Knowledge Center

Women in the Labor Force in China


  • Women are 48.5% of China’s total population of 1,366,718,015.1
  • The mean age of marriage for women is 23 years old.2


The Chinese population has a sex ratio in favor of men, with 106 males per 100 females.3

    • In central China, several provinces – such as Henan, Guangdong, and Anhui – are characterized by extreme sex ratios that exceed 130 male births per 100 female births.4
    • In provinces that allow couples to have a second child (if  first-born is a girl), the second child is statistically more likely to be a boy: second-born children, boys  outnumber girls 146 (143 to 149) to 100.5
    • Only seven provinces and regions have a natural newborn sex ratio (which is 103-107 males for every 100 females):
      • Inner Mongolia6
      • Heilongjiang7
      • Guizhou8
      • Tibet9
      • Ningxia10
      • Qinghai11
      • Xinjiang12

Educational Achievement

  • In 2009,
  • 49.2% of enrolled tertiary students were female.13
  • 48.6% of tertiary graduates were female.14
  • 48.2% of enrolled graduate students were women.15
  • 34.7% of all post-graduate students were women.16
  • China is the second-largest citizen group of GMAT test takers, (a test used for business school applications).17
    • Women make up 63% of total Chinese examinees.18

Labor Force

China ranked 34 out of 135 countries for labor force participation in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Report.*19

  • 71.1% of women between the ages of 18-64 are employed.20
    • In urban areas, 60.8% are employed compared to 82.0% in rural areas.21
  • In 2010, 42.5% of civil servants in all levels of government were women.22
  • The gender pay gap between women and men in China is 69% -- meaning women earned on average 31% less than men for doing similar work.23
    • China ranked 50 out of 135 countries for wage equality for similar work in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Report.*24
  • Women’s average annual income in urban areas is 67.3% of that of men’s.25


  • In 2005, women were just 16.8% of all legislators, senior managers and officials in manufacturing industries.26
    • In the 2011 Global Gender Gap Report, China ranked 90 for legislators, senior officials, and managers category.27
  • In 2007, 91% of businesses in China had women in their senior management roles.28
  • In 2010, 45.1% of professionals in state-owned enterprises and civic institutions were women.29
  • Only 2.2% of working women, about half the ratio of men, have been chief officials in government departments, state-owned enterprises and public institutions.30

Economic and Political Participation

  • China scored 61st out of 135 countries in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Index, remaining at the same rank as in 2010.*31
  • Only 21.3% of all positions on China’s parliament are held by women, ranking it 50th out of 187 countries.32
  • In 2003, the Chinese government had 21 women in senior positions, including 14 in the cabinet.33
    • Of the 21 women, seven are leaders of the Communist Party of China or the State, and the others are ministers or vice-ministers in the cabinet.34
  • China ranked 1 out of 135 countries for “Economic Participation and Opportunity for Professional and Technical Workers” category in the 2011 Global Gender Gap Report.*35

Maternity Leave and Childcare

  • The minimum length of maternity leave is 90 days.36
  • 100% of wages for maternity leave are paid by the employer and government (public maternity insurance).37
  • The employment rate of mothers between age 25-34 with children under the age of 6 is 72.0%.38
    • This is 10.9% lower than women of the same age group without children.39


  • The mandatory statutory retirement age for women in the private sector is 50 for non-managerial positions and 55 for managerial roles.40
    • Men’s retirement age is 60.41

* The Global Gender Gap Index is measured by the World Economic Forum. In 2011, it ranked 135 countries on the size of their gender gap between women and men in four areas: economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment, political empowerment, and health and survival.



How to cite this product: Catalyst. Catalyst Quick Take: Women in the Labor Force in China. New York: Catalyst, 2012.