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Soc Indic Res (2018) 136:1109–1124


Measuring Gender Gap from a Poset Perspective

Agnese Maria Di Brisco1 • Patrizia Farina2

Accepted: 17 February 2017 / Published online: 25 February 2017

Ó Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Abstract During the last two decades, interest towards sampling survey on gender roles
perceived by the population has significantly grown in developed as well as in developing
countries. The micro-perspective of research improves the knowledge of gender discrim-
ination dynamics even among subgroups. At the same time, it stands as a methodological
challenge, as this approach needs an adequate statistical method for the analysis of indi-
vidual data. This contribute aims firstly at offering the opportunity of increasing the
knowledge about gender disparities through individual opinions and perceptions. Secondly,
it aims at enlightening the pertinence of the poset methodology for the analysis of ordinal
variables and response profiles. To this purpose, we collected data about 16 African
countries included in Health Demographic Survey and we analysed a battery of questions
about decision-making dimension by means of a poset methodology. We summarized the
results of the poset analysis by means of descriptive indicators and we investigated their
relation with the Global Gender Gap index (GGGI), an official index released every year
by the World Economic Forum.

Keywords Multidimensional analysis  Gender gap measures  Ordinal variables 

Ordering  Partial order theory

1 Introduction

Gender statistics and gender gap indicators, commonly used to implement international
policies against discrimination of women, found their origin around three decades ago,
receiving the greatest support at the fifth World Conference on Women in Beijing (1995).

& Agnese Maria Di Brisco

Department of Economics, Management and Statistics, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy
Department of Sociology and Social Science, University of Milano-Bicocca, Milan, Italy

1110 A. M. Di Brisco, P. Farina

At that arena, discussion about women condition was replaced by the focus on gender that
implies a comparative approach between women and men (UN 1996). From then on, the
development and affirmation of gender statistics, on the basis of an internationally agreed
agenda, became a reality. The systematic investigation of whatever characteristic with the
aim of evaluating gaps and issues based on gender has been reaffirmed by the 3th goal of
the ‘‘Millennium Development Goals’’, as well as the 5th of the most recent ‘‘Sustainable
Development Goals’’ (UNDP 2015b).
Gender statistics released by International Agencies are simple indicators such as dif-
ferences, ratios, shares, proportions and rates as well as composite indicators (Joint
Research Centre-European Commission 2008), namely mono-dimensional quantities that
synthesize multiple variables purposively selected to evaluate national results and efforts
against discrimination. The latter group of indicators plays an important role in gender
studies and several world rankings based on gender composite indicators are annually
released by International Agencies, even if a controversy persists on the subjectivity
naturally connected with the construction of any composite indicator (Mecatti et al. 2012).
According to gender gap indicators, disparities between men and women decreased
almost everywhere in the last two decades (Schwab and Sala-i-Martin 2015; Selim 2015),
even if less than predicted, accordingly to the 3th goal of Millennium Development Goals
(UN 2015). The existing gaps about structural conditions of societies—education, work
and power—are the results of ideological as well as cultural traits shared by women and
men regarding their position within society. Women are now more educated than ever
before. By way of example, in many countries, the primary, secondary and even tertiary
education gaps have closed (UN 2015, pp. 28–30). Instead, the improvements in work
opportunities are not as relevant. Women still do most of the unpaid work, including
childcare and housework. They also work for pay, but most in low-skilled labors, and are
paid less for the same work (UNDP 2016). Finally, women are the minority in leadership
roles in business and especially in politics (UN 2015, pp. 28–30).
Besides the cultural traits that originate structural gaps, there exist individual traits, not
captured by gender gap indicators, that can ease (or worsen) the individual gap experienced
by each woman or man.
For this reason, in order to improve the understanding of the processes underlying the
still existing gaps, rather than only monitoring them at a macro-level, by mean of com-
posite indicators, it is of keen interest the adoption of a micro approach.
The growing interest in a micro perspective of research in the field of discrimination
among women and men goes together with the increase, during the last two decades, of
sampling survey focused on gender roles in developed as well as in developing countries
(UN 2015; Women 2014; Barker et al. 2011).
The shift from a macro perspective to individual-based approach allows for measuring
the widespread of inequalities between women and men in terms of their perception of
discrimination and their agreement on different social roles.
Shifting from the analysis of macro-dimensions of gender gaps to the analysis of
individual perception of discrimination and decision-making processes stands also as a
methodological challenge. Indeed, when dealing with the analysis of structural gaps at
macro-dimensions usually quantitative variables are used; consider, by way of example,
the proportion of illiterates about education, the proportion of employed women about
work or the number of women in parliament about power. As a counterpart, when focusing
on individual opinions and decision making processes usually qualitative ordinal variables
are available; consider, by way of example, the degree of agreement about an opinion or
the specification of who is the decision maker about a process.

