The Nordic nations dominated the Swiss nonprofit foundation's 2016 Global Gender Gap Report, with Iceland performing best, followed by Finland, Norway and then Sweden.
Sweden has closed 81 percent of its overall gender gap according to the ranking of 144 countries, which attempts to measure the relative gaps between women and men across the four key areas of health, education, economy and politics.
“For the first time this year Sweden has reached parity in primary education and it continues to be among the top countries for parity among university graduates,” World Economic Forum spokesperson Alexandra May told The Local.
“Parity between men and women in Sweden is among the best in the world,” she added.
This is the eighth year in a row that Sweden has placed fourth in the ranking, which it once topped back in 2006. The main reason its failure to retake top spot is a greater rate of improvement in other Nordic nations, the World Economic Forum explained, while progress in the country's political sphere has also stalled.
“Unusually for a Nordic state, progress in the political dimension is stalling. 2015 and 2016 in particular saw a decrease in the number of female parliamentarians, and Sweden is not among the countries which have had a female head of state,” May explained.*
Sweden's greatest improvement came in the report's Economic Participation and Opportunity subindex, in which it climbed seven places.
Last month The Local reported that Sweden had achieved a long-term gender equality target, with women now occupying every other position in the boardrooms of government bodies.
And the World Economic Forum said an increase in female senior officials, legislators and managers added to the country's gains in economic participation and opportunity for women:
"The gap has closed from 27 percent to 20 percent. That's very much to do with a growth in female labour force participation, and a steady increase in the number of women in senior positions."
In September, the Swedish government launched a new agency tasked with achieving a gender equal society. According to the World Economic Forum, there are three key areas Sweden needs to focus on if it wants to reach that goal of closing the gender gap fully:
"The challenges we see through our index have to do with sustaining progress in education and the political sphere, while continuing excellent progress in the economic domain."
The 2016 edition of the Global Gender Gap Report concluded that it will take 170 years for economic parity between the sexes to be reached on a global level at the current rate, with a dramatic slowdown in progress overall.
The slowdown is partly due to chronic imbalances in salaries and labour force participation, despite women attending university in equal or higher numbers than men in 95 countries.
*The report uses the term 'head of state' to describe an elected head of state or head of government. Sweden has not had a female head of government, a position currently held by Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. Its head of state is King Carl XVI Gustaf, who is not elected and has no real power.