Women at work in China in 2022

Society & Culture

China’s not doing badly by global standards, but women still make less money than their male colleagues and are still underrepresented in the workforce. Here’s a look at women at work in China for International Women’s Day.

College graduates at a job fair at Henan University. Image by IC via Xinhua.

Leveling the position of women in the workforce could help China boost its slowing economy, and could contribute to a bigger boost to growth, higher productivity, and even higher wages for men. But despite rapid growth and expansion of the service sector, women’s relative wages and labor force participation have declined in China during the last two decades, a 2021 paper from the International Monetary Fund reports.

This is a summary of where women in Hong Kong and mainland China stand in the workforce, according to recent data:

Labor participation rates of women compared to men

  • Hong Kong: 49.6% compared with 66.2%, per the city’s Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC).
  • Mainland China: 61% compared with 74.5%, per International Labor Organization (ILO) estimates in 2020.

Women are still paid less than men

  • In Hong Kong, the median monthly earnings of employed women was $1,920 — one-third less than the $2,550 for men in 2020, per the city’s Census and Statistics Department report in 2021.
  • In mainland China, the average wage for urban men was 22.5% higher than for women in 2019, according to a report by recruitment site Zhipin.com.

Chinese women as bosses

  • The average female directorship stood at 13.8% for Chinese firms in 2021, compared with 22.6% globally and 14.5% for emerging markets, per data from MSCI’s annual Women on Boards report.
  • China scored better than Japan and South Korea, where women accounted for 12.6% and 8.7% of board directors, respectively.
  • About 6.4% of firms listed in mainland China had female CEOs last year, up from 6% in 2020, and 26.3% had female CFOs, above the global average.

Can the government increase female workforce participation?

China rolled out a new 10-year plan (in Chinese) dedicated to women’s development last year, with a large focus in employment rights, as the nation tries to manage a demographic crisis and a series of #MeToo scandals that have triggered public outcry over gender inequality.

  • Currently, women account for 43.7% of the workforce, per Sixth Tone. The government wants to raise that to 45% over the next decade.
  • China also intends to ban employers from stating gender preferences in job ads or asking female applicants about their marital and pregnancy status under a revision of an almost three-decade-old women’s rights law, Bloomberg reports.
  • However, some argue that other policies are needed to reduce burdens on women in a largely patriarchal society.

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More on women in China on International Women’s Day

Nadya Yeh