Measuring Gender Gap from a Poset Perspective 1111

This individual-based perspective can improve the knowledge of gender discrimination

dynamics, but it needs an adequate statistical method for the analysis of ordinal data at
individual level.
This contribute aims at evaluating the gender gap at individual level, by taking
advantage from the poset approach, a statistical method for the analysis of ordinal variables
and response profiles. The poset approach, that has been at first applied to gender sensitive
data by Di Brisco, Bertarelli and Mecatti (VI European Congress of Methodology, Utrecht
2014), has the merit of permitting an individual-oriented analysis, respecting the ordinal
nature of data.
In the following section we illustrate the dataset (2.1), we briefly recall the poset
methodology (2.2) and we describe two indices, that synthesize the poset structure, about
respectively the degree of membership of women to the set of disadvantaged women and
the severity of the gender gap. In Sect. 3 we present some results about our application of
poset methodology on a battery of questions concerning the decision-making dimension
regarding the female population of 16 African countries. At last, in Sect. 4 we discuss these
results by country and we compare them with official Gender statistics released by
International Agencies.

2 Materials and Methods

2.1 About the Dataset

Data derives from Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS), nationally—representative

household surveys that provide data for a wide range of monitoring and impact evaluation
indicators in the areas of population, health, and nutrition carried out between 2007 and
2012. They have large sample sizes (usually between 5000 and 30,000 households) and
typically, they are conducted about every 5 years. The DHS Program data and analysis
provides an in-depth look at the life courses of women and men through a standard
questionnaire. According to the needs of countries, the programme can include also a
gender empowerment module asking if women and men have equal access to information
and resources or they can make decisions for themselves and their children or their
agreement with gender norms that disempower women.
Within the DHS programme, the integrated Demographic and Health Series (IDHS) has
been developed to facilitate analysis of DHS data across countries and over time. The
IDHS includes more than 70 surveys conducted from 1988 to 2015 in 16 African countries.
The surveys interested only women respondents about many topics such as demographic
and socio-economic status, family planning, domestic violence and decision-making.
For the aim of this study on gender disparities at an individual level, we extracted the
most recent survey for each African country from http://idhsdata.org (Table 1).
The model questionnaire is similar across countries and variables are coded
Gender disparities may arise in a variety of dimensions that often depend on the cultural
environment, economic availability or political empowerment. Conversely, the decision-
making dimension, which still is influenced by all these macro factors, also depends on an
individual’s propensity to gender empowerment. Within the main available topics, we
focused on decision-making.

1112 A. M. Di Brisco, P. Farina

Table 1 For each African

Country Year Cases Universe
country we reported the year in
which the more recent survey has
been conducted (Year) Benin 2011 16.599 Women age 15–49
Burkina Faso 2010 17.087 Women age 15–49
Cote d’Ivoire 2011 10.060 Women age 15–49
Egypt 2008 16.527 Ever married women age 15–49
Ethiopia 2011 16.515 Women age 15–49
Ghana 2008 4.916 Women age 15–49
Guinea 2012 9.142 Women age 15–49
Kenya 2009 8.444 Women age 15–49
Malawi 2010 23.020 Women age 15–49
Mali 2012 10.424 Women age 15–49
Mozambique 2011 13.745 Women age 15–49
Nigeria 2013 38.948 Women age 15–49
Tanzania 2010 10.139 Women age 15–49
The total amount of respondent Uganda 2011 8.674 Women age 15–49
women (Cases) and the Zambia 2007 7.146 Women age 15–49
population responding to the Zimbabwe 2011 9.171 Women age 15–49
questionnaire (Universe)

In the questionnaire, the decision-making dimension is evaluated through seven vari-

ables. We dropped out four variables, about who has the final say on food to be cooked, on
spending husband’s earnings, on spending woman’s earnings and on household purchases
for daily needs, because of the great amount of missing data across countries. We kept
instead three variables that ask ‘‘Who in your family usually has the final say on the
following decisions:’’ (1) ‘‘own health care’’, (2) ‘‘visits to family’’ and (3) ‘‘large
household purchases’’.
Each variable concerns a specific dimension of gender disparity: more precisely, the
first variable quantifies the level of emancipation of women with respect to their own
health care; the second variable evaluates the level of women’s social isolation while the
third variable deals with the possibility for women to administrate money.
Each variable provides for the same response structure: indeed, a woman respondent,
asked to answer who has the final say on a decision-making, can answers one of the
following: ‘‘husband/partner’’ (1), ‘‘respondent and husband/partner jointly’’ (2) or ‘‘re-
spondent’’ (3).
The possible answers induce a natural ordering with respect to the dimension of
emancipation and freedom on women. The response item (1) suggests a low level of
emancipation and corresponds to a condition of disparity against women; the response item
(2) corresponds to a balanced condition while the response item (3) suggests a high level of
emancipation and corresponds to a condition of disparity in favour of women. Hence, the
dataset is characterized by three variables that are orderable with respect to the dimension
of gender empowerment and freedom.
In Table 2 we reported the entire aggregated dataset consisting of a matrix of 27 rows
(one for each possible combination of responses to the three questions) and 16 columns
(one for each African country).

