China and India are considered to hold the greatest impact in the global economy as their populations exceed one billion people each. And with more than a billion women slated to join the workforce in the next decade, the “fairer” sex are considered as the “third billion” whose participation will matter in the worldwide economy. But even in China and India, a disparity exists in the number of women who are working. A recently-released survey conducted by Gallup comparing the Labor Force Participation Rates in China and India showed that between 2009 and 2012, there were 70 percent of Chinese women who “are either employed in some capacity or seeking employment” compared to only 25 percent of Indian women.
Higher levels of education also played a significant role in decreasing the gender gap in the workforce. In China, 81 percent of women who have finished tertiary education are working—very close to the figure posted by men (82 percent) who have the same educational attainment. However, the disparity is marked in India where only 34 percent of women with college education are in the labor force versus 78 percent of men.
Yet Chinese women have closed in on the gender gap even if they have only reached the lower rungs of the educational ladder. Compared to 25 percent and 20 percent of Indian women who have finished only primary/early secondary education and secondary education, respectively, there are a corresponding 70 percent and 69 percent of Chinese women in the workforce with the same educational level.
The smaller number of women participating in the labor force in India is also made worse by the fact that it is more difficult for them to find jobs. Compared to only 5 percent of women in the Chinese workforce who are unemployed, “Gallup’s data indicate that, among Indian women who are labor force participants, 15% are unemployed — meaning they are available for work and looking for jobs.”
Gallup’s Steve Crabtree and Anita Pugliese write that one of the main implications of the survey is the advantage that China has over India in being able to “convert its “demographic bonus” into economic gain.” In 2011, the World Bank reports that China’s growth rate is way higher than India’s (9 percent versus 6.8 percent). The results of the study, especially among the higher educated women, further supports the “notion that Chinese women contribute more to their country’s “human capital” stock than Indian women.”
Although the unemployment and underemployment rates that India faces in the near future could discourage women from pursuing employment opportunities, Gallup still thinks that this trend can change. Aside from declining fertility rates, the “historic urbanization phase” that the country is undergoing right now gives women “better access to education and large employers”— factors which will enhance their participation in the labor force.