Equal wages, better economy

In which countries do men and women earn a similar amount—and what does that mean for those economies? Fortune investigates.

FORTUNE -- Fair pay and employment for women are not feminist issues; they’re economic ones. Data from a recent World Economic Forum report displays just how essential equal wages can be. A nation’s competitiveness is determined by its talent pool; ignore half the pool and the economy suffers. Japan’s GDP stands to gain 16% if it closes its gender employment gap, according to a report by the U.N.’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. The same report estimates that by limiting women’s career options, the region’s economies lose out on as much as $46 billion a year.

The path to closing the wage gap begins with education, though it by no means ends there. In Saudi Arabia, for example, women earn more advanced degrees than men, but overall, women represent only 15% of the workforce. Cultural shifts are crucial and often arrive via legislation. The tiny African nation of Lesotho enforces gender quotas in politics and a 12-week paid maternity leave; women there account for nearly half the workforce.

Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.