Table 2 Percentage frequencies observed in the sample by profiles (27 rows) and by countries (16 columns)
Benin Burkina Cote Egypt Ethiopia Ghana Guinea Kenya Malawi Mali Mozambique Nigeria Tanzania Uganda Zambia Zimbabwe
Faso d’Ivoire

111 22.606 42.341 43.340 8.518 12.262 9.720 40.090 12.200 22.018 68.309 11.801 46.031 31.405 17.885 14.404 3.755
211 0.703 1.322 3.302 0.180 1.695 0.865 4.438 1.823 0.740 1.305 0.700 1.131 1.364 2.924 2.074 0.824
311 0.593 0.321 1.699 0.159 0.459 1.072 3.898 0.801 0.535 1.682 0.689 1.135 0.345 1.405 1.509 0.879
121 6.807 8.019 6.283 2.867 3.958 8.820 6.372 4.888 10.118 5.162 7.588 6.889 4.108 3.342 3.937 1.172
221 4.360 1.338 3.254 0.533 2.941 3.217 6.162 2.704 2.516 2.752 2.675 2.230 1.808 3.038 2.994 3.352
321 0.584 0.069 0.529 0.152 0.229 1.591 0.990 0.601 0.528 0.376 0.930 0.196 0.099 0.475 1.037 1.008
131 1.228 20.264 6.636 0.506 3.230 4.531 2.009 3.986 7.390 3.046 1.642 1.620 1.019 3.418 4.102 0.824
231 0.152 1.292 1.282 0.111 0.698 1.453 0.825 0.761 0.555 0.129 0.298 0.414 0.230 1.101 1.462 0.788
331 0.440 0.451 1.427 0.125 0.389 1.141 1.274 0.601 1.057 1.058 0.838 0.422 0.148 1.576 1.155 1.062
112 2.887 0.917 1.378 2.860 2.413 1.176 0.825 2.103 5.382 0.811 1.263 1.013 9.318 2.791 1.792 0.751
Measuring Gender Gap from a Poset Perspective

212 1.744 2.568 1.779 0.658 4.466 1.107 2.699 3.626 0.997 1.211 1.814 0.921 1.791 4.196 2.405 1.319
312 0.119 0.084 0.144 0.076 0.239 0.484 1.934 0.521 0.244 0.106 0.379 0.104 0.197 0.532 0.613 0.605
122 3.573 2.652 2.292 13.899 5.902 6.918 1.709 2.284 11.300 0.576 4.064 3.265 7.214 2.468 3.230 1.612
222 35.204 4.992 13.896 40.422 33.785 25.631 16.042 28.546 12.621 4.939 34.680 25.402 20.822 23.106 19.896 49.588
322 0.694 0.153 0.465 0.769 1.127 3.251 1.724 1.402 0.720 0.647 2.640 0.581 0.740 0.892 1.462 3.059
132 0.508 1.536 0.561 0.699 1.446 1.314 0.225 1.022 4.306 0.153 0.390 0.303 0.740 1.291 1.226 0.678
232 1.092 3.379 1.427 1.420 6.919 2.421 0.975 5.148 1.294 0.223 2.606 1.372 0.641 2.791 4.762 2.711
332 0.279 0.161 0.497 0.173 0.738 1.453 0.435 0.581 0.786 0.106 1.079 0.447 0.378 1.139 0.872 1.374
113 1.998 0.925 1.058 5.928 1.426 1.522 0.525 2.845 2.311 1.705 5.097 0.422 5.144 3.361 5.587 0.898
213 0.161 0.245 0.272 0.506 0.718 0.346 0.165 0.982 0.192 0.118 0.448 0.111 0.509 1.709 2.027 0.531
313 0.754 0.329 0.769 0.159 0.389 0.934 1.184 1.142 0.462 0.753 0.804 0.329 0.493 1.576 1.155 0.843
123 2.379 0.375 0.465 7.389 1.316 3.251 0.180 2.404 2.846 0.423 1.355 0.370 2.383 1.614 4.173 0.879
223 3.116 0.275 1.154 4.744 3.409 3.632 0.600 6.350 1.301 0.376 3.249 0.902 2.251 2.601 6.742 7.291
323 0.982 0.092 0.705 1.004 0.748 3.182 0.690 1.522 0.634 0.317 2.491 0.606 0.493 1.709 1.603 2.290
133 0.872 3.081 1.314 2.299 2.173 2.490 0.255 2.784 4.385 0.623 1.688 0.632 2.087 2.411 3.678 1.319
233 0.525 1.063 0.833 1.530 3.529 1.937 0.270 2.244 1.037 0.118 2.904 0.592 0.657 1.956 2.216 2.876

Table 2 continued

Benin Burkina Cote Egypt Ethiopia Ghana Guinea Kenya Malawi Mali Mozambique Nigeria Tanzania Uganda Zambia Zimbabwe
Faso d’Ivoire

333 5.639 1.758 3.238 2.313 3.399 6.538 3.508 6.130 3.725 2.975 5.889 2.562 3.615 8.696 3.890 7.712

