July 30, 2015

Number of women leaders around the world has grown, but they’re still a small group

Most Americans believe a woman will be elected president within their lifetime, a milestone that would add the U.S. to a growing list of countries that have had a female leader. But the overall number of countries that have been led by women still remains relatively small, and in most of these countries, women haven’t held power for long.

Most of the World's Nations Have Never Had a Female Leader

There are currently 18 female world leaders, including 12 female heads of government and 11 elected female heads of state (some leaders are both, and figurehead monarchs are not included), according to United Nations data. These women account for about one-in-ten of today’s leaders of United Nations member states. Half of them are the first women to hold their country’s highest office.

Half of Women Leaders Are Their Country's FirstYet, even while the number of female leaders has more than doubled since 2005, a woman in power is hardly the norm around the world. Sixty-three of 142 nations studied by the World Economic Forum have had a female head of government or state at some point in the 50 years up to 2014, but in nearly two-thirds of those nations a woman was in power for less than four of the 50 years – including 11 countries (17%) where a woman led for less than a year.

India has had the longest stretches with a woman in power, with former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and later President Pratibha Patil serving a combined 21 of the past 50 years. Ireland and Bangladesh ranked close behind, also with 21 years of female leadership apiece. Austria, Ecuador and Madagascar had the shortest durations of female leadership. In those countries, a woman led for just two days. Austria’s two-day female leader served in an interim period, but in Ecuador and Madagascar, women leaders were forced out and replaced by male politicians.

Female leadership is more common in some regions of the world than others. The Nordic countries – with the exception of Sweden, which has never had a female head of government – stand out. As of 2014, Iceland had had a female president or prime minister during 20 of the past 50 years, the fourth-most in the world. Finland and Norway rank close behind, with 12 and 11 years respectively. Female leadership has also been more common in South and Southeast Asia as well as South America.

Meanwhile, Mexico, like the U.S., has never had a woman as chief executive, and Canada’s first female prime minister served for just four months. A recent Pew Research Center report on women and leadership found that 38% of Americans believe one major reason there aren’t more women in top elective office in the U.S. is that they are held to higher standards than men. A similar share (37%) says the nation is just not ready to elect female leaders.

Topics: Gender, International Governments and Institutions, Non-U.S. Political Leaders

  1. is an editorial intern at Pew Research Center.


  1. Henry Tobias1 year ago

    There is no mention of Israel and Golda Meir who was our Prime Minister from 1969 to 1974. I can’t believe that The Pew Research Center would make a mistake so it must be anti-Israel antisemitic bias.

  2. Vivi Cesear1 year ago

    It’s time for a woman to be the next US president. And this nation can’t take another Clinton. It’s time we have a woman to vote for who isn’t a career politician. Carly Fiorina for PRESIDENT! A good running mate would be Donald Trump. He wouldn’t be the man in charge. Maybe it would humble him. Next choice would be Carly for President and Ben Carson for Vice President.

  3. Muthyavan.1 year ago

    SriLanka was the first country to elect a women leader Mrs Srima bandaranajaki in 1961. She came into power again in1970 to 1977. Her daughter Chandika came into power in 1994 and ruled for ten years till 2004. All together there was a women leader for twenty one years in Srilanka.

  4. Muthyavan.1 year ago

    Out of all past research carried by the pew research centre ,this one about women leaders of the world ,is the most reguired one by the USA citizen at the present cituation.

  5. Muthyavan.2 years ago

    Next election in USA may have a women as president for the first time in history.

  6. Dr.syed zainul abedin2 years ago

    Great investigation,Lauren.
    Greet you for the nice work.

  7. yusufjallow2 years ago

    after reading the brief that i came to know about the rise of women from the countries listed and sure this is democratical.so its like a long wait to see the first female head of state or president of the u.s ,when we mean u ,s we talking of where the u n has it head quaters.

  8. Adonai2 years ago

    You are doing a sterling work, keep it up , welldone.