Gender Inequality in China’s Labor Market


No country in the world is yet to have achieved gender equality as women around the world continue to battle discrimination in the comfort of their homes and the boundaries of their workplaces. In some countries, it is not as worse than others and is in direct relation to how stringent policies and government regulation is. For China, gender inequality was nearly nonexistent during the Maoist era. Such equal treatment marked China with a legacy of high female labor participation. Notably since the 1990s it was one of the highest in the world surpassing that of the United States (Zhang & Huang, 2020). Since China’s push towards urbanization, the country’s gender gap in labor force participation has widened while other countries begin to narrow. There is also a widening gap in wages between men and women in China that shows a widespread scale of discrimination. China now sees very stagnant progress in terms of gender equality, but with the increased successes of women in dynamic and fast-growing sectors like IT and eCommerce, it is evident that the potential for growth of an economy rests just as much on the shoulders of women as it does men (Tang & Scott, 2017). This policy brief aims to address the current issue of gender inequality by examining factors such as discrimination, care responsibilities, and domestic violence that prevent women from entering the labor force. The purpose of examining these factors is to inform relevant policymakers in China or other countries of the enormity of the issue and put forward policy recommendations to counter it, which will eventually aid in achieving greater economic growth.
Gap in labor force participation
– Discuss the widen gap in labor force participation
– How labor force participation has evolved over the years
– Trends: Women participation is below men, female participation went from like 73% in 1990s to 60% mor e recently, gap is widening in china and narrowing in other countries

The scope for economic growth in China, if reforms are made towards gender equality, is prodigious. China houses 18 percent of the female population globally, with 671.2 million women representing the country on a national level. Unfortunately, this representation is just limited to figures because, on actual grounds, women in China do not compose as much the working class as men. Not only are there limited job opportunities, but where there is representation, there exists bias and discrimination side by side. For the women that do succeed in getting jobs, they are expected to retire early and, if they don’t, are targeted at their workplaces. These widening gender gaps are a result of loosened state control over the marketplace, which has allowed private firms and even state-owned enterprises to discriminate against women to maintain a competitive advantage (Tang & Scott, 2017).
The World Economic Forum has placed China 91st out of 153 countries in terms of the gender gap in economic participation and opportunity. Even though much has changed since then and China’s labor laws forbid gender discrimination in the process of hiring, promotion, or pay but according to recent surveys, the problem persists and is most evident in leadership roles in business and politics, the unequal distribution of unpaid care work in homes and sex ratios at birth which showcases remnants of the legacy of China’s one-child policy. These and other factors prevent women from competing with men on an equal footing in the job market, which only results in underutilization of human capital and market inefficiency (Tang & Scott, 2017).
Deng Xiaoping’s economic liberalization may have uplifted China’s economy, but there is still so much potential for growth. According to a report published by the McKinsey Global Institute, if we were to consider a full potential scenario whereby women’s participation in the labor force is equivalent to that of men, we would see an increase of $28 trillion or 26 percent growth in the annual GDP by 2025. This is roughly equivalent to the size of Chinese and US economies today. However, it’s a far shot with the current market conditions that propound wage gaps and lower labor participation rates on the part of women.
Gender discrimination
Evidence of discrimination has been recorded in various industries in China, with men-only advertisements or job placements showing a bias for the male gender. In 2018 approximately one-fifth of China’s civil service job postings specified a preference for male over female applicants (Zhang & Huang, 2020).
• Gender Discrimination in job advertisements
• In 2018, approximately one-fifth of China’s civil service job postings specified a preference for male over female applicants
• Rapid urbanization is yet another pressure point forcing women to work in rural or less developed areas with lower wages since 66 percent of the migrant workers are male
• questions about marital and childbearing status were the most commonly asked during job applications, accounting for 55.8 percent, more than twice as much as the male workforce
• more than half of women are worried about their appearance, with more than 70 percent believing it affects their careers and relationships
The Care Burden
• Decline in Child care support
• With a decline in childcare support from the state, women have had to spend more time at home taking care of their children, which has limited their ability to participate fully in the labor force •
• Inequality in work distribution, with women undertaking 2.5 times more unpaid work than men
• Female unpaid work, if counted in the GDP, could be worth as much as 1 trillion dollars, but for Chinese women, only 55 percent of that work is paid
• For instance, Nan Jia and Xiao-yuan Dong (2013) find that mothers earned considerably less than childless women with the same observable human capital characteristics in urban China