We recall that a woman respondent, asked to answer who has the final say on a decision-making, can answers one of the following: ‘‘husband/partner’’ (1), ‘‘respondent
and husband/partner jointly’’ (2) or ‘‘respondent’’ (3)
A. M. Di Brisco, P. Farina
Measuring Gender Gap from a Poset Perspective 1115

2.2 About the Methodology

Dealing with ordinal variables achieving the goal of ordering profiles (as illustrated in this
Section) and quantifying the severity of gender disparities (as illustrated in Sect. 2.3)
involves a methodological challenge.
When dealing with multidimensional ordinal data, the standard statistical methods that
provide for score aggregation, namely methods that summarize quantitative observations
into aggregate statistics, or scaling, namely methods that create a continuum upon which
measured objects are located, are not adequate (Fattore et al. 2011). In addition, standard
statistical techniques measure gender equality or gender gap only at an aggregated level,
i.e. at a country level.
For the purpose of our study on gender empowerment at an individual level, we take
advantage of the poset approach, a statistical method for the analysis of ordered sets.
In what follows, we give some basic definitions and elements of the partial order theory;
those interested can find an exhaustive dissertation in Neggers and Kim (1998).
Let us first define a finite partially ordered set (poset), synthetically indicated as
PðX;  Þ, as a finite set X with a partial order relation  that is a binary relation satisfying
the following properties:
1. Reflexivity: x  x; 8x 2 X ;
2. Anti-symmetry: if x  y and y  x then x ¼ y for x; y 2 X;
3. Transitivity: if x  y and y  z then x  z for x; y; z 2 X.
We define that two elements of the set X are comparable if x  y or y  x, otherwise they
are not comparable. When any two elements of X are comparable, then the poset P is said a
chain or a linear order; on the other hand, if any two elements of X are not comparable then
the poset P is said an anti-chain.
Given a poset, it is of interest to identify some subsets enjoying special properties. In
this regard, an up-set U of a poset is a subset of P such that if x 2 U and x  z then z 2 U;
in a similar way a down-set D of a poset is defined as a subset of P such that if x 2 D and
y  x then y 2 D. An extension of a poset P is also a poset defined on the same finite set X,
whose set of order relations comprises that of P. An extension is said to be linear if it is a
linear order or a chain.
To the purpose of this study, we consider a battery of K variables with ordinal nature,
each one with its own set of jk possible response items or levels, with k ¼ 1; . . .; K.
We define a response profile as a vector p ¼ ðp1 ; . . .; pK Þ such that each pk element is
equal to level c 2 f1; 2; . . .; jk g of the k  th variable. The number of all possible profiles
results equal to: #p ¼ jk .
Generally speaking, given a set of objects (profiles in our study), we may be interested
in ordering them, recalling that order is not a characteristic of each single object but
concerns comparisons between objects (Davey and Priestley 2002).
To evaluate if two profiles can be ordered and what is the order between them, we can
formally define the following rule. Given two generic profiles, say pm ¼ p1m ; . . .; pKm and
pn ¼ p1n ; . . .; pKn , over K ordinal variables, we assess that pm dominates pn , and we write
pm  pn , if and only if pim  pin 8i ¼ 1; . . .; K. The set of response profiles with the ordering
rule generate a finite partially ordered set (poset).

1116 A. M. Di Brisco, P. Farina

In the light of this ordering rule, giving at least two ordinal variables, the issue of partial
ordering necessarily arises, meaning that, by comparing any possible couple of profiles
some couple of profiles cannot be ordered. To better clarify this issue, let us consider two
dichotomous variables and let us list the entire set of profiles: ({1,1}, {1,2}, {2,1}, {2,2}).
By way of example, it is evident that f1; 1g  f2; 2g while does not exist a ‘‘natural order’’
among {1,2} and f2; 1g.
Starting from this partial ordering among profiles, the purpose of our analysis becomes
the identification of disadvantaged profiles, with respect to some reference profiles, in each
linear extension of the poset (Fattore 2015).
In this regard, the mathematical theory of partial order provides a useful formalization
of such a methodological problem. Neggers and Kim (1998) demonstrated a preposition
that relates the definition of an up-set to the existence of an anti-chain that generates that
up-set. More formally, they show that given a finite poset P and an up-set U, then there
exists an anti-chain u such that u  P. Consequently, z 2 U if and only if 9u 2 u such that
u  z and the up-set U is generated by an anti-chain. In an analogous way, the theorem can
be stated also for down-sets. An anti-chain, because of its property of generating down-sets
and up-sets, provides a partial clustering of profiles and therefore plays the role of
threshold in classifying profiles with respect to the latent dimension of interest.
A Theorem, demonstrated by Neggers and Kim (1998), states that the set of linear
extensions of a finite poset P uniquely identifies P: as a result, a poset is uniquely identified
by the set of all its linear extensions. Since in all linear extensions the profiles are com-
pletely ordered, a profile that does not belong to the down-set generated by a chosen
threshold can take a position above the threshold in some linear extensions and below it in
Fattore (2015) defines the evaluation (or identification) function,g : T ! ½0; 1 where T
is the finite collection of all possible profiles, as a fuzzy membership function from the
finite space of all possible profiles to the [0,1] interval that counts how many times a profile
belongs to the down-set D, in the set of all linear extensions:
> 1 if p 2 D
< #fl 2 EðPÞ : 9d 2 d : d  p 2 lg
gð pÞ ¼ otherwise ð1Þ
: jEðPÞj
0 if p 2 U
where EðPÞ is the set of all possible linear extensions of the poset, while d is the anti-chain
selected as a threshold. The evaluation function assumes value 1 for profiles certainly
under the threshold, namely belonging to the down-set generated by the threshold and
value 0 for profiles certainly upper the threshold, namely belonging to the up-set generated
by the threshold. For profiles that are not certainly ordered with respect to the chosen
threshold, the evaluation function can assume values in the real interval (0-1).
Since the selected threshold identifies the set of disadvantaged profiles, with respect to
the dimension of women empowerment, the value assumed by the evaluation function does
not quantify the intensity of the gender disadvantage but the degree of membership of a
profile to the set of disadvantaged profiles, accordingly to the interpretation provided by
Fattore et al. (2012). Indeed, the evaluation function results equal to the proportion
between favorable outcomes (the number of times a profile is below the threshold) and the
number of possible cases (the total number of linear extensions).
The partial order approach can be advantageous in this field of analysis and when
dealing with ordinal variables collected at an individual level. Firstly, it respects the
ordinal nature of the data (Fattore et al. 2011b): no transformation procedure on the data,

