Knowledge Center

Women in the Workforce: China


Men Outnumber Women in World's Most Populated Nation1


China’s total population is 1,367,485,388, which makes it the world’s most populous country.2

  • Women are 48.6% of China’s population.3
  • China's gender imbalance is expected to leave at least 30 million men of marriageable age single by 2020 .4


China's Aging Population Is on the Rise5


China’s fertility rate (1.6 births per woman) is falling below replacement level, putting China at risk of becoming an ageing society.6

  • In 2015, 10% of China’s population was over 65 years old.7 The elderly (65+) population is expected to rise to 17.2% by 2030 and 27.6% by 2050, a projected increase of almost 20% over 35 years.8

Almost half (48%) of China’s population is between 25 and 54 years old.9

The Elderly Rights and Security Law states that the care for elderly parents is the responsibility of adult children even though many employers are limiting the flexibility of care-givers.10

  • China’s former “one-child policy” led married couples to maintain the sole care of four elderly parents. This care became more likely the responsibility of women than of men.11

  • As of January 1, 2016, China's "two-child policy" allows all married couples to have two children.12


Marriage and Family Are Undergoing Cultural Changes13


Women are marrying later, with the mean average for women at 25 years old in 2015, compared to 23 years old in 2011.14

Many advantaged women and less-advantaged men now remain single because many traditionally believe men should be more educated than their wives.15

  • Almost 50% of highly educated women (with post-secondary education) are unmarried, 10.1% higher than the percentage of unmarried and highly educated men.16

The divorce rate has been on the rise, from 1.1% in 2003 to 2.7% in 2014 (an increase of over 150%).17


The Majority of Mothers in China Work18


72% of mothers between 25 and 34 years of age with children under the age of 6 are employed.19

  • A barrier for working women created by China’s economic reforms is the reduction of government, public, and employer child care options.20


More Women Are College Educated Than Before21


Representation of women in higher education has steadily increased in the past decade.22

  • In 2013, over half (50.7%) of enrolled students in tertiary (post-secondary) education23 were women.24

  • Women represented just over half (50.7%) of tertiary graduates in 2013.25

Labor Force

In 2014, the majority (71%) of China’s population aged 15 years and older participated in the labor force.26

  • 64% of women were in the labor force compared to 78% of men.27


A Gender Pay Gap Persists in China’s Labor Force28


Women earn on average 35% less than men for doing similar work, ranking near the bottom third of the Global Gender Gap Index (ranked 91st out of 145 countries).29

  • Women’s average annual income lags behind men’s. Women earn just over two-thirds (67.3%) of men’s income in urban areas, and just over half (56%) of men’s income in rural areas.30


Working Norms and Policies Disadvantage Women31


Maternity leave is at least 98 days,32 and 100% of wages for maternity leave are paid by the employer and government combined.33

  • Employers sometimes use the long maternity leave to deny women employment. The United Nations Human Rights Council reports discrimination practices in China based on maternity, with employers choosing to hire only women who already have children, denying pregnant women statutory leave, or dismissing women during pregnancy.34

In a 2010 survey, more than 72% of women stated they were not hired or promoted due to gender discrimination.35

  • Over 75% believed they were “being dismissed” due to marriage or childbirth.36

Mandatory retirement ages in China differ between women and men.37

  • Women in blue collar occupations (e.g., factory workers) are often required to retire at age 50 and women in white collar occupations (e.g., professionals, managers) at age 55. Special categories of women (e.g., college professor) can work until age 60.38

  • The mandatory retirement age for urban employed men is 60.39

China’s early retirement age for women contributes to hiring discrimination, reduced pensions, and fewer social security benefits for female retirees.40


Despite High Labor Force Participation, There Are Few Women in Leadership Roles41


In 2015, women were just 17% of all legislators, senior officials, and managers in China.42

  • Only 18% of firms in China have women as top managers.43

In 2014, women represented 10.7% of boards44 and 3.2% of CEOs45 of companies in China.


Women Have Low Representation in Political Offices46


Less than one-quarter (23.6%) of all positions in China’s single-house parliament are held by women, ranking it 71st out of 191 countries.47

  • 12% of ministerial positions in China’s government are held by women.48

  • Out of the past 50 years, there were only four years with a female head of state.49

No woman has ever been among the nine members of China’s top level of decision-making, the Politburo Standing Committee of the Communist Party.50

Additional Resources

Catalyst, Expanding Work-Life Perspectives: Talent Management in China (2012).

Catalyst, Quick Take: Statistical Overview of Women in the Workforce (April 6, 2016).

Human Rights Watch, "China - Events of 2015," World Report 2016 (2016).

Qingwen Xu and Wing Kwan Anselm Lam, China Public Policy (The Sloan Center on Aging & Work, January 2010).


How to cite this product: Catalyst. Catalyst Quick Take: Women in the Workforce: China. New York: Catalyst, July 8, 2016.