[Excerpt] Enormous advances have been made in closing the education and health gap between females and males in Asia and the Pacific. Nonetheless, the average labor force participation rate of women around the globe has remained stubbornly constant over the last 25 years at just over 50% of the economically active female population. There has been some progress but still, women face a labor market that offers them lower wages and lower quality jobs than their male counterparts. These trends persist even in economies in Asia and the Pacific where the female labor force participation rate in 2014 was a high 53%—roughly the same as the DMC average, which in itself is a rate that masks significant variations across countries. This special report looks into the complex and varied causes behind this gap in economic empowerment between males and females across Asia and the Pacific, then analyzes the available evidence for its implications to economic growth.
This report shows that the low labor force participation of women is intimately related to how they allocate time between market and nonmarket activities. Indeed, in deciding whether to work outside of home, women of whatever education or socioeconomic status tend to put more weight on the need to care for their children and dependents. This choice is reinforced by social norms that emphasize domestic tasks as a woman’s primary responsibility and, in some countries, also constrain women’s social activities and mobility. In some places in Asia and the Pacific, these norms severely limit the possibility for women to achieve wage or income growth or to engage in productive entrepreneurial activities, or both. Thus, policy makers need to focus on the specific reasons behind the gender gap so they can develop and implement effective policies for improving female economic empowerment. This will go a long way in leveling the playing field between men and women as well as unleash a country’s full potential for sustainable economic growth and prosperity.