Measuring Gender Gap from a Poset Perspective 1117

such as aggregation or scaling, is required and the ordinal variables are not treated
improperly as continuous variables. Secondly, it is truly multidimensional, meaning that it
provides for a conjoint analysis on the set of variables related, in our study, to the latent
dimension of gender empowerment.

2.3 About the Gender Indices

Starting from a set of qualitative ordinal variables, by mean of the poset approach we get to
a continuous function that assumes values in the interval [0,1] and whose distribution can
be synthesize by standard descriptive indicators.
As a first synthetic indicator, one among many, we can compute the mean of the
evaluation function: such a measure quantifies the average degree of membership of
profiles belonging to the disadvantaged group, characterized by gender gap against women.
This synthetic indicator can be interpreted as the theoretic average degree of membership,
depending only on the structure of the poset and on the selected threshold. Nevertheless,
we are interested in quantifying a similar average with respect to the observed dataset,
across countries. In this regard, by simply weighting the evaluation function with respect to
the relative frequency of the profiles in the sample, we get a second synthetic indicator:
l¼ gð pÞwp ð2Þ

where wp is the weight assigned to profile p and usually corresponds to the relative
frequency of the profiles in the sample. This second indicator quantifies the observed
degree of membership of a woman (and not a profile as before) to the disadvantaged group.
Given the evaluation function, that depends on the selected threshold, l takes as
minimum and maximum values (lower and upper bounds respectively) the following
lLB ¼ wp Ifgð pÞ¼1g
lUB ¼ 1  wp Ifgð pÞ¼0g ð3Þ

We observe that lLB is equal to 0 if wp ¼ 0, for all profiles in the down-set, while lUB is
equal to 1 if wp ¼ 0 for all profiles in the up-set. Given its extremes, the index l can be
normalized by getting
l  lLB
lN ¼ ð4Þ
lUB  lLB

We observe that lLB and lUB are rough measures that only depend on profiles belonging
to the down-set and to the up-set of the poset, while l, and hence lN , synthesises the entire
evaluation function distribution.
Finally, we define a third synthetic indicator, the gender gap indicator G, that quantifies
the severity of the gap, for the subgroup of disadvantaged women. Such a gender gap
measure is formally defined as follows (Fattore et al. 2011b),
G¼ wp distð pÞ ð5Þ

1118 A. M. Di Brisco, P. Farina

Where distð pÞ ¼ jp pj

M . We underlie that wp is a weight assigned to profile p and it is
equal to the relative frequency of subjects sharing the same profile; p is the first profile
greater than the threshold and, at last, M is the absolute distance of the first profile greater
than the threshold from the minimal element, that is defined as pmin ¼ p1min ; . . .; pKmin
such that pimin  pin 8i ¼ 1; . . .; K; 8n 2 T. We observe that the absolute distance distð pÞ is
set equal to 0 when a profile is greater than the threshold. By construction, the gender gap
index is a weighted mean of normalized distances and hence it assumes values on (0,1): the
greater the measure of this index, the greater the gender gap.
The gender gap measure G quantifies the severity of the discrimination against gender
suffered by disadvantaged women by evaluating the distance between each profile and the
first not disadvantaged profile, namely the first profile greater than the threshold in the
linear extension. More specifically, we can interpret G as a measure of the the height of the
step a woman has to overtake to exit her condition of disadvantage.