Domestic Violence
• Studies have shown that women with a history of domestic violence (DV) have more erratic work histories, have lower personal incomes, change jobs more frequently, and are more likely to rely on casual and part-time work than other women.
• Estimates in some developing countries have put the cost of DV in lost productivity at 1.2 to 1.4 percent of GDP
• Based on an online survey of 488 employees and 60 human-resources managers, the study found that 13.3 percent of respondents had experienced DV in the preceding 12 months, and nearly half of these survivors had experienced DV from abusers who pursued them to the workplace (The Asia Foundation)
• On one hand, the physical and emotional effects of DV on survivors affect their safety, productivity, and career development in the workplace. On the other hand, employers pay significant DV-related costs due to reduced productivity, absence from work, and employee turnover

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Policy recommendations
1. Penalizing organizations: The Chinese Communist Party needs to focus on relevant policies that encourage the participation of women in economic and enterprise activities and provide job security by strengthening labor laws and penalizing any private or state-owned organization that deters from such objectives and is involved in malpractice on account of gender equality. China, during its early 1980’s set an exemplary record of women’s participation in the labor force by integrating policies in the national development plan that caused the female labor participation rate to exceed that of many developed economies. This was largely possible due to strong government commitments in implementing gender equality policies.

2. Subsidizing childcare facilities: There is a similar need today for the state to exert control on the marketplace as the country’s labor force is shrinking due to declining birth rates and an aging population (Bughin, 2018). It can do so by establishing a number of policy reforms that include subsidizing childcare facilities so that both fathers and mothers can work without sacrificing any opportunity to advance in their careers. Sweden’s Educare childcare system is an excellent example to follow in this regard. Not only does it attract subsidies proportional to incomes, but it also provides high-quality education, maximizing productivity. The state would, however, have to enforce and audit standards for private facilities so that there is no room for exploitation or malpractice. It can do so by enforcing laws that require such institutions to be completely transparent with their data or create an aggregate website housing all this information to allow for more autonomy (Bughin, 2018).

3. Minimum paternity leave: The government should also mandate a minimum paternity leave for both genders so that fathers can play a greater role in childcare as well. In China, parents are entitled to a paternity leave ranging from 1 week to 1 month, which is still ways behind that of other countries like Finland that grant fathers up to eight weeks of paid leave. However, mandating paternity leaves is not enough; there is a need to set up campaigns and create awareness to cause a shift in attitude. Otherwise, no matter how generous your paternity leaves are, men won’t be encouraged to take them, as was evident in Japan in 2015. Men in China need to be shown as caregivers just as much as women. Showing father figures in the media that help with care responsibilities might motivate men to better utilize their paternity leave and take on equal responsibility.


Gender discrimination will continue to persist unless an attitude change is brought on an individual level, and this only possible through state-level efforts of launching public awareness campaigns that destigmatize shared parent childcare and highlight the economic and social benefits of women pursuing their careers. Ensuring that women have an equal opportunity in work and education is the only way to create sustainable jobs that help counter an already plateauing labor market that is threatened by the absence of adequate child and elderly care facilities and a lower birth rate. In this age of automation, it is essential to equip women with the right skills to keep up with changing market conditions because, compared to men, they already have limited job opportunities in the market. For China to achieve its goal of gender equality, it is necessary for both government and companies to renew their efforts to counter discrimination and inequality.


Bughin, J. (2018). The Power Of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality In Asia Pacific, McKinsey Global Institute, Retrieved from
Tang, Y., & Scott, R. (2017). Glass ceiling” or “sticky floor”: the evidence from Chinese Labor Market. Advances in Economics and Business, 5(10), 531-538.
Zhang, E., & Huang, T. (2020). Gender discrimination at work is dragging China’s growth, PIIE, Retrieved from

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