lower-middle income countries, women account for just a third or less of human capital wealth.

Programmes and policies that make it easier for women to get to work, access basic infrastructure and financial services, and control land could help achieve gender equality in earnings, the report stated.

“Human capital wealth accounts for two thirds of the global changing wealth of nations, well ahead of natural and other forms of capital,” World Bank Group Lead Economist and author of the report, Quentin Wodon explained.

Wodon added: “Because women earn less than men, human capital wealth worldwide is about 20 percent lower than it could be.”

The losses in wealth from inequality in earnings between men and women vary by region. The largest losses—each between $40 trillion and $50 trillion—are observed in East Asia and the Pacific, North America, and Europe and Central Asia. This is because these regions account for most of the world’s human capital wealth. Losses in other regions are also substantial. In South Asia, losses from gender inequality are estimated at $9.1 trillion, while they are estimated at $6.7 trillion in Latin America and the Caribbean and $3.1 trillion in the Middle East and North Africa. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the losses are estimated at $2.5 trillion. While losses in low income countries are smaller in absolute terms than in other regions, as a share of the initial endowment in human capital, the losses are larger than for the world.

The study was part of a broader research program at the World Bank that benefits from support from government of Canada, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, and the Global Partnership for Education.