3 Results

The collection of three variables, each one with three possible item responses, determines a
total amount of 3  3  3 ¼ 27 possible response profiles. Because of the ordinal nature of
the variables in exam, a partial order among profiles is immediately available.
The Hasse diagram, illustrated in Fig. 1, provides a useful graphical visualization of the
entire set of profiles and of its partial ordering.
To better interpret the information collected in the Hasse diagram, we recall that such a
diagram is a special kind of graph in which a node corresponds to a response profile and
profiles linked by an edge are comparable, namely, there exists a natural order between
them, otherwise, the profiles are not comparable. The two profiles at the extremes of the
diagram have an immediate and clear interpretation: profile ‘‘111’’ is associated with the
most severe condition of gender gap against women while profile ‘‘333’’ is associated with
the maximum condition of empowerment and freedom in favour of women.

Fig. 1 Hasse diagram of the 27 possible response profiles: each profile corresponds to a node of the graph.
If pm  pn then the node corresponding to profile pm is placed above the node corresponding to profile pn .
Furthermore, if pm  pn and 9= pl : pm  pl  pn then an edge is inserted between pm and pn

Measuring Gender Gap from a Poset Perspective 1119

Conversely, profile ‘‘222’’ seems to represent a point of balance among the set of
profiles and it takes a ‘‘central’’ position in the Hasse diagram. The poset methodology is
completely data-driven and does not provide for any distributional assumption on the data,
still it requires the choice of a threshold that, from a mathematical point of view, has to be
an anti-chain in order to generate the down-set of disadvantaged profiles. For the purpose
of our study on gender disparities, hence, we have to determine the set of certainly
disadvantaged profiles by fixing an a priori threshold. In this regard, if we think in terms of
down-set rather than in term of the threshold, it seems reasonable to classify a woman as
certainly disadvantaged if she answers ‘‘1’’ to at least one question but never answer ‘‘3’’.
Indeed, by selecting profile ‘‘222’’ as the threshold profile, the down-set we get contains
exactly the profiles we intuitively classify as deprived profiles.
The same down-set would have been obtained by selecting as a threshold the anti-chain
made up by profiles (‘‘122’’, ‘‘212’’, ‘‘221’’); nevertheless, profile ‘‘222’’ would no longer
be in the down-set. The latter profile corresponds to women that are allowed to participate
in decision-making but are not free to decide on their own in all the three dimensions
We decided to provide results regarding two different scenarios, namely when the
threshold is set equal to ‘‘222’’ (scenario I) and when the threshold is equal to the anti-
chain (‘‘122’’, ‘‘212’’, ‘‘221’’) (scenario II).
In both scenarios, all profiles containing, at least, one answer ‘‘3’’ are excluded from the
down-set: indeed, it seems reasonable not to classify a woman as certainly disadvantaged if
she has expressed her independence in decision-making for at least one dimension.
In a study on gender disparities, it is of sure interest to identify the proportion of
disadvantaged women and to evaluate the gap that separates the group of disadvantaged
women from the group of empowered women. In this regard, the second and the third
synthetic indicators, namely the observed degree of membership lN and the gender gap
index G, illustrated in the previous Section, address this requirement.
Once selected the proper anti-chain as a threshold (‘‘222’’ for scenario I and (‘‘122’’,
‘‘212’’, ‘‘221’’) for scenario II) we analyzed separately each country and we constructed the
evaluation functions, using the R package PARSEC (Arcagni and Fattore 2014).
In the following Figure, we reported the evaluation functions in the two scenarios:
The evaluation function gð pÞ takes values on ð0; 1Þ: the profiles are ordered in
ascending order with respect to the value of the evaluation function and we observe four
steps in the graph. Hence, it is evident that in each scenario, given the chosen threshold and
given the starting poset, the profiles can be classified, in the first place, into five different
groups, from a level of complete disadvantage against woman, to a level of complete
empowerment in favor of women. The mean value of the evaluation function is equal to
0.519 in scenario I and so slightly over half of the profiles are a posteriori classified as
disadvantaged profiles against women. Conversely in scenario II, the mean value of the
evaluation function is lower, equal to 0.371.
The absolute average values of the evaluation function depend only upon the structure
of the poset and the chosen threshold, as a consequence both the graphical representation
of the evaluation function and its mean value are the same across countries.
To evaluate the average degree of membership of women to the disadvantaged set of
profiles we have to weigh the evaluation function with respect to the observed relative
frequencies and construct the synthetic measure lN for each country.
We emphasize, at this stage, the added value that the poset methodology offers with
respect to other aggregative approaches. In this regard, standard methods usually allow
only classifying profiles dichotomously as disadvantaged or not disadvantaged while the

