Publication Date



Key Messages

  • In Asia, female labor force participation ranges from 16% in Afghanistan to 83% in Nepal, while male labor force participation ranges from 52% in Timor-Leste to 89% in Nepal. Women’s participation in the labor force has remained low despite significant economic growth, declining fertility rates, and improved female education.

  • Patterns in the data suggest several prominent constraints to increasing female labor force participation. Social norms emphasize women’s domestic responsibilities, limit mobility, restrict the subset of jobs considered appropriate for women, and impede their access to information.

  • Evidence suggests that job quotas, expanding access to information, creating higher returns to labor, and putting free trade policies in place can improve female labor force participation. Further research on vocational training, better matching of jobs to skills, the granting of parental leave or flexible working hours, and facilitating mobility will shed light on these promising interventions for increasing labor force participation of women.

  • More rigorous evaluation of existing and proposed policies is needed, and further research, access to better data, and pilot testing of new policies will help to ensure identification of clear and effective channels en’s participation in the labor force.


Suggested Citation
Tanaka, S., & Muzones, M. (2016). Female labor force participation in Asia: Key trends, constraints, and opportunities (ADB Brief No. 71). Manila: Asian Development Bank.

Required Publisher's Statement
© Asian Development Back. Available at ADB’s Open Access Repository under a Creative Commons Attribution license (CC BY 3.0 IGO).