The income gap between men and women will take 170 years to close worldwide unless policymakers and other stakeholders move to address it, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

The WEF’s latest global gender gap report, released this week, finds that the time needed to achieve economic parity has fallen back to 2008 levels.

While the same report last year predicted economic parity between men and women would take 118 years – a result that had been fairly consistent since 2008 – “at the current rate of change, and given the widening economic gender gap since last year, it will [now] not be closed for another 170 years,” the index’s authors said.

The report benchmarks national gender gaps on economic, education, health and political criteria, and presents it as an index.

Australia ranks 46th overall in the index; while it tops the world in educational attainment, it bottoms out on other measures, particularly economic. New Zealand, by contrast, ranks overall 9th in the world.

The report’s authors said Australia’s position reflected in part “the continued existence of a gender gap in income for Australia.”

Other disparities could be closed sooner; the report predicted it could take a decade to reduce the education–specific gender gap worldwide “to parity”.

The blowout in the income gap, in particular, presented an opportunity and call to action, the report’s authors said.

“None of these forecasts are foregone conclusions,” they said.

“Instead they reflect the current state of progress and serve as a call to action to policymakers and other stakeholders to accelerate gender equality.”

Narrowing gaps in gender equality would likely be the key for many countries seeking to make economic gains from the so-called fourth industrial revolution – the rise of digital - which many say is presently underway.

“Talent and technology together will determine how the fourth industrial revolution can be harnessed to deliver sustainable economic growth and innumerable benefits to society,” the authors said.

“Yet if half of the world’s talent is not integrated— as both beneficiary and shaper—into the transformations underway, we will compromise innovation and risk a rise in inequality.

“This urgency is at the core of a fresh call to action to accelerate progress towards gender equality, adding to the well-established economic case for gender equality.

“Moreover, there is a fundamental moral case for empowering women: women represent one half of the global population and it is self-evident that they must have equal access to health, education, earning power and political representation.”