1120 A. M. Di Brisco, P. Farina

poset methodology offers a mathematical approach to quantify the degree of membership

of women to the set of disadvantaged profiles.
Focusing the attention on the subgroup of disadvantaged women, as a next step, we
quantify the gap that distances disadvantaged woman from empowered women. In this
regard, we computed the gender gap index G for each country and we ranked them in
ascending order. The results about the gender indicators are reported in Tables 3 and 4:
The empirical results observed in both scenarios suggest a polarized situation: in
countries where the proportion of disadvantaged women is high, also the disadvantaged
group is well distanced from the group of empowered women; on the contrary in countries
where the proportion of disadvantaged women is low, the disadvantaged group is not so far
from the group of empowered women. By way of example, we may observe that in
Zimbabwe, in both scenarios, the normalized mean degree of membership and the gender
gap index assume the lowest values, with respect to the other countries. On the contrary in
both scenarios, Mali is the country with the highest level of G and the second highest level
of lN .
By simply analysing the linear relation between the two synthetic indicators constructed
from the poset, we observe that, in both scenarios, as the degree of membership lN
increases also the gender gap index G increases, supporting the evidence of polarization.
At last, we compare the results obtained with the poset analysis with some official
statistics indicators. Usually, official indicators on gender gap synthesize aggregate
statistics and offer a photograph of the cultural environment, of the economic situation and
of the political empowerment of countries. Conversely, the analysis we have performed
emphasizes the gender gap, at an individual level, within decision-making.

Table 3 For each country we reported the degree of membership of women to the disadvantaged group of
profiles and the gender gap index
Country l lLB lUB lN (ranking) Gender gap index (ranking)

Benin 0.835 0.779 0.877 0.575 (7) 0.470 (9)

Burkina Faso 0.862 0.641 0.931 0.759 (16) 0.709 (15)
Cote d’Ivoire 0.861 0.755 0.917 0.653 (14) 0.681 (14)
Egypt 0.807 0.699 0.880 0.594 (9) 0.325 (2)
Ethiopia 0.747 0.674 0.801 0.572 (5) 0.392 (4)
Ghana 0.686 0.575 0.776 0.553 (2) 0.402 (5)
Guinea 0.866 0.783 0.918 0.617 (10) 0.656 (13)
Kenya 0.687 0.582 0.766 0.570 (4) 0.402 (6)
Malawi 0.799 0.657 0.905 0.574 (6) 0.557 (10)
Mali 0.918 0.851 0.952 0.666 (15) 0.845 (16)
Mozambique 0.736 0.646 0.791 0.618 (11) 0.391 (3)
Nigeria 0.907 0.869 0.929 0.625 (13) 0.651 (12)
Tanzania 0.861 0.778 0.912 0.621 (12) 0.599 (11)
Uganda 0.711 0.597 0.802 0.554 (3) 0.464 (8)
Zambia 0.668 0.507 0.785 0.579 (8) 0.433 (7)
Zimbabwe 0.673 0.624 0.727 0.474 (1) 0.204 (1)

Given the threshold ‘‘222’’ (scenario I). We recall that l is the mean of the evaluation function and lLB and
lUB are its lower and upper bounds, respectively

Measuring Gender Gap from a Poset Perspective 1121

Table 4 For each country we reported the probability that women belong to the disadvantaged group of
profiles and the gender gap index given the threshold (‘‘221’’.’’212’’.’’122’’) (scenario II)
Country l lLB lUB lN (ranking) Gender gap index (ranking)

Benin 0.460 0.427 0.525 0.341 (5) 0.669 (10)

Burkina Faso 0.754 0.592 0.881 0.562 (16) 0.680 (11)
Cote d’Ivoire 0.690 0.616 0.778 0.454 (14) 0.738 (14)
Egypt 0.355 0.295 0.476 0.332 (3) 0.429 (2)
Ethiopia 0.380 0.336 0.463 0.345 (6) 0.531 (6)
Ghana 0.382 0.318 0.520 0.316 (2) 0.469 (4)
Guinea 0.676 0.623 0.758 0.394 (10) 0.723 (13)
Kenya 0.361 0.296 0.481 0.348 (8) 0.510 (5)
Malawi 0.618 0.531 0.779 0.350 (9) 0.552 (9)
Mali 0.850 0.801 0.903 0.481 (15) 0.859 (16)
Mozambique 0.359 0.299 0.445 0.409 (12) 0.552 (8)
Nigeria 0.640 0.615 0.675 0.419 (13) 0.831 (15)
Tanzania 0.624 0.570 0.704 0.399 (11) 0.690 (12)
Uganda 0.436 0.366 0.571 0.339 (4) 0.543 (7)
Zambia 0.405 0.308 0.586 0.348 (7) 0.468 (3)
Zimbabwe 0.153 0.128 0.231 0.245 (1) 0.386 (1)

