Women, Power and Economic Growth in Asia

July 1, 2014

This report employs the historical data of women’s labor force participation to analyze the extent to which women have contributed to economic growth in the Asia/Pacific region.

While there is a general consensus on the importance of women’s contributions to economic growth, the questions of how such contributions are made, how efficiently they are made, and how much they amount to are not easy to answer as they tend to be very context-dependent. Covering 16 markets in Asia/Pacific, this report draws on country-specific data series to shed new light on this important subject and to answer these questions.

The analysis finds that East and Southeast Asia typically perform better in raising women’s labor force participation than South Asia. Apart from traditional social and cultural factors, effective public policies in investing in and expanding female enrollment in primary and secondary education plays a key role; so do higher rates of urbanization and a more flexible labor market.

In the coming years, however, a new demographic trend will render women’s participation in the labor force more critically important than ever before – population aging. While it is well known that Japan’s population is aging fast, a surprising number of markets in the Asia/Pacific will be facing a similar challenge in the coming decade: China, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Thailand.

Raising women’s labor force participation is arguably the single most effective policy measure in mitigating this demographic trend and the resultant slower growth (or even shrinking) of the labor force. There is therefore great urgency for the Asia/Pacific region to do better in tapping into the potential economic power of women.

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