China’s economic liberalization has been accompanied by a gradual widening of the gender gap in labor force participation there. In 1990, China’s female participation rate in the labor force was among the highest in the world. The gap between male and female labor force participation rates was 9.4 percentage points, indicating greater gender balance in Chinese workplaces than those in the United States, Europe, and Japan.
Since the 1990s, the gender gap in China’s labor force has widened. While other major economies have made progress on gender balance in the workforce, the gap between male and female labor force participation rates in China has increased to 14.1 percentage points in 2020.
Marketization led to a decline in state-funded childcare support for women in the workforce. The reduction in state childcare support has shifted childcare responsibilities onto mothers and grandmothers, pushing them out of the workforce. Gender-biased hiring practices are also on the rise. Greater policy intervention providing targeted support for women and more stringent enforcement of antidiscrimination laws are needed to reverse these trends and create a more gender-balanced workforce.
This PIIE Chart was adapted from Eva (Yiwen) Zhang and Tianlei Huang’s blog post, “Gender discrimination at work is dragging China’s growth.“