The possibility for a woman to decide by herself certainly depends on individual

empowerment and on individual propensity but is also influenced by the social, economic
and political background.
The official index we selected is the Global Gender Gap index (GGGI) which can be
decomposed into four sub-indexes referred to four latent dimensions: the economic par-
ticipation (ECON), the health condition and the survival probability (HEALTH), the
political empowerment (POLITIC) and the educational attainment (EDUC).
For each scenario, we define two separate linear models for lN and G, adopting the four
sub-indexes of GGGI as covariates. Since both the dependent variables lN and G lie on the
restricted interval (0,1), we implemented a Beta regression model (Ferrari and Cribari-Neto
2004). We specify the following model for the mean of the dependent variable
gðmi Þ ¼ b0 þ b1 EDUCi þ b2 HEALTHi þ b3 POLITICi þ b4 ECONi ð6Þ
where mi is the mean of the dependent variable (lN or G respectively) and the link function
gðÞ is the logit function which is strictly monotone and twice differentiable. In Table 5 we
reported the estimates of the regression parameters (b0 ; b1 ; b2 ; b3 and b4 Þ):
Due to lack of updated data, Benin was removed from the GGGI report and so we
excluded it from this analysis. The GGGI sub-index about health and survival has a
significant influence on both the synthetic indicators lN and G. In particular, since the
regression parameter b1 has a negative sign, the highest the condition of health of a
country, the lowest the degree of membership lN and the gender gap index G. The
education is one of the fundamental means of empowerment of women’s freedom and
reduction of the gender gap, and indeed the parameter b2 related to the GGGI sub-index
about educational attainment has a negative sign in all models. Also the political
empowerment has a negative linear relation with respect to lN and G but the regression b3
parameter is not statistically significant in any scenario. The parameter b4 related to

1122 A. M. Di Brisco, P. Farina

Table 5 Beta regression models for the normalized mean lN and for the gender gap index, G for each
b0 b1 (EDUC) b2 (HEALTH) b3 (POLITIC) b4 (ECON)

Dependent variable: l
Scenario I
Estimate 18.704 20.792 218.285 20.511 0.265
SD 11.423 0.756 12.07 0.742 0.726
Scenario II
Estimate 25.139 21.135 225.729 20.422 0.494
SD 11.903 0.801 12.582 0.801 0.791
Dependent variable: G
Scenario I
Estimate 81.666 22.377 282.414 21.248 0.695
SD 21.69 1.325 22.793 1.284 1.294
Scenario II
Estimate 55.361 23.071 254.251 20.3498 0.383
SD 20.912 1.327 22.029 1.26 1.247
In bold the coefficients significant at p \ 0.05, in italics at p \ 0.1

Fig. 2 Plot of the evaluation function for the poset structure represented in Fig. 2 given the threshold
profile ‘‘222’’ (scenario I, left side) and given the threshold (‘‘122’’, ‘‘212’’, ‘‘221’’) (scenario II, right side).
The profiles are listed in ascending order

economic participation, which has a positive sign, lacks of statistical significance in all
models; indeed, a simple scatterplot shows that no relation exists between the ECON
covariate and the dependent variables lN and G.

4 Conclusions

Gender statistics are released periodically by International Agencies in order to evaluate

national results and efforts against discrimination. The existing gaps about structural
conditions of societies—equal access to education, work, and power above all—do not
depend only on cultural traits at macro level, but are the results also of individual traits
shared by women and men regarding their position and their social roles within society. For

Measuring Gender Gap from a Poset Perspective 1123

this reason, the adoption of a micro approach can improve the understanding of the
processes beneath the still existing gaps. Our contribute addresses the decision-making
process, in the form of the final say ‘‘on own health care’’ as representative of Human Right
violation; ‘‘visit family’’ as representative of the freedom, and ‘‘large household pur-
chases’’ as representative of the economic power (Kishor and Subaiya 2008). The
implementation of poset procedure to these dimensions made it possible to rank the
position of each country and compare it to the one resulting from use of macro indicators.
As expected, countries belonging to group with the highest level of membership lN and
the highest level of Gender Gap Index as Burkina Faso, Mali, Ivory Coast, and Nigeria
share also the lowest position in the Gender inequality index (UNDP 2015a). It is due
mainly to the high proportion of early motherhood (fertility rates under 20 years old), and
the lowest rate of leadership (proportion of seats in parliament). Both indicators are
explanatory of social norms, and traditions that limit women options of life, broadening
therefore the gender gap. It is no coincidence that the same countries share also higher
illiterate rate of girls that have a negative effect on empowerment by virtually terminating a
woman’s access to some sources of empowerment (Unicef 2007). On the contrary,
countries at the top of the ranking show better position in the ranking of Gender Equality
Index because of low adolescent birth rate and better education. This is the case of
Zimbabwe and Ghana where women and girls postpone maternity and are more often
literate (UNDP 2015).
It is worth noting however that while the groups at the top and at the bottom of ranking
of membership lN and Gender Gap Index established by poset procedure are congruent
with the level of some macro indicators of gender gap, the profile of countries in the middle
of the list needs to be consider according the two different perspectives concurrently. To
give an example Egypt is near to the top of the poset ranking, but its position is much lower
in the Gender Inequality index. A possible interpretation of this discrepancy lies in the
separation of the public and private sphere as a cultural trait of that country. The decision
making process in the family is balanced between men and women, while their presence in
the public arena is negligible since the proportion of women in parliament and the female
presence on the job market are very low. The comparison between macro and micro
indicators give at least two positive indications on poset methodology. First, the results of
this approach are congruent comparing different sources of analysis like decision making
process and macro indicators of the gender gap. Last, it offers the opportunity of increase
the knowledge through individual opinions and perceptions, a unique source of data.
Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

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