Knowledge Center

Women in the Workforce: Global

Labor Force Participation

Globally, the Percentage of Women Participating in the Labor Force Is Declining1

For both women and men, the global labor force participation rate is declining. However, women are, on average, less likely to participate in the labor force than men.2

Globally, in 2018:

  • Women’s labor force participation rate is 48.5%,3 a decrease from 51.4% in 1990.4
  • Men’s labor force participation rate is 75.0%,5 down from 80.0% in 1990.6

Many factors contribute to this gender gap, including:7

  • Structural barriers and cultural restrictions.
  • An increase in the number of years women spend in school.
  • Lack of employment opportunities, particularly for young women.
Women's Labor Force Participation Varies Across Countries8
  • In Australia, women’s labor force participation rate reached the highest ever recorded in January 2018: 60.5%.9
  • In Canada, over half (61.5%) of women participated in the labor force in 2017. Women’s labor force participation rates have remained above 50% since 1980.10
  • In the European Union (EU-28), almost half (47.7%) of women were employed in 2017.11
  • In India, women’s labor force participation rate has fallen from 35.1% in 1990 to 27.2% in 2017.12
  • In Japan, women’s labor force participation rate was 51.1% in 2017, a small increase from 48.4% in 2005.13
  • In the United States, 57.0% of women were in the labor force in 2017, compared to 69.1% of all men.14 The rate of women’s participation peaked in 1999 at 60.0%.15
Women Account for 40% or More of the Total Labor Force in Many Countries16

The share of women in the labor force in 2017:

  • Canada: 47.4%.17
  • India: 24.5%.18
  • Japan: 43.7%.19
  • United States: 46.9%.20

In the EU-28, women’s employment rate is 46.0% as of 2018.21


Women Spend More Time Performing Unpaid Work, Such as Childcare and Housework, Than Men22

In the United States, 62.3% of all mothers with children under the age of three were in the labor force in 2017.23

  • The labor force participation rate for working parents with children under the age of 18 was 71.1% for mothers and 92.8% for fathers.24
Average Time Spent Per Day in Unpaid Work, by Sex25
Country Women Men
Australia 5 hours, 11 minutes 2 hours, 52 minutes
Canada 3 hours, 44 minutes 2 hours, 28 minutes
France 3 hours, 44 minutes 2 hours, 15 minutes
India 5 hours, 52 minutes 52 minutes
Japan 3 hours, 44 minutes 41 minutes
United Kingdom 4 hours, 9 minutes 2 hours, 20 minutes
United States 4 hours, 3 minutes 2 hours, 30 minutes


Family Support Policies Are Crucial for Increasing Women's Labor Force Participation Rates26

The United States is the only developed nation in the world to not mandate paid family leave.27

  • Maternity leave is available in 182 economies, with a median leave of 14 weeks.28
  • Paternity leave is mandated in 91 economies with a median leave of only 5 days.29


Despite Progress, Women Are Scarce Among Senior Leaders30

Very few women are CEOs of the world’s largest corporations. As of the 2018 Fortune list, only 24 women (4.8%) were CEOs of Fortune 500 companies.31

Women account for less than a quarter (24%) of senior roles globally.32

  • Women are gradually gaining representation among Executive Committees (ECs) in Fortune Global 100 companies, but are still a small minority. In 2017, women accounted for 22% of EC roles in the Americas, 15% in Europe, and only 4% in Asia.33
Some Countries Use Quotas to Increase Women on Corporate Boards34

Women held only 15% of board director seats worldwide in 2017, a small increase from 12% in 2015.35

  • Less than a quarter (22%) of board directors in the S&P 500 were women in 2017.36

Finland, France, Germany, India, Italy, the Netherlands, and Norway have quotas for women on boards of public companies.37

  • Canada has a national goal to reach 30% of women on boards by 2019.38

The Pay Gap

The Global Pay Gap Between Women and Men Is Widening39

In 2017, the global average annual earnings for women were $12,000, compared to men’s earnings of $21,000.40

  • In the United States, women earned on average $0.81 to every $1 earned by men in 2017 (81%) for annual earnings.41

In many countries (including India, Mexico, and Spain), more women are working in the informal economy than men.42

  • Informal employment, lower levels of labor force participation, gender pay gaps, and interrupted careers contributes to women’s lack of access to social protections like pensions, which leads to higher rates of poverty among older women as compared to older men.43

Even in the gig economy,44 women face a pay gap. And women are less likely to participate in the gig economy: 26% of women do, compared to 32% of men.45

  • One study of a global online platform for task-based work found that women earn, on average, 37% less than men in hourly wage rates.46
  • Another study of rideshare drivers in the United States found that men earned, on average, 7% more per hour than women.47

Additional Resources

Full List of Quick Takes.

Australian Government, Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Australia’s Gender Equality Scorecard: Key Findings from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s 2016-17 Reporting Data (November 2017).

European Commission, Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers, 2018 Report on Equality Between Women and Men in the EU (2018).

Gender Equality Bureau, Cabinet Office, Government of Japan, Women and Men in Japan 2018 (2018).

Mercer, When Women Thrive, Businesses Thrive (2016).

Amy Raub, Arijit Nandi, Alison Earle, Nicolas de Guzman Chorny, Elizabeth Wong, Paul Chung, Priya Batra, Adam Schickedanz, Bijetri Bose, Judy Jou, Daniel Franken, and Jody Heymann, Paid Parental Leave: A Detailed Look at Approaches Across OECD Countries (World Policy Analysis Center, 2018).

The World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2017 (2017).


How to cite this product: Catalyst, Quick Take: Women in the Workforce: Global (October 31, 2018).