Knowledge Center

Women in the Workforce: China


Men Outnumber Women in the World’s Most Populated Nation1

Women are 48.6% of China’s population.2

  • China’s gender imbalance has contributed to slowed population and labor force growth, increased proportions of single men, and trafficking of women.3
China's Aging Population Is on the Rise4

In 2017, 10.8% of China’s population was over 65 years old.5 The elderly (65+) population is expected to rise to about 17.1% by 2030 and about 26.3% by 2050, a projected increase of 15.5% over 33 years.6


The Gender Gap in Tertiary Education Is Closed7

In 2017, the percentage of adults aged 25–34 with a tertiary education8 was the same for women and men (18%).9

  • Women also represented over half (51.7%) of tertiary graduates in 2016.10

Labor Force

China Has One of Asia-Pacific’s Highest Labor Force Participation Rates for Women11

However, women’s labor force participation has been declining since the 1990s. China’s economic reforms resulted in a variety of setbacks for women, including:12

  • Diminished employment opportunities for women.
  • A widened gender wage gap.
  • A lack of childcare options.
  • A resurgence of traditional stereotypes about women’s work.

In 2017, 61.5% of women participated in China’s labor force, compared to 76.1% of men.13

  • Women made up 43.7% of the total labor force.14
Cultural Norms Disadvantage Working Women15

Gender stereotypes and discriminatory language is prevalent in job advertisements. Nineteen percent of postings for civil service jobs in 2018 listed a requirement or preference for male candidates.16

  • In job advertisements targeting women, many include requirements for women to be married with children and to possess specific physical attributes (e.g., height, weight) that are not related to job duties.17

The pension age in China differs between women and men:18

  • Women in blue-collar occupations: 50
  • Women in white-collar occupations: 55
  • Men across all occupations: 60

China’s early retirement age for women limits their career development and advancement opportunities, reduces their pensions, and decreases their social security benefits.19


Despite High Labor Force Participation, There Are Few Women in Leadership Roles20

In 2018, women made up only 9.4% of board directors from publicly traded companies in China.21

Nearly one-quarter (24.9%) of all positions in China’s single-house parliament are held by women, placing it 69th out of 193 countries.22

Pay Gap

A Gender Pay Gap Persists in China’s Labor Force23

Women earn on average 36% less than men for doing similar work, ranking in the bottom third of the Global Gender Gap Index (ranked 103rd out of 149 countries).24

Additional Resources

Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce: Global.

Human Rights Watch, "China—Events of 2017," World Report 2018 (2018).

Lean In China and Deloitte, 2017 Women, Work and Happiness: Impact of Women in the Workplace in a Digital Age Report (2018).

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

The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China, Gender Equality and Women’s Development in China (September 2015).

Jonathan Woetzel, Anu Madgavkar, Kevin Sneader, Oliver Tonby, Diaan-Yi Lin, John Lydon, Sha Sha, Mekala Krishnan, Kweilin Ellingrud, and Michael Gubieski, The Power of Parity: Advancing Women’s Equality in Asia Pacific (McKinsey & Company, April 2018).

US Congressional-Executive Commission on China, “Status of Women,” 2018 Annual Report (2018).


How to cite this product: Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce: China (January 9, 2019).